The size of cages holding beagles awaiting experiments could be reduced under new Government proposals, animal welfare campaigners warned yesterday.
The Home Office published fresh plans for animal testing that it said would mean higher standards in Britain than in much of the European Union and would ensure special protection for primates, dogs and cats.
But the RSPCA raised the alarm over suggestions that the minimum cage size for beagles could be reduced from 4.5 sq m to 4 sq m. Barney Reed, its senior scientist, said: "We believe the current minimum UK pen size is already far too small for active, intelligent animals such as these dogs."
Testing on dogs fell 2 per cent in 2010, with 5,782 experiments being made on just over 3,700 dogs, more than 99 per cent of which were beagles.
The proposals, due to come into force next year, were in response to a new EU Directive designed to guarantee minimum levels of animal welfare. Lynne Featherstone, the Home Office minister, said: "While we recognise the need to use animals in order to help develop potentially life-saving drugs... we are also working to reduce the use of animals in research."
The number of experiments on animals rose steadily over the last decade to just over 3.7 million in 2010, but the Coalition agreement committed the Government to reducing the figure.
Mr Reed said the RSPCA was pleased the Government had largely avoided the temptation to lower standards, but he added: "Much more needs to be done if we're going to make faster progress with reducing lab animal use and suffering."
Troy Seidle, Director of Research and Toxicology at Humane Society International/UK, described the proposals as a "mis- sed opportunity to advance humane science without animal suffering". "The Home Office's response offers little in the way of reform in the way... experiments are regulated in Britain, and is unlikely to do anything to significantly reduce the number of animals subjected to experiments."
The UK Bioscience Sector Coalition, said the moves would "maintain the UK's high standards of animal welfare, while cutting needless red tape".
A Home Office spokesman added: "We will maintain all current UK standards for animal care and accommodation for all species."