2011 Irish animal experimentation statistics
IAVS analysis detects upward trend in pain and death
The Department of Health has now released Ireland’s animal experimentation statistics for 2011. Ireland saw an overall reduction of 14,645 animals used in experiments that are officially classified as potentially painful and distressing, down from 279,609 animals in 2010 to 264,964. But this remains a hugely elevated level compared to just 5 years ago – in 2007 64,378 animals were used.
However, the relatively small reduction of 5% in the year to 2011 is more than accounted for by the end of a large fisheries research project: the number of fish used went down from 15,378 in 2010 to 88 in 2011. Therefore, the overall trend appears to be upwards, raising concerns about the Government’s stated commitment to reducing and replacing animal experiments.
The number of rats used went down 3,961 to 10,476 in 2011, but 6,068 more mice were used. Fewer rabbits, cats and dogs were experimented on compared with 2010, but there has been an increase in the number of equids (i.e. horses, donkeys and crossbreeds), guinea pigs and sheep. While the number of cattle used went down by about a third to 1,700, 108 of these were obtained from outside Europe, raising welfare concerns due to long-distance transport. Similar fears surround the 480 ‘other mammals’ who were also all obtained from outside Europe.
The number of animals used in research and development for human and veterinary medicine almost doubled (21,199 to 39,596), more than wiping out the reduction in toxicology tests (212,147 to 195,446). There was also a worrying increase in animals used in education and training, rising from 109 to 571, with 550 of them being cattle. In general, inflicting animal harm for educational purposes is particularly controversial because it is merely for the purpose of demonstrating known facts, or veterinary training that could better be achieved on the job, in clinical circumstances.
Another disturbing message from the 2011 statistics is the huge number of animals subjected to toxicity tests for non-medical products: 194,864 (out of a total of 195,137) (Table 3). Furthermore, it is unacceptable that these are classified as tests of ‘other’ types of product, obscuring their real purpose (probably cosmetic Botulinum toxin) from public accountability.
The statistics go on to show that these non-medical toxicity tests are dominated by a massive 55% increase – 62,732 more mice up to a total of 175,812 - involving the most barbarous, lethal LD50 poisoning tests (Table 7). These appear to be batch tests of Botox and similar products where mice are injected into the abdomen with the botulinum toxin and become increasingly paralysed, eventually gasping for breath and, if left, suffocating to death. The degree of suffering endured by these animals is beyond comprehension, and the fact that it for such a trivial and unnecessary product shames our society. One of the companies responsible, Allergan, appears to have stopped most of their animal tests in favour of a more accurate non-animal cell-based method during 2012. However, it appears that a combination of indifference and commercial greed is preventing other botulinum toxin manufacturers from using the test, condemning thousands of innocent animals to severe unnecessary suffering.
Ongoing problems with the format of the statistics are further highlighted by the 18,905 animals listed as used in ‘other’ types of toxicity test (Column 7.12). Failing to specify what type of test conceals the potential level of suffering and hinders debate about possible alternatives. Similarly, the listing of 18,701 animals as used in ‘other’ types of toxicity test to test ‘other’ types of product (Column 8.12) is bordering on the satirical. This however is an improvement on the 2010 figures when 96,082 animals were presented under this mysterious category.
The statistics do not give much useful information to assess the real state of Irish animal experiments, but Table 9 regarding anaesthesia at least gives some clues. Almost 2,000 more mice were used in experiments without anaesthesia (224,623 from 222,749). Rats were slightly luckier, down to 2,315 from 3,211. There were also fewer guinea pigs used in experiments without anaesthetic (297 from 441), a reduction in rabbits (635 from 711) and fewer cats (96 from 180). The number of dogs used in such tests also decreased to 433 from 791, while conversely, there were 62 more equids used (238). Pigs and cattle were also down from 613 to 180 and from 2,500 to 1,431 respectively.
Table 11 reveals that while the universities and other public research institutes reduced their animal experimentation, commercial establishments have disregarded their commitments to reduction and replacement, increasing their burden on animals from 226,070 to 231,689.
- More timely release of statistics. Releasing figures for 2011 in spring 2013 hinders public accountability.
- A complete overhaul of statistics to provide data about animal experimentation in Ireland fit for the purpose of informing public debate (this should be promoted by the requirements of the new Directive).
- Targets, strategies and policies to achieve reductions in the number of animals used and the severity of pain and suffering inflicted.
- Action from Government and industry – e.g. Allergan - to ensure validated alternatives to animals tests are fully deployed to spare animals from gratuitous suffering.
- In the light of large numbers of controversial non-medical experiments and ‘educational’ animal procedures, greater scrutiny of animal research proposals, including harm-benefit analysis. This should be introduced by the new Directive but will depend on the IMB’s enforcement.
Download a copy of the Statistical Reports on the use of Animals for Experimental and other Scientific purposes in Ireland here: