THE number of animals used for experimentation in Irish laboratories has rocketed 800% in five years, raising serious concerns among welfare groups.
Figures from the Department of Health show 280,000 animals were used in live experiments in 2010, up from just 38,000 in 2005. More than 80% of the animals were used for experiments conducted by "commercial establishments". The remainder were spread across universities and colleges, hospitals, agriculture and veterinary institutes, fish farms and fisheries research institutes.
The Irish Anti-Vivisection Society said the figures were "unprecedented" and "disturbing". It also said Ireland has one of the highest levels of animal testing in Europe.
The type of animals experimented on included horses, dogs, cats, mice, rats, cattle, goats, fish, birds, sheep, pigs, rabbits and guinea pigs.
Of greatest concern to campaigners is the fact that more than 80% of the animals used were experimented on under a licence which specifically allows researchers to dispense with the need for anaesthetic.
A record 831 dogs were used in experiments in 2010 — a four-fold increase on 2005. Some 791 of the 831 were not given anaesthetic, while 160 of the dogs were used in unspecified toxicology tests.
The vast majority of the dogs were used for research and development on medical and dentistry products and devices as well as animal medicines. They were specifically reared by pharmaceutical companies.
Experiments were also carried out on almost 1,000 rabbits, 180 cats, 62 horses and donkeys, 2,672 cattle and more than 15,000 fish.
There has been a particularly large increase in the use of mice, particularly in toxicology tests.
More than 240,000 mice were used for such tests in 2010, with over 116,000 used for the lethal dose 50% test and "other lethal methods". This test aims to determine the dose that kills exactly half of the animals used.
The statistics also show two "G" certificates were in force in 2010. This licence permits experiments which may require "the animal to experience severe pain that is likely to be prolonged".
"Some 226,070 tests, over 80%, were conducted by commercial establishments, raising serious concerns that animals are being made to suffer, often purely for the sake of profit maximisation," said a spokesperson.
The society said it was concerned the lethal dose 50% test was still being used in Ireland, as it is being phased out elsewhere. It called for a full investigation into the recent "explosion" in Irish animal testing.
Number of animals experimented on:
* 242,890 mice.
* 15,378 fish.
* 14,437 rats.
* 2,672 cows.
* 932 rabbits.
* 831 dogs.
* 755 pigs.
* 669 other mammals.
* 441 guinea pigs.
* 180 cats.
* 62 horses/ donkeys.
* 11 sheep.
* 5 goats.
* 279,263 animals.
- Conall Ó Fátharta