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The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"The number of experiments involving transgenic mice has gone up"
 real 56k

Animal arguments
Dr Mark Matfield, Research Defence Society, and Michelle Thew, Buav, debate the issues
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Wednesday, 16 August, 2000, 23:45 GMT 00:45 UK
Gene mice numbers rise
Mouse BBC
Mice are used to develop medical treatments
The number of animals used for genetic experiments in UK laboratories continues to rise, detailed statistics from the Home Office reveal.

And scientists say this number will go on rising as they investigate the information coming out of the international project to map and sequence all the genes in the human body.

The increase poses a political problem for the Government, which has promised to reduce the amount of animal experimentation in the UK.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (Buav) said the statistics demonstrate that ministers have "failed" the public.

Novel drugs

Thursday's announcement breaks down figures released last month to MPs. These revealed that the number of animal experiments started in 1999 compared with 1998 had remained fairly static at 2.66 million.

However, the number of animal procedures started for genetic research - mostly in mice - had increased by more than 60,000 to over half a million.

Researchers can study the problems of human disease by "knocking out" genes of parallel importance in mice. The information gleaned can help scientists develop new genetic tests and novel drugs.

The Medical Research Council, which uses animals in about a fifth of its projects, said: "Many of the best known medical treatments of the last century, including antibiotics, vaccines, heart surgery and kidney transplants, have been discovered or tested through the use of animals.

"The medical benefits which will result from experiments on genetically modified mice may prove to be some of greatest achievements of this century."

Pre-election pledge

Animal welfare groups accuse the government of massaging the statistics. Buav claims the official figures do not count hundreds of thousands of animals.

Buav BBC
Michelle Thew: The government has failed the public
Many of these, it says, will have been discarded because experiments either did not work or because fewer animals were actually needed than were bred. The number of animals used in military research is also unknown.

Michelle Thew, Buav's chief executive, said the Government's record was shameful.

"It has so far betrayed its pre-election pledge to reduce the number of UK animal experiments, it has failed to implement any strategy whatsoever to achieve the target of a 50% reduction in animal experiments adopted by the European Community and it has failed the British public who are increasingly frustrated with the Government's lack of action," she said.

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