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14 August 2008

Vivisection’s missing millions

As many as 150 million animals could be used in laboratory experiments each year around the globe, a

By Wendy Higgins

For the first time ever, a statistical analysis of global animal research figures has been produced and it suggests that a staggering 115 million animals could be used every year in laboratory experiments around the world. In fact the figure could be as high as 150 million animals, as the currently available data leaves so many animals unaccounted for.

Laboratory experimentation is surely one of the most controversial ways in which animals are exploited by humans, generating significant debate around the world amongst the general public, politicians and the scientific community. So it is hard to believe that up until now, there has never been a scientifically robust estimate of global figures.

Without publicly accessible statistics on at least the number of animals used in research in each country, it is impossible for there to be a truly open and informed public debate. How can animal advocacy groups or politicians hold the government to account when even basic information about the number of animals suffering is unavailable?

And yet despite the important need for this data, not to mention the moral imperative to collate it, it has been left to animal advocacy groups such as my own to produce the analysis. The Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research collaborated with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, and our conclusions have just been published in the international journal ATLA.

As well as the astounding headline figure that should give us all pause for thought, one of the most shocking facts to be revealed is the number of countries – 79 per cent – that simply don’t record how many animals they experiment on. That means that millions of animals are suffering in laboratories every year, subjected to experiments that have the potential to cause them physical and mental distress and that will eventually take their lives, and yet they are missing from official records as if they never existed at all.

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Last month the Home Office published statistics for Britain’s own animal research. According to our government, just over three million animals were used in experiments in 2007. That’s a staggering statistic in itself, however it’s not the whole story because it excludes animals killed because they are considered surplus to requirements or those specifically killed to harvest their organs and tissues for research.

There is no justification for this exclusion. These are still sentient animals who spend their entire lives in the unnatural, sterile environment of the laboratory. The propensity for animals to suffer purely as a result of laboratory confinement is well documented. They can be denied all natural light, exposed to excessive noise and human handling, overcrowding, isolation, insufficient environmental enrichment. We cannot be in any doubt that at the very least these animals deserve to be acknowledged. We calculate that if they were, the Home Office’s official figure of just over three million animals would increase to five million.

Now that we finally have a sobering global estimate, it is essential that governments around the world take action. As a first step, those countries without official data – China, Brazil, India, South Korea, Turkey, Mexico, Russia and others – must commit to making such information available to their citizens. Countries such as Britain and the United States (which currently excludes a staggering estimated 93 per cent of animals used from its official records) must ensure that all animals who live and die for the research industry are counted.

Only then can we know the true scale of laboratory animal suffering and measure efforts by our governments to reduce and replace those animals with advanced non-animal techniques.

Wendy Higgins, Communications Director, Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research

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