Blog about animals
Selected the best cow in Germany
Fishing ban proposed near Rockall after rare scientific finds
Life and death on the riverbank
Baboon shot dead after escaping from Knowsley Safari Park
Birdwatch: Peregrine falcon
Iceland's fin whales are endangered. Stop this bloody cull
The pitfalls of elderly dog insurance
Valley where Edward Carpenter, gay rights campaigner and socialist, walked
Green groups warn government of national parks hunting backlash
Demand for ivory destabilising central Africa
Dog walker found neighbour trampled by cows, inquest hears
Cat stands for election in Mexican city
I hear some hip cat's running for mayor in Mexico. That gives me an idea
Wader chick fever grips birds and spotters alike
Philippines destroys five tonnes of elephant tusks
The Dwyfor is surely one of the loveliest of Welsh rivers
New to nature No 107: Typhochlaena costae
How to beat the midges this summer
Controversial herring gull cull gets green light
Whaling's day in court is a sea change for conservation
Australia censures Japan for 'scientific' whaling
The young red deer stags were on their hind legs boxing, just like hares
Our garden's blackbirds started their nest-building early this year
UK wildlife and nature hit hard by erratic weather
  Animal testing it's time to talk about it again
The animal testing argument is trapped in a 1980s time warp. Thinking about it immediately makes me think about Body Shop peppermint foot lotion, Duran Duran, and tables on street corners with lurid, heartwrenching pictures of suffering animals.

Why does no one talk about it any more? Figures released this week showing that animal testing rose by 8% in the UK in 2012 will cause a small ripple of concern, which will then probably die down to a whimper. That's because we have tidied it up in our minds and put it away. Cosmetic testing: well, we don't do that any more. Medical research: while one feels sorry, obviously, for the poor animals, we're not prepared to forgo a cure for Parkinson's for our mother. That seems a pretty unanswerable conclusion.

We used to talk about it. In fact, we talked about it endlessly for 30 years and made huge amounts of progress, reaching the heady heights of an EU ban on cosmetic testing. But then it all became terribly complicated. Was cosmetic testing actually banned? What did we really think about medical research? In 2005, a crisis year in animal campaigning, a tiny group of animal rights activists brought the argument to a head by carrying out a number of stupid, offensive actions, including digging up the body of an animal breeder's grandmother. In doing so, they handed Tony Blair a reason to bring in a series of laws that sent many of them to prison. The movement was tainted with an air of emotional irrationality that is deeply unnerving to the British mentality, and that lingers to this day. We sealed it all off in a Blue Peter time capsule, and stopped talking about it.

But things have moved on, and there have been fundamental medical innovations, which means it is high time the debate is reopened. In 2007, the US National Research Council brought out a game-changing report called Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century, which drew an extraordinary picture of the testing regime of the future: laboratories full of colossal computing power that can trace the path of a substance through millions of human molecules, and will provide data based not on mice or fish, but actual human beings.

In the past few years substantial progress has been made in this area. In several fields, toxicology in particular, usable alternatives are within sight and researchers are developing a number of techniques, including models of human biochemical pathways, computer modelling of the relationship between doses and effects, and computational models that can predict toxicity in minutes, rather than the months that a traditional animal study requires. One scientist told me of university laboratories in the US where everything was done on computers and animals were regarded as old-fashioned.

Just as significantly, a growing number of scientists believe that animal testing, though useful, is far from ideal given the multiple genetic differences between the species. In a video released on Tuesday by Humane Society International (HSI), a number of researchers from institutions including Imperial College and Queen Mary University in London, and Aston University in Birmingham, tackled this problem head on.

"We need to start developing better, human-related models," says Geraldine Thomas, professor of molecular pathology at Imperial College. "Because, after all it's humans we treat in the clinic, not mice." A former director of the US National Institutes of Health, Dr Elias Zerhouni, last month told an audience that researchers had become too dependent on animal data. "We have moved away from studying human disease in humans," he lamented. "We need to refocus and adapt new methodologies for use in humans to understand disease biology in humans."

So, with all this in mind, and an agreement from the coalition government to reduce animal testing, how much, exactly, is the government spending on research in this vital field? HSI worked out that the grand total last year for this specific area of research was just over £2m. Corporations, in all fairness, have pushed harder and faster than governments at this door, themselves donating to research and also calling for more governmental action: last month, a consortium that included Dow, DuPont, ExxonMobil, L'Oréal, Procter & Gamble and Unilever issued a joint statement calling on the EU to invest at least 325m in research.

But the public need to get behind this too. Instead, worried we are misunderstanding something, full of conflict about that Parkinson's treatment for our mother, we allow the issue to be buried.
'Wild' animals in travelling circuses benefit no one
The intoxicated world of the spotted flycatcher
Fishing quotas can be redistributed to favour smaller vessels high court
Madagascar battling worst locust plague since 1950s
A broody sparrow meets his match
Climate change is happening too quickly for species to adapt
The weird and wonderful world of the naked mole rat
Australian woman seriously injured during Spanish bull run
Spain's endangered Iberian lynx brought back from brink of extinction
One man and his sniffer dog help tackle Germany's hidden drug problem
The hotel that only takes dogs
T rex tooth found embedded in prey, restoring dinosaur's reputation
Bog cotton covers the summer Peak District moors in snow
Lifelike after death: the intricacies of a taxidermist's craft
The six-spot burnet moths complete their transformation
Research on animals in UK rises by 8% to exceed 4m procedures
Animal testing it's time to talk about it again
A pair of lithe animals are tumbling across the grass within feet of me
New to nature no 109: Anochetus hohenbergiae
England's ceremonial mayors eschew fur to support animal rights
Birdwatch: Corn bunting
Madrid declares war on plague of raccoon and parrot invaders
Snow leopards and wild yaks becoming 'fashion victims'
Horn seizure prompts rhinos warning
Threatened seabirds 'neglected' in plans for Scottish marine protected areas
Los Angeles campgrounds closed after plague-infected squirrel found
Only when I look down at the last second do I see it. I recoil instinctively
China's wine boom of little profit to giant pandas and small farmers
Let's not martyr the white-throated needletail to the anti-wind cause
Grasshopper breeder up for design award and educating western palates
Spanish national park could lose Unesco status over illegal boreholes
Dog mauls boy at primary school in Northern Ireland
Our dog walks are punctuated by the corn bunting's jingling ringtone
End in sight for painful branding of semi-wild moorland ponies
New to nature No 108: Carlia decora
Penguins support gorillas as biscuit makers respond to palm oil threat
Measuring carbon age in ivory could help combat poaching, study shows
How to survive a seagull attack
A walk by the river triggers memories of a bygone age
Whales flee from military sonar leading to mass strandings, research shows
Down among the grass stems, a ball of recently hatched orb-web spiderlings
Owen Paterson vows to rid England of bovine TB with badger culls
Gassing of badgers considered in plan to eradicate TB in cattle
Visitors to the Pamplona bull run have blood on their hands
Bats: they've never had it so good
These dew ponds have been on the Downs possibly since medieval times
Australian bushman claims to have footage of legendary night parrot
Secret badger shoots pose 'a risk to public safety'
Cheshire police seize dog believed to have killed Pomeranian
Whale watching season is back - but how close is too close?
Plan to ban wild animals in travelling circuses 'goes too far'
Morrissey donates Channel 4 payout to Peta campaign against foie gras
Visit Statistics