Government reneges on poll vow as animal tests show big rise

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The Government was accused of reneging on its promises yesterday as it was revealed that more animals are being used for experiments in laboratories than at any time in the past eight years.

Three hundred extra animals a day - including dogs, cats and horses - were used for research last year, bringing the total to more than 2.7 million. The Home Office insisted the suffering of all laboratory animals was kept to a minimum and there was no alternative to the research.

But anti-vivisection groups denounced the four per cent increase in 2002 - bringing the number of experiments to its highest level under the Blair administration - as shocking.

The rise has been driven by an increase in tests on genetically modified (GM) animals, which have doubled in the six years since Labour's manifesto promise to improve animal welfare.

"It really speaks for itself. These experiments do nothing for animal welfare. We would obviously like evidence that [the Government is]following that policy. It doesn't seem to be coming through," said Caroline Chisholm, of the National Anti-Vivisection Society.

She said the increased use of GM animals, which rose by 12 per cent alone last year, had opened up the variety of experiments which could be performed.

"With GM animals you can do so many more experiments where you not only have the basic genetic structure but can also manipulate it. I can imagine a lot of unnecessary testing has been going on because of the possibilities there," Ms Chisholm added.

Government figures reveal that 2,732,700 animal experiments were conducted in 2002 - these included 2,293,200 on mice, rats or other rodents; 191,100 on fish; 136,000 on birds and 27,300 on dogs, cats, horses and monkeys.

"A lot of experiments are carried out on what most people would consider household pets. Though the Government says it is less than one per cent, that is still thousands of animals," said Ms Chisholm.

Within the total, more than a quarter - 710,000 - were carried out on GM animals, many of which have disease-causing genes inserted or removed to examine how conditions such as cancer or cystic fibrosis can develop.

While the Home Office said that 80 per cent of those animals were used only for breeding, critics insisted few lessons could be learned that will benefit human beings.

Wendy Higgins, campaigns director for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said: "This shocking rise ... is a shameful reflection of this Government's utter failure to tackle the controversial issue of animal experiments."

Jan Creamer, chief executive of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, added: "It is a huge waste of life, creating extreme suffering for animals for no benefit to people and with a lot of money spent on it. The Government should call a halt to racing ahead with the development of GM animals, to give more time to investigate what is being done. We should be working towards ending these cruel experiments, not increasing them."

Caroline Flint, a Home Office minister, said Britain had the world's toughest laws on the use of animals in experiments.

"Research using animals is vital to the development of safe medicines and effective treatment for serious human ailments and for certain types of research there is currently no suitable alternative. It is vital, however, that such tests are carried out only where absolutely essential and done with the minimum of suffering to the animal," she said.

"The UK has the toughest legislation in the world on the use of animals in scientific procedures which requires the 'three Rs principle' to be rigorously applied: replacing animal use where possible; reducing the number of animals needed for a particular purpose, and refining the procedures to minimise suffering." Home Office figures state that 62 per cent of procedures were for fundamental biological research, while 18 per cent of procedures were for toxicological safety testing, predominantly for pharmaceutical evaluation purposes. The figures emerged with the Government about to announce whether it has given the go-ahead to a primate testing centre in Cambridge. A decision is expected from John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, within days.