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Permalink 05:17:09 pm, by Tom, 572 words, 4246 views   English (UK)
Categories: News

Home Office Statistics for 2009: Challenges ahead for UK Science

This morning the Home Office published the statistics on animal research for 2009 , and they make interesting reading. One change is that after a decade which has seen a steady rise in the number of animals used, and a sharp rise of 14% in 2008, the total number of procedures performed fell by 1% to just over 3.6 million. The rise in 2008 and subsequent fall in 2009 may represent a statistical blip, but it may also reflect the impact of the recession as projects were moved forward in anticipation of reduced funding in the future. With government funding of all scientific research in the UK facing cuts of up to 25% in the years ahead, it is likely that we will see further falls, since government funding through the research councils pays for about a third of projects involving animal research. After all, the increase we have observed over the past decade was due to a large extent to increases of about 50% in real terms in spending on biomedical research by the government, and we cannot now expect animal research to be immune from funding cuts. A lot will depend on whether spending by medical research charities and industry, which account for the remainder of the funding and also saw large increases in the past decade, can fill the gap left by government spending cuts.

One milestone passed this year was that for the first time over 50% of procedures involved the breeding or study of genetically modified animals (mainly rodents), which reflects a trend that we have noted before and reflects the growing importance they have to fields as diverse as cancer research and developing treatments for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

One comment that stands out in the statement by Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone is that the Government is“committed to ending the testing of household products on animals”, a frequent demand of animal rights groups. This would seem to be an easy promise to fulfill since, as our friends at Understanding Animal Research have pointed out, no such tests were performed in 2009, and very few, or none, in previous years of the past decade. The safety testing of household products on live animals has effectively already been ended by changes in the regulatory framework for chemicals, for example to the European REACH regulations and the recent development of alternatives that use cultured cells or tissues from dead animals and are sufficient for the evaluation of most cosmetics or household products. This is a perfect example of the 3Rs in action.

Overall this is a report that reflects both the profound changes that are happening in how and why animal research and toxicity testing is done, and the challenges facing British science as a whole in this time of austerity.

Turning to the activities of animal rights campaigners, we find that the Leicester Mercury has noted the tendency of a campaign by the National Anti-Vivisection Alliance* against a new laboratory at the University of Leicester to be economical with the truth. This will be no surprise to those of us who have been watching NAVA’s increasingly desperate attempts to stir up opposition to the new laboratory in Leicester, but will I’m sure be an eye-opener for Leicester citizens not yet familiar with degree to which some animal rights groups will misrepresent and distort the truth to advance their cause.

* NAVA is a new group, and is not to be confused with the more established National Anti-Vivisection Society


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