Debate on an e-petition relating to relating to laboratory animals and the Animal Welfare Act | Westminster Hall | 4:30pm – Monday 7 February, 2022
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard, for what I think is the first time. I thank the Petitions Committee for tabling today’s petition debate. Indeed, 176 petitioners came from my constituency.
As we debate the petition, we must remember that the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill is currently working its way through the House of Commons, after having successfully made its way through the House of Lords, in recognition of the importance of animal sentience, including that of all vertebrates, cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans. The Bill will mean that a committee will produce a report on the impact of Government policy, and the Government will in turn respond to said report, adding another layer of protection to safeguard the interests of animals. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister how that will intersect with the current protections around laboratory research.
We have heard shocking stories today about the welfare of animals. When researching for this debate, I, too, came across those stories. We recognise there is a loophole that we must address in the Animal Welfare Act when it comes to scientific research for medicine and veterinary care. We must ensure that there is a comprehensive framework.
Although significant work was undertaken through the three R’s strategy to replace, reduce and refine research, it is truly shocking that there were 3.4 million experiments in 2019. In 2020, it dropped to 2.8 million because of the pandemic, but there have been experiments on dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, rats, monkeys, goats, sheep, mice, chickens and fish, and we have heard so much more. Of those experiments, 100,000 caused pain—50,000 caused severe pain—and that is something that we as parliamentarians must be mindful of in this debate.
We must also remember that 92% of experiments are unsuccessful. In addition, 1.8 million laboratory animals are bred and then killed each year without experimentation because they are deemed to be surplus. So 5.2 million animals are experimented on and killed. Plus there is the 10.7 million in the European Union and the massively underestimated 800,000 in the United States. In the global scientific community, we have to work closer together.
In parallel, the investment and focus on non-animal testing practices through the UK road map means that sophisticated science can steer us away from animal experimentation, so we do not have to continue on the path that we have journeyed on to date. We need to pivot to the new world of science that is developing at such a rapid pace.
Turning to the stats again, if 1.8 million animals are not used, and 92% of experiments fail to translate, of the 3.4 million, we already see a total of 4,928,000 animals adding nothing to research now, and just 272,000 offering some insight, but often experiments are repeated multiple times, so that, too, could be cut immediately.
Worse is the dependency of science on these dead ends, because it wastes valuable time and resources and does not find the cures that we are desperate to find. For the scientific benefit that it brings, it takes us down lost roads, which is why we need to pivot to the new scientific age of the technologies that are available to us—3D technology, cell-level technologies, advanced imaging, and the new scientific methodologies being developed for the new research techniques. Investing in those for the longer term will not only bring resource into vital areas of research but enable us to develop the science to find the cures that will make a difference to people’s lives and, no doubt, to animals’ lives as well.
I doubt that anyone present wants to see a slowing in the advancement of medicine. Everyone sees the importance of accelerating medical research. For that reason, I make this case today. It is especially vital in the light of the slowing of research during covid. We know that vital scientists have left the field and that the medical research charities did not have the support that they needed. Therefore, we have seen the slowing of the science of many rare conditions, cancers and so much more. We need to accelerate the pace of that science and, as we do so, investment should be made in the technologies of the future, ensuring that our labs are well equipped and that the technology is there.
We want to be the country to lead the global community of science. This is our opportunity to pivot to the new world. We should also see this as a major export opportunity, an opportunity to attract the best global sciences and to ensure that we are leading in taking down so many barriers and advancing opportunities. This is not just about science, but about trade and about the geopolitical barriers that we want to push, as well as the medical barriers. We must do that by ending animal experiment, not least because of the waste of those animals’ lives, as I have pointed out. Overbreeding and failed pathways must end immediately.
Invest to save is the way forward, especially investing in the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, using that cost saving to invest even more into medical research. Only £10 million each year over the next decade is too little for that institution, so I ask that we look at the comprehensive spending review coming up to pivot into the new technologies for the future.
Public opinion has moved too. We must recognise that. The response to this petition and others, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) pointed out, has shown that public opinion of course wants to find the cures and pharmaceutical products to make a difference, but wants to do so in the most humane way. We know that the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 needs strengthening and that the pathways out of animal experimentation need to be accelerated.
The Animal Welfare Act is now an ageing piece of legislation. We need to ensure that it is brought into the modern age, so that we are not talking behind the curtain about animal experimentation in cages, but bringing into the light what is happening, ensuring that we have animal welfare at heart while reducing the unnecessary cull of and cruelty to animals. The animals clearly suffer in such experimentation.
I therefore echo the calls to gather a scientific council to accelerate the pace of work on the new sciences, to open the eyes of Government and others to showcase what can be done without animals being part of the experimental pathway. This is a great opportunity not only to advance science, but to end the cruel practice of animal experimentation.