| Research on animals in UK rises by 8% to exceed 4m procedures|
|The number of scientific procedures carried out in Britain on animals rose by 8% in 2012, compared with the previous year, according to figures published by the Home Office on Tuesday.|
The overall rise in use of animals comes despite the government's pledge to reduce their use in scientific research.
The number of procedures broke through four million for the first time, and animal welfare campaigners condemned the increase.
In a statement the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals called the latest numbers alarming and said it was a wake-up call to all involved to find ways to replace and reduce the use of animals in research.
Gavin Grant, the RSPCA's chief executive, said of GM animals, which now account for more than 50% of procedures: "It's often stated that many procedures are simply [to do with] breeding animals. Let's be clear, breeding relates to the procedures used to create genetically altered animals, for example, hormone injections and surgery to implant embryos.
"Large numbers of animals also lose their lives as part of the process. All of these present very serious ethical and welfare issues, quite apart from the fact that when born, genetically altered animals may experience painful or distressing side-effects that can be hard to predict."
Judy MacArthur Clark, head of the Home Office's Animals in Science Regulation Unit, said that the 8% overall rise might sound dramatic: "But we know, within that, there's been a significant increase in the breeding of genetically altered animals and this [is] primarily mice and fish. That's a 22% increase that takes it up to nearly 2m animals in that category."
The number of procedures on animals in research rose by 317,200 to 4.11m last year, largely due to rising use of genetically modified animals, most of these being mice.
The number of non-human primates used in research was also up by 545 in 2012, a rise of 22%.
The number of procedures is higher than the number of animals used in UK laboratories because the breeding of a GM animal, for example, counts as a procedure in itself and an individual animal can undergo several procedures during the course of a research project.
Excluding the figures for breeding GM animals, MacArthur Clark said that there had been a 2% drop in the overall number of procedures carried out in 2012, compared with 2011. She also said that no animals had been used to test household products, cosmetics or tobacco, in the previous year.
The number of mice accounted for 74% of the animals used in 2012. Fish accounted for 12% of the total, rats were 7% and the bird tally came to 4%.
MacArthur Clark said that the rise in non-human primates was due to their use in pharmaceutical research and development, particularly development of "biologicals".
As opposed to pharmaceuticals, which are small molecules made by chemical synthesis, biologicals are complex compounds – such as monoclonal antibodies, gene products or stem cell treatments – that are tested in animals which have immune systems supposedly close to those of humans. Well-known biologicals in use included the anti-cancer drugs Herceptin and Avastin.
Kieran Breen, director of research and innovation at the research group Parkinson's UK, said: "One of the key points for me is the increase in the number of genetically modified animals. These represent the next generation of tools to understand complex conditions such as Parkinson's.
"The development of these models, which much more accurately reflect the condition, are vital for the development of new therapies."
Wendy Jarrett, chief executive of Understanding Animal Research, a group that backs research using animals, said
"Even 10 years ago a treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy or for motor neurone disease, looked an impossible dream. Now we are trialling treatments in humans that [were] developed using genetically modified mice.
"A huge amount of scientific, medical and veterinary research is done without the use of animals – and indeed it is illegal to use an animal if an alternative can be used instead – but in some cases we still need to use animals if we want to find the medical and veterinary treatments of tomorrow."