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Animal experiments legislation

The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 regulates the use of animals in scientific procedures which may have the effect of causing that animal pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm. 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 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.

Three kinds of licences are required for any procedures on animals to be carried out:

  • personal licence for each person carrying out procedures on animals
  • project licence for the programme of work
  • establishment licence for the place at which the work is carried out.[1]

The petition

The petition calls for all establishment licences for commercial breeders of animals to be revoked. It also calls for amendments to the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA). Firstly, for the 3Rs principle (replace, reduce, refine) set out in Section 2A of the Act to be replaced with legislation focused on the use of non animal methods for scientific research and testing. 

Non animal methods are also referred to as new approach methodologies and include the following:

  • Cell cultures such as 3D structures on chips that mimic organs [also referred to as Microphysiological Systems or MPS] and which can be used to study biological and disease processes, together with drug metabolism.
  • Human tissues: diseased and healthy donated tissues.
  • Computer modelling: including of human tissues, which can be used to make predictions on the likely hazards of substances.
  • Volunteer studies and the use of modern scanning methods.

The petition also calls for Section 24 of the Act to be amended.  Section 24 makes it a criminal offence to disclose confidential information on licenced procedures.

The UK Government publishes statistics on the use of animals in experimental procedures in its annual publication Statistics of scientific procedures on living animals. These cover Great Britain. They show that both the number of animal procedures overall and the number of procedures in commercial organisations have fallen over time. Further information on animal experiments can be found in the Commons Briefing on Animal experiment statistics published 3 August 2022.

[1]  Home Office, Animal testing and research: guidance for the regulated community, 20 October 2022

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