Earlier this year, we joined forces with Cruelty Free International and Animal Free Research UK to launch our #TargetZero campaign to urge the UK Government to create and publicise a clear and ambitious phase-out of animal experimentation.
Our #TargetZero petition has gathered more than 84,000 signatures (and is still growing!) and on Monday, Members of Parliament debated the case for an end of animal experimentation in the UK. Each of the 8 MPs who took part in the debate called for an end to animal testing.
Martyn Day MP (SNP) began the debate with a tribute to Sir David Amess MP, who just months ago had called for a phase out to animal testing in Politics Home, before his tragic death almost two weeks ago.
Day reminded the Parliament that while animal welfare is devolved to the Scottish Government, the use of animals in science is reserved to the UK Parliament.
Day then pressed the Government to have ‘the courage to step into the 21st century’ and consider enshrining in law other viable experimentation options that do not involve animal suffering.
“If this Government really is committed to supporting funding and accelerating cutting age technologies that allows animal use to be replaced or avoided then let it put its money where its mouth is…’
UK conducts the most animal experiments in Europe
Several of the MPs raised their concern that the UK conducts more animal tests that any other country in Europe.
Fleur Anderson MP (Labour), upon raising her concern on the UK’s statistics, stated that “the UK should lead the world with animal welfare standards.” She stressed that the issue of animal welfare and issue animal testing must be “joined up”, as the Government shouldn’t “make progress in one area and continue the barbaric practice in another”, referring to the second reading of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill that was being debated concurrently in the main chamber.
In reference to the fact the UK conducts the most experiments on animals per person in Europe, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP (Labour) referred to UK as topping “the grim leaderboard”.
Additionally, Patricia Gibson MP (SNP) highlighted that the UK is one of the top countries in Europe in terms of the number of experiments that it conducts on primates and dogs. She commented:
“Despite the widespread public abhorrence towards animal testing, this is a significant industry in the UK…”
MPs inundated with animal welfare concerns from constituents
Both Patricia Gibson MP and Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP noted how important the issue of animal welfare is to their constituents.
Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP stated:
“We are a nation of animal lovers. Indeed, my inbox is often overflowing with concerns about animal rights and legislation impacting them.”
Meanwhile, Patricia Gibson MP commented:
“I receive more emails on animal welfare issues than any other issue currently facing politics/politicians today…”
It was so encouraging to hear how much support there is for greater animal protection from the UK public. As Patricia Gibson stated: “people care about animal welfare issues profoundly…”
Lack of investment in animal testing alternatives
Several of the MPs raised concerns that far too little money was being invested into research into animal-free alternatives.
Ruth Jones MP (Labour), specifically, revealed that only ten million pounds is invested by the National Centre for Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in research each year, while billions of pounds is invested into basic research. She rightfully asked:
“If we don’t invest in alternatives, how can we ever solve the problem?”
Navendu Mishra MP (Labour) called for this funding to be redirected to human-based research.
Each of the MPs also urged the Government to transition from animal experiments to humane alternatives.
Grahame Morris MP (Labour) stated that “the Government must take decisive & ambitious action to phase out animal experiments and phase in the use of cutting– edge human- based techniques” to deliver “major benefits for people, for animals and for the UK economy.”
Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP asked:
“How can we allow such a barbarity in our science when these modern day alternatives actually exist?”
Transparency of licensing applications
In order to conduct an experiment/s on animals in the UK, three licences must be obtained: a personal licence, a project licence and an establishment licence.
During the debate, Grahame Morris MP (Labour) highlighted that not a single application for a license to test on animals was refused in 2020. Ruth Jones MP, meanwhile, called for greater transparency in the issuing of licenses, so the public can see when and why animal testing takes place.
Progressing or regressing?
Shockingly, earlier this year it was revealed that the UK Government had ‘opened its doors’ to expanding the use of animal testing to ingredients used in cosmetic products, despite introducing a ban for animal testing in cosmetics 23 years prior.
A decision made last year by the appeals board of the European Chemicals Agency ruled that some ingredients used only is cosmetics needed to be tested on animals to ensure they were safe. The UK Government stated that it would align itself with this decision.
MPs were very vocal about their opposition to such a regress in the Government’s animal testing policy.
Navendu Mishra MP (Labour) commented:
“The reality is that almost a quarter of a century after setting a global precedent on the issue, the UK is now on the verge of allowing these alarming practices to take place again.”
Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP stated:
“The most recent media reports on this matter sadly suggest that the Home Office could actually pave the way for a return to animal testing for cosmetics…We need to use this opportunity to move forward, and not move back…”
Conclusion to the debate
While we welcome the comments from UK Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, George Freeman, responding for the Government, that the UK must move away from animal experimentation, and should do so faster, we are disappointed that he believes the UK is not yet at that point.
Freeman also dismissed any arguments for a more transparent licensing system, claiming that the licensing system is robust and that animal testing facilities are stringent. We disagree. It is a legal requirement that animal research is only carried out when there is no non-animal method available, but this requirement is not adequately enforced. For example, in 2020 452 skin sensitisation tests were licensed to be carried out on mice, despite there being non-animal tests available.
He also praised the National Centre for Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in research for doing good work, but only a proportion of the Centre’s funding has gone to the replacement of animal testing. While we welcome any measures that will reduce the suffering of animals in laboratories, we believe that the focus should be on the full replacement of animals with innovative methods and more funding is urgently needed to accelerate this process.
What’s next for Target Zero?
Christine Grahame MSP has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament highlighting that animal testing is unethical, that Scotland could, and should be, a world leader in developing alternatives, and that the Scottish Government should press the UK Government to phase out animal testing.
We are very supportive of this motion and need your help to gather as much MSP support as possible. If lots of MSPs, from several political parties, support the motion then it has a chance of being debated in Parliament. This would be a chance to show the Scottish Government the strength of support for an end to animal testing and discuss how the Scottish Government could lead the process, even though the power to completely ban animal testing is reserved to the UK Government.