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Last Updated: Friday, 21 May 2004, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
New centre to reduce animal tests
Lab rat being held, AP
The national centre will promote the "3 R's"
The UK government is to establish a national centre to promote "best practice" in animal experimentation.

Announcing the proposals on Friday, science minister Lord Sainsbury said the institute would seek to reduce tests and raise standards of welfare.

Funding for reduction, replacement and refinement of experiments, known as the "three R's", will rise from 330,000 to 660,000 in this financial year.

However some animal welfare groups say the move is not nearly enough.

Refinement and reduction already have plenty of money spent on them - it is replacement that is starved of funds
Jan Creamer, National Anti-Vivisection Society
The new institute will be called the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research.

"No scientist wants to use animals, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary," said Lord Sainsbury. "However I believe a major opportunity now exists to make progress in replacing, refining and reducing the use of animals and improving their welfare."

Exploring alternatives

The main aim of this project will be to encourage and fund research into the three R's. This will include exploring alternatives such as computer simulations and experiments on cultured cells.

Where animal tests are deemed unavoidable, the main objective will be to find ways of reducing suffering.

"Replacement is a long term goal - but in the meantime, we need to ask: is it necessary and does it hurt? And if it does hurt, what can we do to reduce that?" said Paul Flecknell, Professor of Laboratory Animal Science, at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, who has been appointed vice-chairman of the centre.

He continued: "The majority of experiments do not cause pain and distress, but some do. And if they do - we need to recognise this."

The centre will provide a hub that will monitor and promote best practice in nationwide centres of excellence and science.

It will be linked to, and build upon, the Medical Research Council's existing centre for best practice.

The board, which is chaired by Lord Turnberg, Scientific Adviser to the Association of Medical research Charities, will include representatives from animal welfare groups, industry, the scientific community and government.

"Much good work has already been done by the (MRC's) centre for best practice and we will continue to build on that," Lord Turnberg said.

No debate

Lord Smith of Clifton, who chaired the Lords select committee on the use of animals in experiments, welcomed the development.

"I think the higher profile that the government is giving this question should reassure people that animals aren't used willy-nilly," he told the BBC.

The RSPCA has also given a cautious approval for the initiative.

"We believe the government's plans are a step in the right direction," an RSPCA spokesman told BBC News Online. "The government's proposal puts the issue where it should be - on the national agenda."

Protestor holding a banner, AP
Some animal welfare groups have met the initiative with outrage
But a strategy based on reduction, replacement, and refinement will not win over those who remain implacably opposed to animal experiments - since it implicitly accepts that testing is necessary.

There is also real concern that the centre will drive a wedge between animal welfare groups.

While some welfare organisations will have representatives on the committee, those who only accept one "R" - replacement - will not be welcome.

"It is essential that the board does not become a debating ground," Lord Sainsbury said. "We don't want disagreement about what the mission is - which is all three R's - so it is very important that everyone signs up to it."

Some groups have met this approach with outrage. "It is disgusting that they rule out debate," Jan Creamer, chief executive of National Anti-Vivisection Society, told BBC News Online. "We have been lobbying for years for a national centre for replacement.

"But we can't take part in an organisation that funds animal experiments, because it would be at odds with our remit."

She continued: "Refinement and reduction already have plenty of money spent on them - it is replacement that is starved of funds."

The BBC's Christine McGourty
"More than two million animals are used each year"


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