We try to make sure that the necessity and justification for producing each genetically altered (GA) animal is always strongly questioned.
What is a GA animal?
Inside the cells of all living things (including humans and animals) is genetic information, known as DNA. DNA molecules provide the codes to make genes. Genes help determine our characteristics, such as what we look like, and to some extent, who we are and how we behave.
Genetically altered (GA) animals have had their DNA altered in some way. This can be as a result of scientists directly changing the DNA, or may have occurred naturally over time. Once animals with the desired characteristics have been found, they will usually be bred from for use in a particular area of research.
Animals who are ‘selectively bred’ for certain traits (such as dairy cows who produce lots of milk) are not GA animals, neither are ‘cloned animals’ (although some GA animals are later cloned).
A worrying trend
Over four times as many scientific procedures using GA animals were carried out in the UK in 2011 compared to 1995. GA animal use now represents 54 per cent of all scientific procedures.This upward trend, which is occurring worldwide, is of great concern.
Most GA animals are rodents and fish. They are used:
- to study how the bodies of humans and animals develop and function, and, in particular, the role of specific genes
- to study human and animal diseases (such as cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, avian influenza - or ‘bird flu’)
- in the safety testing of some chemicals and medicines.
Some farm animals, such as chickens, goats, cows and pigs, have also been genetically altered to:
- produce substances such as antibiotics in their eggs, or milk, which may then be used in medical therapies
- improve the nutritional value of their meat
- try and reduce the impact they have on the environment (e.g. pigs who excrete less phosphorous).
What we think
The use of GA animals is a concern for three main reasons:
- genetic manipulation has the potential to cause suffering not only to the GA animals themselves, but also to the many animals involved in their production
- the increase in number of GA animals used in research is reversing what was a downward trend in overall animal use
- using vast numbers of animals in this way increases the perception of them as ‘research tools’ rather than sentient individuals.
Working with others
We liaise with the major funders of medical research and people involved in the use of animals in science, to promote measures that aim to reduce animal use and suffering by:
- avoiding or minimising any pain, suffering, distress and lasting harm caused
- minimising the number of GA mice bred for use in research
- avoiding the duplication of research involving GA animals.