History of WDAIL
This day of commemoration for the non-human animals who are being experimented on and for those who have died in laboratories is observed every year on 24 April. It began over 40 years ago in 1979 and was launched by the National Anti-Vivisection Society. In non-Covid times the day is marked with a protest and march through UK cities. Today the activism to raise awareness of this issue extends to the whole week.
Science has advanced at a phenomenal rate since the National Anti-Vivisection Society was founded in 1875 and yet, despite extensive campaigning, animals continue to be used in the testing and development of household products and medicines.
Millions of non-human animals suffer in laboratories every year
In a single year over 3 million animals are experimented on in British laboratories alone. Around the world, when testing for consumer product safety is included in this statistic, this number increases to over 190 million.
In the development of cosmetics and other consumer products
Historically animal research has played a major part in the development and safety testing of many household products. Animals have been subjected to poisoning tests in an attempt to prove the safety of products before they go to market.
In medicine and medical research
Animals are used to study human diseases and in the testing of new drugs and vaccines. These experiments often do not produce information that can be reliably applied to humans.
In warfare experiments
This area of animal experimentation is particularly harrowing. The UK military testing facility at Porton Down in Wiltshire is just one example of an institution that still uses animals in warfare experiments. These animals are routinely used for research into the effects of chemical and biological weapons and blast injuries.
Inhumane and unreliable
Testing on animals is undoubtedly inhumane. Non-human animals suffer through feeling fear and pain, as we do – and many of us believe that they should have a right to live their lives naturally, not imprisoned and forced to suffer in a laboratory.
But why is it unreliable? Animal models cannot consistently predict accurate effectiveness of human treatments. Animals have different evolutionary histories with differences in gene regulation and expression; therefore, tests on one species cannot always predict how another species may respond. Further to this, many medications that could have been viable options for the treatment of diseases in humans have been disregarded because they failed to produce the desired effects during animal testing and 90% of all drugs that go through animal testing fail to come to market.
Current legal position on non-human animal testing
The law that covers the use of animals in experiments and testing in the UK is the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 Amendment Regulations 2012. Currently, the UK undergoing the first major revision of animal experimentation regulations in over 25 years as the government brings the new EU Directive on animal testing (2010/63/EU) into UK law. This is a unique opportunity for the government to seriously commit to implementing sophisticated replacements for animal experiments; advancing science whilst ending animal suffering.
In December 2020, the Home Office published summaries of licences for animal experiments that were granted during the first half of 2020. These showed that 235 new licences were granted to researchers, allowing them to carry out experiments on over 5.5 million animals over the next five years. Each summary includes a section where the licence applicant must explain their strategy for searching for non-animal alternatives. Animal Free Research UK found that the information provided was often inadequate and in one case a one-word answer was given.
In 2021, various charities are campaigning to end the use of animals in laboratories, including Animal Justice Project, FLOE (For Life on Earth), SPEAK, The National Anti-Vivisection Society, Cruelty Free International, The Humane Society, Animal Aid and Animal Free Research UK. Update July 2021: a huge campaign and camp outside MBR Acres beagle breeding facility, Free the MBR Beagles, is gaining public support daily.
A recent example of the growing campaign to end cosmetics testing on animals is a powerful animation Save Ralph; conceived by The Humane Society, it features the voice of Oscar winner Taika Waititi. This aspect of animal testing is perhaps the most widely publicised and publicly opposed when compared to testing on animals for medical and warfare research. See our statistics page on Beauty and Household for more information on this area.
More and more medical experts are questioning the validity of non-human animal use in medical research and testing as seen here in a British Medical Journal article. Dr Ray Greek is author and co-author of five books including FAQs about the Use of Animals in Science: A Handbook for the Scientifically Perplexed that challenge the value of animal experiments from a strictly scientific perspective. See his interview with Ricky Gervais here.
World Animal Free Research Day – developments in animal free research
Pioneering animal protection charity Animal Free Research UK is declaring May 27 – the date of its founding half a century ago – World Animal Free Research Day. In what is to be an annual event, the day will include a slew of awareness initiatives to highlight the outdated practices that cause over 3 million animals to suffer in Britain’s laboratories every year – even though 90% of new drugs tested on animals fail in human clinical trials.
The charity believe that animal experiments are ethically unjustified and that pioneering animal free research provides the best chance of finding treatments for human diseases. Cell and tissue studies, computer modelling, state-of-the-art brain and body scanners, organ-on-a-chip technology and micro-dosing are just some of the alternatives to animal testing which can give much more reliable, human-relevant results.
Animal Free Research UK is a founding member of the Alliance for Human Relevant Science. The Alliance recently supported the formation of an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Human Relevant Science. The APPG’s statement of purpose is to bring together MPs and peers of all parties to accelerate the development and uptake of human-relevant life sciences in the UK. Their current programme of work is focused on examining the funding and regulatory environment for the development and uptake of New Approach Methodologies (NAMs). These cutting-edge, animal-free techniques offer the best chance of medical progress for human animals, without animal suffering.
Over 100 MPs from all parties have signed an Early Day Motion, calling for the acceleration of human-relevant life sciences. The EDM calls on the Government to provide supportive infrastructure, funding and education for cutting-edge, animal free research.
Useful link to write to your MP to ask them to sign this EDM : Animal Free Research UK
Progress in July 2021: the government has tasked officials to find ways to end the use of animals in the development of medicines.
Public support for replacing the use of animals in laboratories
In February 2021, Animal Free Research UK commissioned a YouGov poll that showed strong support for replacing animals with human-relevant techniques. The results indicated that:
- 68% of respondents would support a policy ending animal experiments in medical research in the UK and replacing them with non-animal alternatives (e.g. artificial intelligence and using human cells or tissue).
- 70% of respondents would support animal experiments in medical research being phased out by 2040.
Ending the suffering for good
While there is positive progress on this World Day for Animals in Laboratories 2021, there is still a long way to go. Only with a continuous increase in pressure for change with public support can the goal of finally ending the suffering of non-human animals used in research and testing hope to be reached.
What can you do?
By Supporter Services Coordinator, Harriet Macintosh
Current petitions you can sign:
Woman with beagle – Animal Free Research
Scientists working at an Animal Free Research Centre – Animal Free Research
WDAIL march from 1980s – Animal Aid