The petition calls for coverage of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to be extended to animals used in laboratory experiments. It states that “current science from multiple fields proves that animal-based research and testing is not viable” and calls for the law to be changed to prevent unnecessary suffering.

The Government responded to the petition in August 2021. The detailed response set out the current regulatory regime for animal experiments and how it addresses animal welfare.  It also set out the reasons for using animal testing in scientific procedures. The response includes the following:

  • There is an explicit exclusion under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, to provide for the legitimate conduct of procedures on ‘protected animals’ for scientific or educational purposes that may cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm
  • The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA) is the specific piece of legislation which provides protection for these animals
  • No animals may be used under ASPA if there is a validated non-animal alternative that would achieve the scientific outcomes sought
  • If any activity is found to be in breach of what is permitted under ASPA, then the Animal Welfare Act 2006 will apply
  • Many products which would not be safe or effective in humans are detected through animal testing thus avoiding harm to humans.
  • The Government has a policy to limit the number of animals used in science through replacement, reduction, and refinement of research design – the ‘3Rs; this is achieved through funding of the National Centre for the 3Rs (NC3Rs)

The response goes on to highlight the work of NC3Rs and the CRACK IT Challenges. These focus on new approaches for the safety assessment of pharmaceuticals and chemicals that reduce the use of animals. The Government concluded by stating that it had no plans to amend the Animal Welfare Act:

We consider enabling the properly regulated use of animals in science is essential to improving the health and lives of humans and animals and to the safety and sustainability of our environment. Underpinning this is a strong commitment to a rigorous regulatory framework that fully implements the 3Rs and the continued development of non-animal alternatives.

Current provisions

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 applies to all vertebrate animals If they are commonly domesticated. It also applies to wild animals if they are permanently or temporarily “under the control of man”. It does not apply animals in foetal or embryonic form.  The Act makes it an offence to cause these animals unnecessary suffering. Anyone responsible for an animal must also take reasonable steps to promote their welfare.  

However, Section 58 of the states that “nothing in this Act applies to anything lawfully done under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 ”.

ASPA regulates the use of animals in scientific procedures which may have the effect of causing that animal pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm. It applies to all living vertebrates and to living cephalopods (e.g. octopus and squid). It does not apply to foetal, embryonic or larval stages. The Government has published detailed guidance to the operation of the legislation. This includes information and advice on the responsibilities of those with roles under the Act, the severity classification for different procedures, humane killing and the accommodation and care of animals.

Administration and enforcement of ASPA in England, Scotland and Wales is the responsibility of the Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU), which is part of the Home Office. Its activities include:

  • providing advice on the regulations
  • operating the licensing system required by ASPA
  • assuring the compliance of licence holders with ASPA and the terms of their licences

The Northern Ireland Department of Health carries out this role in Northern Ireland and reports its activities separately.

The Animals in Science Committee (ASC) is an independent committee which advises the Home Secretary on matters relating to animal testing in the UK.  Further information and reports from the ASC can be found  on their website.

Animal experiment statistics

The Commons Briefing Paper on Animal Experiment Statistics, published in August 2021 summarises data on animal experiments including species used, creation and breeding of genetically-altered animals, severity of procedures, and university experiments.

As set out in the briefing paper, in 2020 there were 2.9 million procedures completed in Great Britain involving regulated living animals. This was the lowest annual number since 2004. Despite a recent fall in the annual number, this was still 6% higher than in 1997. The numbers now are generally lower than their peak in the 1960s and 1970s, although we do not have completely comparable figures before and after 1987.

In 2020, 1.44 million (50%) procedures were experiments and 1.44 million (50%) were instances of the creation or breeding of genetically altered (GA) animals. Three quarters of procedures involved mice. Since 2007, fish have been the second most common animal used; prior to this it was rats.

Further petitions and information

E-petitions calling for Government to Ban Animal Testing (581641) and to phase out animal experiments (590216) was debated in Westminster Hall on Monday 25 October 2021.  See the petition pages for the Government’s written responses.

The Library briefing in advance of the debate E-petitions relating to animal testing is also available and provides further background on animal testing, including stakeholder views.

On Thursday 23 May 2019 a Westminster Hall debate took place which looked at supporting clinical trials and the UK’s future clinical research capability. The Commons Library briefing published ahead of the debate includes information on advances in clinical testing techniques for the development of medicines. A transcript of the debate can be found on the Parliament website.

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