Friday, February 7, 2014

Use of Animals in UK Research

The UK's coalition government made reduction of the number of animals used in research a plank in its platform early on. Today, a report released jointly by the Home Office, the Department for Business Innovation & Skills, and the Department of Health purports to lay out a plan for that reduction. Indeed, the document is called, "Working to Reduce the Use of Animals in Scientific Research." The report has been greeted warmly by scientists and decried as as whitewash by animal-rights activists. This is in part because the report clarifies the government's platform position in this way:
[In] 2010, the Government made a commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research. This commitment is not focused on baseline numbers which are influenced by a range of extraneous factors. Instead, it encompasses replacement, reduction and refinement (the 3Rs) more broadly, putting them at the heart of a science-led approach.
In other words, the report contains no promises and no target numbers for animal-use reduction, but instead relies upon the 3Rs, as developed by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals Used in Research (NC3Rs). The government has promised to increase NC3Rs' funding. The report contemplates a more active role for inspectors in recommending "3Rs" steps to the facilities they inspect. It also introduces a new initiative to limit use of animals by other countries via education and outreach; it mentions as an example a plan to use education to reduce the use by China of animals in cosmetic testing. Such use has been banned in the UK for 15 years; one strange result of this ban is that UK cosmetic products (such as those sold by the Body Shop) cannot be imported into China, precisely because they have not been tested on animals. The government hopes that by persuading China to alter its animal-testing standards, it can benefit animals--and also open an enormous cosmetics market to British manufacturers.

The report shows a dramatic increase in the number of procedures done on animals in recent years.

(For a Yale Bioethics/Hastings Center joint project on the use of animals in medical research, look here.)

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