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Animal testing halved in Ireland since EU directive, but activists say numbers still too high

The majority were used to test the safety, quality and potency of medicines.

Image: Shutterstock

THE NUMBER OF animals used in testing in Ireland has halved since a European Union directive came into effect in 2013, according to new figures.

Animal rights activists have said the number of animals used in testing is still too high, with almost 138,000 animals used last year. 

The 2013 EU directive, which aimed to enhance animal welfare and ensure animals are used in studies only when their use is necessary, introduced stricter regulation.

Scientific procedures involving animals can only take place following a detailed submission of the planned study/studies and subsequent approval by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) on the basis of a favourable harm/benefit analysis.

There are also a number of reporting requirements such as the use of each animal and the severity experienced by the animal. 

In 2020, there were a total of 137,988 uses of animals in procedures for research and testing purposes. This is down slightly from the 2019 figure of 138,439 and represents a significant reduction from the 277,559 animals used in 2013, the year the EU directive was first implemented. 

Mice were the most commonly used species last year at 82% of the total animal use.

In addition, 702 mice were reported as having been used to create and maintain colonies of genetically altered animals. These 702 mice are not considered by the European Commission to have been directly used in research and testing.

Source: HPRA

The next most commonly used species was rats, followed by fish. Guinea pigs were used 228 times, dogs were used 24 times and horses, donkeys and cross-breeds were used 238 times.

The animals reported as being used under the category ‘other rodents’ were red squirrels being studied as part of a conservation project aiming to protect their population numbers and habitats.

Of the total number of uses of animals in procedures for research and testing purposes, 75% were used for regulatory purposes, which refers to legal requirements to test the safety, quality and potency of medicines (eg biological medicines such as vaccines).

This testing is required for producing, placing and maintaining products or substances on the market. 

Source: HPRA

‘Basic research’ refers to studies of a fundamental nature, which are designed to add knowledge about the structure, functioning or behaviour of organisms.

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The most common sub-field of ‘Basic research’ at 31% was ‘immune system’, which relates to research investigating the functioning and activities of the immune system in health and disease.

The most frequently reported actual severity experienced by animals during their uses in procedures for research and testing purposes was mild at 58%, followed by moderate at 26%. In 21,209 cases the classification was ‘severe’. 

Commenting on the latest figures, John Carmody of Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN) called for a review of experiments carried out on animals and an examination of the HPRA’s ‘replacement, reduction, refinement’ aim under the EU legislation. 

“The public are going to be disgusted, shocked and sickened with news that dogs, horses and other animals are still being used in experiments in this day and age when we are at a time of wonderful advancement that progresses medical progress with no animal use as opposed to these latest figures essentially showing a catalogue of animals of all species still used in experiments and treated as test objects as opposed to sentient beings who are clearly capable of experiencing pain and suffering,” he said.

“Mice and rats are abused in everything from toxicology tests – in which they are slowly poisoned to death – to painful burn experiments to psychological experiments that induce terror, anxiety, depression, and helplessness.”

The HPRA in its report said its focus will continue to be on “promoting the replacement of tests using animals with suitable non-animal alternative tests, ensuring that the principle of reduction is applied appropriately when animals are used in procedures, and refining both the care and use of animals in procedures”.

The HPRA said it will ensure that animals are used only when there is no equivalent alternative (non-animal) technique available, and the harm-benefit analysis of the proposed use is favourable.

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