Science without suffering? UK science impacts 5 million lab animals each year

Science without suffering? UK science impacts 5 million lab animals each year

This World Day for Laboratory Animals (April 24) the RSPCA is calling on the UK Government to stop paying lip service to becoming a ‘global science superpower’ and invest in the Non-Animal Technologies that would genuinely make the UK a serious contender.

Each year, more than 100 million animals are used globally in research and testing; and UK life sciences alone impacts on approximately five million animals every year.

The UK Government is spending only a tiny fraction of its research and innovation budget on Non-Animal Technologies, and the RSPCA is calling for immediate change.

Dr Penny Hawkins, head of animals in science team at the RSPCA said:

“If the UK Government is serious about becoming a global science superpower and also wants the UK to benefit economically from being a significant player in the market for Non-Animal Technologies, it must recognise the sound scientific and ethical reasons for transitioning away from using animals in experiments that can cause them pain, suffering and distress.

“The UK Government must make a clear statement that phasing out animal experiments is a legitimate and desirable goal. Essential to this commitment is greater investment in developing, validating and using Non-Animal Technologies.

“There have been some bold statements about wanting to build a framework that places the UK at the forefront of new technologies, so it’s time to go beyond the rhetoric, put money in and invest in the technologies that will help make the UK a world science leader.

“As one of the world’s largest lab animal users, the UK has a responsibility to lead the agenda on phasing out animal use - but we are currently in danger of being left behind by the scientific ambition and leadership of other countries. Becoming a science superpower should include leading the way towards doing science without suffering."

There is increasing recognition of the scientific limitations of many animal models and tests. The global non-animal alternatives testing market is growing annually and is expected to be worth an estimated £2.1billion by 2026, but despite this, the UK Government is refusing to commit to working to phasing out animal use in science, and currently spends only around 0.13% of its £8bn annual budget for research and innovation directly towards developing Non-Animal Technologies.

"A strategy for phasing out animal use is not about stopping important research,” Penny continued. “It is about reducing and avoiding the negative impacts - lab animal use and suffering. Phasing-out the use of animals is good for UK science, the economy and animal welfare.

“Recent years have seen new technological advances that are offering increasing potential and opportunities for replacing current animal use. For example, advanced in vitro models, such as organoids and organs-on-chips, are increasingly available in biomedical research.

“There are huge transformative opportunities and potential benefits from using Non-Animal Technologies but the government is lacking ambition on this issue.”

Find out more about our campaign to achieve a phase out of animal experiments