How is Animal Testing Monitored in the UK?
There are strict rules and guidelines covering the practice of animal testing (that is, the use of animals in testing the safety and efficacy of medicines, which must be done before a medicine can move onto the next stage of being released to doctors to prescribe to human patients). These are written down in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which is overseen by a department in the Home Office. Officially, these describe the only ‘animal rights’ written in law that govern the area of animal testing.
The main rules are that:
Animals to be used for testing must be bred and tested upon in licenced premises;
An application to carry out a research project has to be sent to the Home Office for approval.
Animal testing must only be carried out if there is no valid non-animal alternative test possible.
If animals must be used, their welfare is of paramount importance.
The research must be likely to be of benefit to justify any possible distress to the animals.
The animals must be given proper care by a vet at all times.
As few animals as possible must be used, so all research must be designed with this in mind.
Animals must be cared for properly before, during and after testing.
A licence to test on animals is granted if the Home Office is satisfied that the likely benefits of the research will justify any negative effects on the animals.
All of these rules and regulations sound as though great care is taken to put the care of the animals at the forefront of the research and to minimise their use in testing as much as possible. Yet there are also rules and regulations governing the food industry – and the recent horse mean scandals have shown that those rules are not vigorously monitored or enforced. So what about the rules around animal testing – how do we know that they are being kept to?
First of all, Home Office inspectors regularly visit animal testing laboratories. They arrive unannounced and check whether everything is as it should be. The inspectors are qualified vets and they look to see that the research is done properly, legally and humanely.
There is a secondary level of protection for the animals in the form of monitoring by the RSPCA. The RSPCA champions the need to switch from testing on animals to humane alternatives because whatever checks and balances are put in place in the animal testing industry animals still experience pain and distress. But the RSPCA has to work under the current law and so liaises with those involved in animal research to make sure that the need to use animals in testing is carefully considered and that everything is being done to make humane alternatives available as soon as possible. They also ensure that everything is done to reduce the number of animals used, to reduce suffering and improve welfare. They are working to secure better animal rights in the UK.
Animal testing has been reduced by around a third over the last ten years but there are still around 100 million animals used in experiments worldwide. The RSPCA aims to reduce that number considerably by encouraging the development of viable alternatives.