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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May, 2005, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Animal efforts 'need bigger push'
By Paul Rincon
BBC News science reporter

Dogs, RDS
The last figures showed animal experiments had risen slightly
Efforts to reduce the suffering of animals used in testing are hampered by poor funding and a reluctance by scientists to share experimental data.

That was the reaction of campaigners as a major report into the ethics of animal testing in the UK was published.

Ministers have announced more funding for a national centre for the "three R's": refinement, reduction and replacement of animals in research.

The working group behind the report did not reach agreement on key issues.

Unless we are allowed that full information we cannot in my judgement have an informed debate
David Thomas, Buav
The panel, set up by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, included scientists, animal rights groups, philosophers and a lawyer.

The report is an attempt to tie together the major strands of the animal experimentation debate for policy-makers and the general public.

It backed the three R's approach, emphasising the need to reduce suffering and find replacement methods that do not involve animals.

"A world in which the important benefits of such research could be achieved without causing pain, suffering, distress, lasting harm or death to animals involved in research must be the ultimate goal," it added.

The report highlights the recent rise in the use of genetically modified animals in labs, which have become increasingly important to science as researchers try to understand how human genes work.

The true effects of genetic modification could be difficult to assess, it said. Therefore, more effort should be made to assess and monitor the welfare of such animals.

Funding debate

On Tuesday, the government announced it was awarding 3m in funds to the recently established National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research for 2006-2008.

But some still regard the funding for such initiatives as a drop in the ocean.

About 2.8m new 'experiments' are started each year
In the mid-1970s this figure was over 5m
Mice are the dominant research tool, followed by rats
About 40% of all procedures use some form of anaesthesia
Non-human primates form a tiny fraction of the experiments
No great apes can be used in animal experiments
No wild-caught monkeys can be used in animal experiments
"By no means is it sufficient," said Nirmala Bhogal, science manager at campaign group Frame.

Others criticise the lack of detailed information on animal tests carried out in the UK. The working party accepted that rivalry between different scientific research teams and commercial confidentiality in industry complicated the sharing of information.

"If the Home Office and the government backed proposals to make it mandatory to share information [about animal tests], perhaps that would move things along," said Ms Bhogal.

David Thomas, legal adviser to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (Buav), added: "Unless we are allowed that full information we cannot in my judgement have an informed debate."

And some say the very manner in which the Home Office reports statistics on animal testing hides the scale and extent of animal suffering and the needless duplication of experiments.

Project licences

Members of the working group backed away from criticising the Home Office's way of reporting animal testing statistics.

However, Professor Steve Brown, from the Medical Research Council's Mouse Genome Centre, said "there should be much more retrospective reporting of what went on in project licences - how many animals were used, what was the degree of pain and suffering.

"We can look back on project licences to get a view of what were the results, the benefits and what were the costs."

The report concludes that it is unrealistic to assume that all animal experiments will end in the short term. The working party therefore appealed for open and rational discussion with "due respect for all views".

It gives examples of where animals have proven useful models for the study of human biology and disease, but that the issue had to be judged on a case-by-case basis.

But Andre Menache, scientific consultant to campaign group Animal Aid, said the Nuffield report was "a missed opportunity".

"It assumes animal experimentation benefits human health. The Home Office, by its own admission, has never commissioned an investigation into the efficacy of animal testing," he said.

"Adverse drug reaction is the fourth biggest killer in the UK today. That points to the fact that there is something wrong with the system that relies so heavily on animal experimentation."

Have you been affected by issues covered in this story?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

It is about time that the government and scientists admitted that animal testing for scientific research is cruel and therefore we should do everything possible to find alternatives. Personally I can not see how testing a drug on rats is going to show how it will perform in people. All unnecessary testing should be stopped immediately, and companies should be forced to share information.
Isabella Matthews, Southampton, Hampshire

There is no doubt that we, as humans, are the dominant force on this planet. We need animal testing in order to preserve the life of our fellow man. It seems impossible to me that some selfish people deem it necessary to downplay, and oppose the work that science is doing to save lives. They protest this to 'save' animals, that wouldn't have been bred had there not been the need for animal testing.
Theo, London

See the kind of testing the panel wants more of

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