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Continued sharp rise in UK cases of non-compliance with laws protecting animals in laboratories

Cruelty Free International

4 min read Partner content

Animal protection NGO Cruelty Free International is again calling on the government to ensure proper enforcement of the law protecting animals used in experiments in the UK. The latest UK Home Office report shows that non-compliance with the law continues. Abandonment of the previous inspection programme, and roll out of a new audit approach in 2021, has not stopped failings in the care of animals in laboratories.

The annual report for 2022 has been published by the Home Office’s Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU), the regulator which oversees the use of animals in research and testing in the United Kingdom according to the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA). ASPA is the UK law which permits the use of animals in scientific research and controls which animals can be used and for what purpose, and requires that animals are only used in research when there are no alternatives, only the minimum number of animals needed are used, and only the minimum possible suffering or lasting harm is caused.

The report reveals that in 2022, non-compliance with ASPA requirements continued with 175 cases of non-compliance across 51 different UK establishments, a sharp increase of 43% compared to the 122 cases recorded for 2021.

Under the new audit scheme, the Home Office performed audits of only 56 establishments, with only 4 “full systems audits” conducted. The report does not explain how many non-compliance cases were revealed by audits as opposed to being self-reported. Since the ASRU report relies heavily on self-reporting, it seems very likely that many incidents remain unreported and unidentified. For comparison1, in 2019 ASRU undertook 470 inspections of establishments where scientific work on animals was conducted. Moreover, the ASRU employed a total of just 25 people at the end of 2022, working an equivalent of 19.7 full-time employees which is three-and-a-half less than the 23.2 full-time equivalent employees in 2020.

We do not believe that the Home Office’s new audit approach and staffing levels are sufficient for the true picture of animals’ lives in laboratories to be revealed. Nevertheless, the ASRU reports still show that animals in laboratories are being failed. We calculate a shocking 420% increase in failures to provide adequate care for animals between 2018 and 2022.

The 2022 report reveals that a total of 16,062 animals were involved in the 175 cases of non-compliance, including a horse, two dogs, 53 non-human primates, hundreds of rats and thousands each of chickens, fish and mice. 1,063 of those animals suffered “adverse welfare outcomes”. 78 cases were related to the failure to provide appropriate care for animals, including food, water and suitable facilities. The other 97 were failures to adhere to licensing guidelines.

There were many examples of animals being left without food or water for up to four days, leading in some cases to the deaths and euthanasia of animals involved. In other instances, non-human primates were temporarily deprived of water without authorisation, while another was not given the minimum daily fluid requirement. Other recorded incidents include: multiple cases of failing or faulty equipment leading to hundreds of deaths, including by drowning and poor ventilation; the deaths of mouse pups as a result of them being removed from their mother without authority or the mother being wrongly killed; 710 mice being exposed to continuous light for up to 12 days.  35 animals, including a dog and 17 mice, were allowed to live after the usual point for humane euthanasia had been passed; and four pregnant mice were unintentionally used in procedures.

ASRU has six options with which to deal with cases of non-compliance, from a letter of advice from an Inspector, to a prosecution of the most extreme cases which could lead to a fine or prison sentence. However, in 70% of cases (123 of 175) in 2022, the only course of action was to issue advice from an Inspector. Just two cases resulted in re-training of staff, following an unauthorised second dose being given to animals in error and where a procedure was performed by a technician without the required licence. Re-training is described as necessary “where a licensee has demonstrated that they do not have the expected level of knowledge of their legal responsibilities or to undertake procedures” but neither of these cases were recognised as having caused harm or death to the animals involved.

Dr Emma Grange, Cruelty Free International’s Director of Science and Regulatory Affairs, said: “Yet again, the cases in the ASRU report illustrate a long-running systemic failure to protect animals and a lack of care for or interest in the wellbeing of animals used in laboratories. The very least these animals, which are ultimately condemned to suffer and die in experiments, deserve is consideration for their welfare.

“We are renewing our call on the regulator to properly enforce the law – allowing animals to die through pure negligence should result in more serious consequences than a letter of advice. Furthermore, the suffering detailed in this latest report underlines the need to enforce the principle of testing on animals only as a last resort, and for accelerated transition to animal-free approaches in science.


  1. Page 25 of Animals in Science Regulation Unit Annual reports 2019 to 2021 - Revised (publishing.service.gov.uk)

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