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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Reduce animal testing, Lords urge
Rat
The majority of experiments are done on rodents
More effort should be made to reduce the numbers of animals used for experiments in the UK, according to a House of Lords report.

But the practice will continue for the "foreseeable future" to guarantee medicines and compounds are safe for humankind, it says.

Of course all of us would like to see a reduction in the use of animals in experiments

Lord Smith of Clifton
The Lords animals in scientific procedures committee investigated regulations governing animal experiments.

Members took evidence from hundreds of people concerned that many experiments were unnecessary.

It also heard from the UK scientific community, which broadly welcomed the report, that its animal experiments were important and are the most tightly regulated in the world.

No alternative?

Researchers can only obtain licences from a Home Office committee if they can clearly demonstrate that there are no alternatives to using animals.

They must also show that the potential benefit of using the experiment outweighs any suffering caused to the animals.

But animal welfare groups argue that the system operates like an old boys' club.

When you know that other animals can feel pain and distress in the same ways that humans do, it is unethical to experiment on them

Dr Gill Langley
They claim that quite subjective decisions are made in secret by scientists who are generally in favour of animal experiments.

This has prompted calls for more openness and suggestions that when a licence is granted, the arrangements are made public.

Welfare groups had been hoping that the Lords would back their calls for research to find alternatives to using animals.

Safe medicines

Lord Smith of Clifton, who chairs the animals in scientific procedures committee, said they wanted the "three R's" - replacement, reduction and refinement of animal experiments.

"From the point of view of animal welfare, of course, all of us would like to see a reduction in the use of animals in experiments," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

There will be, in the foreseeable future, a need to use animals

Lord Smith of Clifton
"But at the moment they are necessary in order to bring safe medicines to the markets."

Committee members want experiments to be improved and other techniques to be developed to prevent the use of more animals than is really necessary.

But Lord Smith stressed: "It's the unanimous view of the committee that there will be, in the foreseeable future, a need to use animals in order to make medicines and compounds safe for humankind."

2.7m animal experiments

Dr Gill Langley, scientific adviser to the Dr Hadwen Trust, which opposes the use of animal experiments, argued that if the government had fulfilled its obligation to invest in alternatives there would be a larger range of non-animal methods.

"When you know that other animals can feel pain and distress in the same ways that humans do, it is unethical to experiment on them," she said.

"We are talking about 2.7 million animal experiments being carried out in this country - we are not saying take a choice between a child or an animal," Dr Langley told Today.

UK law states that any new drug has to be tested on at least two different species of live mammal. These are usually the rat and a large mammal such as a dog.

Using animals to test cosmetics has been banned in the UK since 1997.

Alternative methods of testing include computer modelling, research using human and animal tissues in test tubes, use of data from human and animal patients and use of less well developed species such as insects and micro-organisms.

'Extremists'

Scientists endorsed the proposal for more investment in finding alternatives, but some expressed concern that the call for more information for the public could endanger the personal safety of individual researchers.

Dr Mark Matfield, executive director of Research Defence Association, welcomed the report, stressing: "These days, over 80% of medical research is done by the non-animal methods of research."

Baroness Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution, said she was "saddened" that there was no recommendation for prescriptions to say whether medication was tested on animals.

"This would draw a clear line between the extremists who appear not to put a premium on human life and the vast majority who would value the lives of those closest to them above and beyond experimental animals."

Dr Simon Festing of the Association of Medical Research Charities said: "Patients suffering illnesses like cancer or cystic fibrosis will be relieved that the Lord's committee have so strongly endorsed the use of animals in medical research.

"With any luck the irresponsible and now discredited anti-vivisection movement should wither and die."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Medical Research Council's Professor Chris Higgins
"If you need new and improved safer medicine animal experiments have to be undertaken"
The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"Scientists should give more details of why licences are given"
The BBC's Robert Pigott
"Home Office licences systematically hide the true level of suffering"
Mark Prescott, Senior Scientific Officer, RSPCA
"We would like to see an end to primate experiments"
Dr Simon Festing, AMRC
"It is vital that we are allowed to do research on animals"
See also:

23 May 02 | Politics
23 May 02 | England
16 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
23 May 02 | Education
09 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
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