Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Long reads
21 July 2008

Labour’s vivisection ’failure’

Experiments on animals have reached the three million mark for the first time in 16 years, a shockin

By Wendy Higgins

Despite the now tired refrain from government that Britain has some of the strictest vivisections rules in the world, we experiment on more animals than any other EU member state – scarcely a record to be proud of.

In 1996 Labour’s pre-election animal policy manifesto, New Labour: New Life for Animals, symbolised for many a government in waiting ready to make a real difference for animals.

But eleven years on, little more than early token gestures has been achieved with arguably minimal impact.

Most of Labour’s initiatives on ending animal experiments fizzled out after 1999 and in any case they largely halted tests that were either virtually finished in Britain anyway, such as cosmetics and tobacco product testing or great ape research.

In a new report, Animals in Laboratories: Let Down By Labour, the Dr Hadwen Trust has revealed the total known number of animals saved due to these government initiatives are an estimated 2,236 each year.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

In fact, far from heralding a ‘new life’ for animals in labs, we’ve actually seen a massive increase in experiments since Labour came to power in 1997, from 2.1 million to 3.2 million. The number of military animal experiments conducted at the Ministry of Defence’s Porton Down facility has also virtually doubled.

So what went wrong?

We believe that numbers have continued to spiral because of a lack of overall strategy by the government. Labour had the opportunity in 1997 to implement a sea-change in attitude on animal research, root and branch reform that would have set us on a path of replacing outdated and unreliable animal methods with advanced, modern non-animal techniques.

Instead it chose a handful of one-off headline-grabbing symbolic gestures so that after a short-lived flurry, Labour’s action for laboratory animals was exhausted and eleven years on we have on average 532,239 more animals being used in British labs than in 1997.

The government’s record on investment to develop the sort of cutting-edge non-animal techniques that will replace animal use into the future, has also been lamentable.

We calculate 2006 government funding for non-animal replacement research (excluding research on refining existing animal models) across the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) and government departments) was a mere £1,173,606.

That’s only marginally higher than the amount spent by those voluntary sector organisations dedicated to alternatives research, including the Dr Hadwen Trust.

Without any doubt we can have a more humane and compassionate science that dispenses with animal experiments, if we are willing to truly prioritise it. The government must now pledge its active support for a national, strategic approach to achieving replacement for the benefit of people and animals alike.

Wendy Higgins is communications director at the Dr Hadwen Trust

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action