Millions of animals subjected to ‘disturbing’ scientific research at UK universities

Nearly 2 million animals were used for scientific research in British universities in one year – with many subjected to “distressing and disturbing” procedures, campaigners say.

Just six universities account for a quarter of all the animals used in scientific research in the UK in 2013, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The tests were performed mostly on mice and rats but also included monkeys, sheep, rabbits and fish, according to data collected by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV).


Home Office statistics show that in 2013 there were 4,121,582 licensed scientific experiments carried out on 4,017,758 animals, some of which experienced “distressing and disturbing” procedures, the BUAV claimed. Of these, some 1.8 million animals were used in university-licensed experiments for scientific research.

The University of Edinburgh topped the list with tests on 241,865 animals. It was  followed by Oxford University (190,169), University College London (181,295), Cambridge University (169,353),  King’s College London (132,885) and Imperial College London (130,358).

“Shockingly, universities account for half of the total number of animals used in experiments carried out in the UK and are responsible for some particularly distressing and disturbing experiments,” said Katy Taylor, head of science at the BUAV.

“Yet, despite growing concern regarding animal research, much of it is publicly funded,” Dr Taylor added.

“It is ironic that many universities are also leaders in the research to find alternatives to using animals. So while one department may be developing cutting-edge alternatives, another may be breeding animals to be used in experiments.”

The BUAV approached  71 universities under the Freedom of Information Act last year and asked how many animals they had used in scientific procedures in the previous 12 months. A total of 67 universities confirmed that they did use animals in experiments and all but three of these – Manchester, Sussex and Bristol – gave the numbers. The BUAV estimates that 43 per cent of the UK’s  156 registered universities conduct animal research.

A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh said it only uses animals in research programmes “when their use is justified on scientific, ethical and legal grounds, and when no alternatives are available”.

Cambridge University said: “Our scientists are actively looking at new techniques to replace the use of animals in research. But without the use of animals we would not have many of the modern medicines, antibiotics, vaccines and surgical techniques that we take for granted in both human and veterinary medicine.”

A spokesman for King’s College London said that many important treatments are the result of animal experiments, including the understanding of complications associated with a drug used to treat Parkinson’s. “Research with marmosets has helped us to better understand and manage these complications.”

By Steve Connor