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This morning the Home Office released the annual statistics of scientific procedures on living animals in 2015.

These statistics show that the number of procedures using animals has remained fairly constant between 2013 and 2015. In total the number of procedures, around half of which take place in universities, rose slightly by 0.5% since 2013. The statistics also reveal that the proportion of experimental procedures defined as severe fell by two percentage points between 2014 and 2015, from 8% to 6%.

In 2015 a total of 4.14 million procedures were completed, approximately half of which involved the breeding of genetically altered animals (GAAs). The number of experimental procedures was 2.08 million, rising slightly, by 63,000, from 2013 (the most recent year for which reliable statistics for the number of procedures are available). Of those experimental procedures in 2015, 61% were on mice, whilst 14% were on fish, 12% on rats and 7% on birds. Only 0.8% of experimental procedures (17,000) in 2015 were conducted on ‘specially protected species’ including horses, dogs and non-human primates.

A welcome change to reporting allows the actual severity of procedures to be captured, a change advocated by the community since 2008. This provides a more accurate picture of the true experience of animals used in scientific procedures. The figures released today show that the majority of experimental procedures were classed as either subthreshold or mild, meaning that at worst any pain or suffering experienced by the animal is ‘transitory and minor’.

Importantly, these statistics also reveal that the proportion of severe experimental procedures has fallen from 8% in 2014 to 6% in 2015. Whilst this fall may in part be due to more accurate reporting, it will provide an important benchmark for comparison in future years of reporting.

Professor Dominic Wells FRSB, chair of the Animal Sciences Group, Royal Society of Biology said:
“This is the second year in which the severity of pain and suffering actually experienced by each animal has been recorded. Ninety-four percent of the breeding of GAAs was of mild severity or less and 70% of experiments were mild or less. The number of procedures involving moderate or severe suffering has also decreased compared to 2014. These data should reassure the public that the majority of animal experiments cause little, if any, pain or suffering although there is clearly room to further decrease the number of moderate and severe procedures.”

The detailed statistics released by the Home Office are a prime example of how animal science is scrutinised in the UK, as well as providing an excellent opportunity for reflection. There is an ongoing commitment in the community to promote the principles of the 3Rs, reducing, replacing and refining the use of animal models. Continuing refinements in, for example, handling and housing of animals may not be reflected in today’s statistics but continue to improve animal welfare in UK institutions.

The Animal Science Group (ASG) is a Special Interest Group of the Royal Society of Biology, representing the broad spectrum of UK bodies actively involved in supporting, formulating policy or directly involved in research involving animals. ASG currently has 31 member and seven observer organisations.

The Royal Society of Biology (RSB) supports the use of animals in research when properly regulated and when no alternatives are available. The RSB actively supports progress towards a reduction in the use of animals by refining experiments and developing new ways to minimise the use of and replace animals wherever possible.