The number of animals used in British military experiments, including biological and chemical warfare tests, has doubled in the past five years, prompting protests from MPs who fear that the live animal tests are being conducted on behalf of foreign powers.
More than 21,000 animals, including monkeys, ferrets and pigs, were subjected to experiments at the secret biological and chemical research centre at Porton Down last year. The number of animals used at the top-secret Wiltshire research centre has gone up by 76 per cent since 2000.
The dramatic increase in military animal testing has shocked animal welfare groups, which have questioned whether they involve the duplication of experiments already carried out.
Although details of the tests are secret, it is known that monkeys in the secret Wiltshire military labs have been exposed to anthrax. Pigs have had 40 per cent of their blood drained and been injected with E coli. Others have been exposed to poison gas and lethal nerve agents. Porton Down has in the past shot anaesthetised pigs to help develop body armour.
The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection said the latest figures are "worse than we thought" and called for details of the tests to be published
"We're talking about chemical agent-induced burns left for days, poison gas experiments, applying fatal doses of nerve agent to animals' skins and monkeys given sarin and anthrax," said a spokesman.
"If these experiments were conducted with one eye on Iraq, it's bitterly ironic that the only victims of weapons of mass destruction in this conflict turn out to be animals."
Mike Hancock, a Liberal Democrat MP who obtained the figures, said he was "horrified" by the number of animals being used for military research when the Government said it was trying to find alternatives to live testing. He has tabled questions in Parliament asking if any tests have been conducted on behalf of foreign governments.
"I want an explanation of why these figures have risen so steeply," he said.
Last year, 54 "non-human primates" believed to be marmosets, rhesus monkeys and macaques, were subjected to military tests at Porton Down, up from 34 in 2000. Sixty ferrets were also used, and 20,000 mice, double the 2000 number.
The defence minister Adam Ingram said the animals had been used to develop burn protection, treatment of acute lung injury, "novel haemorrhage control" and "medical countermeasures". He said that Porton Down only undertakes research involving animals when other methods are unsuitable.
A spokesman for Porton Down declined to provide details of the tests, but said the animals were used because of their likeness to humans. "Pigs were used for development of countermeasures against haemorrhaging, which is one of the main causes of death on the battlefield," he said.
By the Numbers
555 PIGS have been used, some drained of blood and injected with 'E coli'
85,072 MICE have been used in tests since 2000
251 PRIMATES tested on, including macaques
1 COW was involved in a top-secret experiment at Porton Down in 2004Reuse content