Missed opportunity as long-awaited Government reduction strategy is a whitewash which offers little hope of progress

07/02/2014

It has been almost four years since the Coalition Government became the first UK administration to pledge to reduce the number of animal experiments. The ground-breaking promise, made in the Programme for Government, was a result of detailed discussions and briefings between the BUAV and both parties and we hoped it would herald a new era in working towards our ultimate goal of ending animal experiments.

Sadly, that appears to have been as good as it would get, with the intervening period seeing two Home Office Ministers come and go and three sets of animals experiment statistics showing a continued increase in the number of animals suffering in British laboratories each year, which now stands at a staggering 4.1 million.

The public has been promised a reduction strategy to set out how this pledge would be achieved for some time, and over 200 MPs have signed Motions in the House of Commons calling for it. After over three years of deliberation the Government finally delivered their strategy this morning.

But whilst the document is promisingly titled “Working to reduce the use of animals in scientific research”, there is no commitment made to achieve such a reduction; we expected more. In fact it features the increasingly repeated mantra of the Government that the commitment “is not focused on baseline numbers.” This is the kind of out of touch double-speak Orwell would have been proud of and which gives politics a bad name. If a reduction strategy is not about reducing numbers, it is not a reduction strategy but something else.

The BUAV made a submission of 22 proposals to the Home Office with simple, achievable steps for bringing about a reduction. Sadly virtually none of them have made it into this whitewash, to which the current Minister responsible for animal experiments, Norman Baker, has not even put his name.

Far from being a serious attempt to work constructively to save animals from suffering in laboratories, this documents is a thinly veiled defence of the status quo. In fact one of the first major statements of the Delivery Plan states that “the UK requires the use of a significant number of animals in scientific experiments or procedures each year and this Plan provides the opportunity to set out a more detailed explanation and justification for their use and the benefits that result”.

The last of the ten proposals in the document calls on Government departments and others to take part in “promoting an understanding and awareness about the use of animals where no alternatives exist”, which brings into question whether this document is a serious attempt at reduction or an effort to justify past failures.

A recent IPSOS MORI Poll in October 2013 revealed the public unease regarding animal testing. It found that members of the public supported the use of CCTV in laboratories and called for far more inspectors, than the current 20, to deal with over four million experiments. It’s hard to see anything in the Plan published today to put minds at ease about the future of animal experiments in Britain.

The Government may have given up on working for a reduction, but the BUAV has not. We will continue to make the case for a modern, humane approach to research through the use of non-animal alternatives and ending animal suffering. We are already talking to political parties about what this approach might look like after the General Election in 2015, and no doubt millions of voters will be just as eager as us to see the outcome of these discussions.