UK must seize this opportunity to end animal testing
4 min read
The government must recognise the urgent need to use animal-free science and publish a clear and ambitious action plan to drive the phase-out of animal experiments.
I, along with the overwhelming majority of people, abhor cruelty to animals. For many years, it was claimed that it was essential to test any number of things on animals first before they were used on human beings - science has proved that to be a complete misnomer!
Every year, around 3 million animals are used in experiments in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. As well as causing immense suffering to animals these experiments fail to deliver medical progress. An estimated 90 per cent of drugs that pass animal tests go on to fail in human clinical trials. Evidence showing the failure of animal tests has been widely published.
Statistics for 2020 released recently by the government show that there has been a heart-breaking 11 per cent increase in experiments on cats. There has also been an 11 per cent increase in experiments on rabbits in the UK in the past year. Figures for 2020 from the Home Office also show that 12 per cent of these experiments caused moderate or severe suffering to the rabbits involved.
UK must use its new REACH system to develop a progressive animal free approach to further protect human health and our environment
Did you know experiments on horses in the UK have increased by 3% since 2019? In 2020 there was a huge 375% increase in the number of skin sensitisation tests on mice in the United Kingdom, although there are validated animal-free alternatives that have been in place for years. These unnecessary and increasing animal experiments should not be happening.
There has been much media coverage of thousands of dogs being bred at a factory farm in Cambridgeshire to be experimented on. Distressing footage shows whimpering beagles in crates taken away and transported to labs across the country that will perform painful experiments on “man’s best friend”. The dogs from this factory farm are no different from the companion dogs that we welcome into our families, yet government figures show that dogs were used in 4,340 disturbing procedures in 2020.
Human-relevant approaches such as human cell cultures, high-speed computer simulations, and organs-on-chips increase our understanding of human disease, can accelerate drug development, and benefit humans and animals alike. There are many modern alternatives that deliver results that are directly applicable to people.
I believe that medical research urgently needs to be modernised. In March 2020, I tabled an Early Day Motion, “Accelerating human relevant life sciences in the UK”, which was signed by over 100 cross party MPs. The Motion argues that the UK can reap proven public health, economic and business advantages by accelerating the uptake of scientific methods, which are more relevant to human health.
It is welcome that the government plans to launch a review which will focus on replacing the use of animals in the development of medicines. This is a highly important step as replacing animals with human-relevant techniques is vital to modernising medical research.
The government must recognise the urgent need to use animal-free science and publish a clear and ambitious action plan with timetables and milestones to drive the phase-out of animal experiments. As well as preventing animal suffering, this will benefit public health.
In 1988, the UK was the first country to introduce a ban on animal testing for cosmetics and their ingredients. Now that we have left the European Union, I very much want the government to follow through on its commitment to set global standards. In that regard, the UK must use its new REACH system to develop a progressive animal free approach to further protect human health and our environment. We must seize the opportunity to uphold our pioneering reputation and have cruelty free cosmetics.
Evidence showing the failure of animal tests has been widely published and it’s time for this outdated practice to end.
David Amess is the Conservative MP for Southend West.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.