RSPCA shows animal testing in the UK isn’t just cruel, it’s backwards

A baboon in a cage, to mark SPCA research into animal testing
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One of the many ways in which the UK is looking increasingly backwards is its use of animal testing. In an effort to appeal to the Tories’ political sensibilities, the RSPCA is pointing out that such testing isn’t just bad for the animals – it’s also bad for business. Whether the government will listen is hard to say. This is because the Tories‘ record on animal rights has been all over the place, with significant victories and losses for campaigners and the animals they seek to protect from cruelty.

RSPCA: monumental suffering

According to the RSPCA, science in the UK is impacting as many as five million lab animals each year. In a press release, the group noted:

This World Day for Laboratory Animals (April 24) the RSPCA is calling on the UK Government to stop paying lip service to becoming a ‘global science superpower’ and invest in the Non-Animal Technologies that would genuinely make the UK a serious contender.

Each year, more than 100 million animals are used globally in research and testing; and UK life sciences alone impacts on approximately five million animals every year.

The UK Government is spending only a tiny fraction of its research and innovation budget on Non-Animal Technologies, and the RSPCA is calling for immediate change.

Dr Penny Hawkins, head of the animals in science team at the RSPCA, said:

If the UK Government is serious about becoming a global science superpower and also wants the UK to benefit economically from being a significant player in the market for Non-Animal Technologies, it must recognise the sound scientific and ethical reasons for transitioning away from using animals in experiments that can cause them pain, suffering and distress.

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The UK Government must make a clear statement that phasing out animal experiments is a legitimate and desirable goal. Essential to this commitment is greater investment in developing, validating and using Non-Animal Technologies.

There have been some bold statements about wanting to build a framework that places the UK at the forefront of new technologies, so it’s time to go beyond the rhetoric, put money in and invest in the technologies that will help make the UK a world science leader.

As one of the world’s largest lab animal users, the UK has a responsibility to lead the agenda on phasing out animal use – but we are currently in danger of being left behind by the scientific ambition and leadership of other countries. Becoming a science superpower should include leading the way towards doing science without suffering.

She added:

A strategy for phasing out animal use is not about stopping important research. It is about reducing and avoiding the negative impacts – lab animal use and suffering. Phasing-out the use of animals is good for UK science, the economy and animal welfare.

Recent years have seen new technological advances that are offering increasing potential and opportunities for replacing current animal use. For example, advanced in vitro models, such as organoids and organs-on-chips, are increasingly available in biomedical research.

There are huge transformative opportunities and potential benefits from using Non-Animal Technologies but the government is lacking ambition on this issue.

Developing science versus animal testing

Earlier this month, an Australian scientist called for an end to animal testing after he successfully managed to grow a pair of human lungs. Professor of nanomedicine Wojciech Chrzanowski said:

The moment you start working in a lab, and have to start squeezing and cutting animals, you feel sorry for them…

In the past, I was involved in a trial with baboons, and they are really intelligent. The moment you start approaching their cage they start screaming, hitting things, and hiding. They know that something wrong is going to be done to them. It is heartbreaking.

He added:

in terms of building the lungs, any person with basic skills in cell culture will be able to do this. Undergraduates could run a lab of these lungs. We are entering an era of replacing animal research and we are going to see rapid acceleration of that. People, governments, pharmaceutical companies, are realising the need to invest in this.

In its press release, the RSPCA noted:

There is increasing recognition of the scientific limitations of many animal models and tests. The global non-animal alternatives testing market is growing annually and is expected to be worth an estimated £2.1billion by 2026, but despite this, the UK Government is refusing to commit to working to phasing out animal use in science, and currently spends only around 0.13% of its £8bn annual budget for research and innovation directly towards developing Non-Animal Technologies.

Ending cruelty in our lifetime

Animal testing’s cruelty is obvious to everyone – including those who condone it. Increasingly, however, the cruelty is the only thing that differentiates animal testing from other methods. The business case for ending animal cruelty may not be the strongest from an ethical perspective. However, it is an argument that can reach those who care more about bottom lines than ethics.

Featured image via WallpaperFlare

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