Animal Testing

I take animal welfare very seriously and recognise that animal testing is an extremely controversial issue. I have, therefore, thought long and hard about my position and tried to form my view from an objective assessment of the facts available.

Animal testing

The 3Rs

The use of primates in animal testing

Toxicology Tests

Stopping unjustified animal testing

Cosmetics and Domestic Products




Animal testing:

Humans and animals have evolved from a common ancestor and there persist remarkable similarities between the functioning of their body systems and ours.  These similarities explain why over one third of the veterinary medicines that are used to treat animals are the same as, or very similar to, those used to treat human patients[1].

While there is some evidence that computer modelling and ‘virtual’ organs can be used to simulate some physiological processes, thereby reducing the need for testing on animals, it is thought that some degree of animal experimentation will always be necessary, firstly in order to validate these models and check that they accurately replicate real life, but also because there remain very many processes that are not yet understood[2]. 

It is important to remember that some of the major medical advances have depended on the use of animals in medical research and testing.  These include antibiotics, anaesthetics, vaccines, insulin for diabetes, open heart surgery, kidney dialysis and transplants, treatments for asthma, leukaemia and high blood pressure.

Research can only be justified if it would save more suffering than it would inflict.  The examples above demonstrate that significant human suffering can be prevented through the drugs developed with the help of animal tests.  However, it is vitally important that each case is closely monitored to ensure that the use of animals is scrutinised and justified.

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I support the Government’s approach to animal testing, which is based on the principle of the 3R’s, which state that animal tests should be replaced with alternatives where they exist, reduced wherever possible and refined to minimise any pain and suffering.

In May 2004, the Government announced that a National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research would be established with Government funding.  The Centre facilitates the promotion, development and implementation of the 3Rs in the UK and reports to the Science Minister  once a year.  I welcomed this move at the time of the announcement and you can read more of my response by clicking here.

Although I support the Government’s approach to the issue, I have pressed Ministers to improve the scrutiny of license applications so that each case is considered carefully on its merits and also called for more information to be available to the public so that these decisions are transparent.

To reflect the views I have outlined above, I  signed two EDMs in March 2006 :

EDM 1850, which supports the Pro-Test demonstration in Oxford and the construction of the new animal testing laboratory there.

EDM 1013, which welcomes the report from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics called ‘The Ethics of Research Involving Animals’.

You can read the texts of both EDMs by clicking on the above links. You can read the Nuffield Council on Bioethics report by clicking here.

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The use of primates in animal testing:

In 1997, the Government confirmed it would not permit any great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees and orang-utans) to be used in any medical research.  I wholly support this move as well as the law that higher mammals, including primates, can only be used when research is justified and no other species is suitable.  I have also supported the campaign of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to stop primates being used as pets.

However, I am not completely opposed to experiments on all primates.  While I agree that it is precisely their similarity to humans that can make primates' suffering so severe, it is this similarity that is the reason why testing on monkeys is used in medical research.  There are four areas of human health where this similarity is particularly important in research: vaccines, women's health, brain diseases and safety testing (i.e. of medicines before they are given to human volunteers).

I was therefore been unable to sign EDM 1704, tabled in February 2006, which calls for the Government to extend the ban on using great apes in medical research to all primates.

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Toxicology Tests

Around three-quarters of the research involving primates is done for safety testing of new medicines.  The extent to which animals can help filter inappropriate drugs is demonstrated in a table from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics report on animal testing[3]. Please click here to view the table. This shows the proportion of animal tests used, and the number of drugs filtered, at each stage of drug development.

Of an average of 12 drugs which make it through the animal testing stage, only an average of 2.2 are actually launched.  Some anti-testing organisations may use this statistic to claim that animal testing is an ineffective means of testing drug suitability.  I hope you can see that this is a rather misleading analysis and does not account for the fact that animals are used as part of an overall filtering process where a million possible medicines are tested.

The important role animals can play in testing the toxicity of new drugs is demonstrated in a study carried out by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) in 2000[4].  The study looked at a series of pharmaceutical compounds that had shown toxicity in human clinical trials.  It found that in 71% of cases, the effects seen in people were foreshadowed in the animal tests carried out prior to the clinical trials.  Of the 29% of effects not detected in animal tests, the majority were of a type that the animal tests were not designed to detect, or were undetectable in that type of test, for example, headache, dizziness, and certain skin reactions.

In my view, animal tests can never prove that a medicine is safe, as the case, in March 2006, of the six volunteers who fell ill during a drugs trial highlighted. But they are a key part of a very important filtering process[5]. The reality is that such appalling incidents are exceptional, rather than frequent occurrences because of the effectiveness of the tests depicted in the above table.

In May 2005, EDM 92 called for a ‘scientific evaluation of the use of animals as surrogate humans in drug safety testing and medical research’. I have not been able to sign this motion as I do not think it is possible to conduct such an evaluation given that every research project is different and research is constantly evolving.

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Stopping unjustified animal testing

After years of decline, the number of animal tests being carried out is now rising. The latest figures available state that in 2005, 2.9million procedures were undertaken, a rise of 10% from 2001[6]. However, this is still a large decrease from the 3.6million tests that were carried out in 1987.

The increase is due to new genetics knowledge giving rise to potential new therapies rather than any change in policy. Indeed, the reduction from 3.6million to 2.9million tests, I believe, demonstrates the effect of actively reducing the need for animal testing by implementing the 3Rs and embracing new technology.

However, please be assured that whilst I support animal testing for certain medical research, I will continue to be vigilant about anything that could lead to the unnecessary testing of animals.  I will continue to insist on both the strict oversight of all research and the proper scrutiny that challenges the need for the use of animals, especially primates.

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Cosmetic and Domestic Products

I am pleased that the Government will not license research using animals in the development of alcohol or tobacco products. Since 1998, the Government has made the same commitment to not license research using animals to test cosmetic products

EDM 1240, which I signed in December 2004, welcomes the EC Directive that has banned the testing of all finished cosmetic products in the EU by 2006, and all cosmetic ingredients by 2009.  However there are currently no restrictions on the imports of cosmetics that have been tested on animals outside of the EU and this remains a loophole which needs to be closed.

I also called for the Government to ban the testing of domestic products on animals by signing EDM 1239, at the same time.

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The implementation of the new EU legislation for the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) is a source of major concern.  This legislation requires all chemical companies to prove that any chemical they produce in significant quantities is safe for the environment and human use.  It is estimated that this will lead to 30,000 chemicals being tested over 11 years[7] which will inevitably lead to more animal tests. The question is, how many more?

Guenter Verheugen, the vice-president of the European Commission overseeing the legislation, has estimated that in the worst case scenario, an extra 3.9 million more animals could be used for testing as a result of REACH. However, Mr Verheugen quickly concluded that this increase is not ethical and stated that through finding alternative methods and avoiding duplication this figure could be reduced by 70%[8].  The UK Government has also pledged its support to minimise any extra tests.

I understand the need for this new legislation but believe that the principles of the 3Rs should be rigorously enforced to find alternatives to animal testing and share data between companies to avoid duplication.  The implementation of this legislation, and the extra tests caused, needs to be monitored very closely.  

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I hope you can accept that the use of animals in experimental procedures is an issue I have carefully considered.  The welfare of animals is very important to me and I do not take lightly the suffering caused by these tests. I will continue to take careful note of developments in this area and hold the Government to account so that testing is properly scrutinised and no unjustified testing is allowed.

Finally, though it is right that people should be concerned about any unnecessary cruelty to animals used in research, the numbers involved are minute in comparison with the numbers of animals and birds bred for other uses, mainly food. Cruelty to animals in food production is something that concerns me greatly, which is why I am careful to buy only free range produce and to particularly avoid meat and poultry products sourced from countries with poor animal welfare standards and why I have made it my business to visit slaughterhouses to check up on what goes on there.

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[1] Research Defence Society @

[2] Can computer models replace animal testing? Article in New Scientist 7, 13 May 2006

[3] link to Nuffield Council of Bioethics Report: 'The Ethics of Research Invovlving Animals'

[4] Olson, H. et al., 'Concordance of the Toxicity of Pharmaceuticals in Humans and Animals', Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 32 (2000), 56-67. The Department of Health submitted this paper in support of their written evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures, 2002.

[5] The previously healthy men had volunteered to test the medication DTGN1412, created by German pharmaceutical company TeGenero, which was designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis, leukaemia and multiple sclerosis.  The research was carried out by the medical research company Parexel.  

[6] Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals: Great Britain 2005, Home Office.

[7] BBC Online 28/11/05:

[8] ibid

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