Scientific Debates on Animal Experiments September 2016

Thank you for contacting me recently about the use of animals in research and the related 'For Life On Earth' campaign and Early Day Motion (EDM) 400. I appreciate this EDM draws attention to the life science sector's Concordat on openness in animal research which was launched in 2015 and provides new opportunities for transparency and debate in this area.

Animal experiments are regulated under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. A licence to undertake animal experiments is only granted where there is no alternative research technique and the expected benefits outweigh any possible adverse effects. I am not opposed to animal testing in all cases and successive Governments have supported animal testing in certain clearly defined medical areas. I believe it is vital, however, that there is careful analysis of the scientific merits of animal testing. I also believe that where there is scientific evidence that alternative tests can demonstrate the safety or effectiveness of medicines to the same or greater extent than animal testing, then these should be used.

The previous Labour Government introduced the Animal Welfare Act 2006, secured an end to cosmetic testing on animals and banned the use of great apes in animal experiments. It also established the National Centre for Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research which has invested over £45 million to support work to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research and testing.

During the last Parliament, the Coalition Government pledged to continue this work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research and the 2015 Conservative manifesto included a commitment to work to accelerate development and take-up of alternatives to animal testing where appropriate. However, official figures show that between 2013 and 2015, the total number of procedures completed on animals in Great Britain actually increased from 4.12 million to 4.14 million. It is concerning that the number of animal experiments has increased in recent years. It is also the case, as you know, that the Government has allowed B&K Universal to build a facility in Grimston, Yorkshire to breed beagles for use in animal experiments. I understand that an application for Judicial Review in relation to this decision was rejected by the High Court in June 2016.

I believe the Government must work with the bioscience industry to ensure progress is made on the development and take-up of alternatives to animal testing where appropriate. Although advances in biomedical science provide opportunities to reduce reliance on use of animals, the Government believes carefully regulated use remains a vital tool in improving understanding of how biological systems work and in developing safe new medicines, treatments and technologies. I believe it is vital there is transparency around animal testing and that concerted efforts must be made to reduce animal suffering wherever possible. 

I can assure you I will continue to follow this issue closely and bear in mind the points that you raise. Thank you once again for contacting me and for sharing your views.