Great Britain’s Animal Research Giants
In Great Britain, there were 3,056,243 animal research procedures performed in 2021, and nearly half were carried out by ten organizations and universities.
The number of animals used in research in Great Britain has risen, and procedures increased by 6% in 2021. This is despite a commitment to the three Rs of animal research— replacement, reduction, and refinement. Replacement means finding a substitute for live animals to perform the research, such as the University of Edinburgh’s use of 3D stem cell models in lieu of birds. Reduction means lowering the number of animals used in an experiment. Refinement means improving the welfare of research animals, such as providing more enriched housing or reducing the severity of pain caused.
The species used in 99% of the research in 2021 were mice, fishes, and rats. Other animals included horses, dogs, cats, frogs, ferrets, opossums, birds, and primates. Birds made up 0.5% of the animals used, including the 6,132 used at the University of Edinburgh (more than any other institution). Non-human primates made up 0.01% of research animals, including the 57 macaque monkeys at the Medical Research Council. 84.3% of the procedures were rated as causing mild pain and suffering or less, such as receiving an injection. The remaining 15.7% or 234,873 procedures involved moderate to severe effects, such as receiving surgery under anesthesia or death from toxicity. The Medical Research Council reported the lowest number of moderate to severe procedures (12,485) and University of Oxford reported the most (33,493).
For animal advocates working to end the unnecessary suffering of animals, these numbers can feel like a gut punch. But one thing that stands out is the open transparency of the information reported. This transparency is not afforded in some countries that are leaders in research. Without knowing species type, number, and severity of procedures, advocates can’t hold organizations accountable for their commitments to animal welfare and the 3Rs.
Furthermore, the U.K. has banned animal research for cosmetic, household, and tobacco products, as well as imports of cosmetics that are tested on animals. Overall, the bar that’s been set in the U.K. is higher than most countries, and animal advocacy helps to set that standard.