In the UK, lab animals are not protected by major animal welfare legislation

This is a weakness in UK animal welfare in my view. It’s a weakness in the legislation which has been highlighted by Laura Harris MP in the House of Commons in a debate which was very sparsely populated by members of Parliament by the way. Indicative of MP attitudes to animal welfare??

She refers to an animal testing laboratory in her constituency where beagles are used for experiments. She mentions that the overarching protection of the well-known Animal Welfare Act 2006 does not apply to these animals. They are not protected by this excellent legislation. And she questions whether that is correct and whether the government could look into it and extend the protection of this act to beagles and other animals in laboratories where they are abused.

Looking into this matter, I have confirmed that research animals are not covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Instead, they are protected in some shape or form by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

Beagles in animal testing
Beagles in animal testing need greater protection in the UK than they get which is shameful in 2023. Image: MikeB.

The problem, as the RSPCA see it, is that this lesser-known act provides less protection to animals used in scientific research laboratories.

They refer to a “Change Programme” on their website which they say undermines 36 years of hard work to protect laboratory animals. They have pleaded with the government to rethink this change but so far, their voices been unheard.

Laboratory animals in the UK are at greater risk than before. Animal experiments in the UK are regulated by the above-mentioned act. The act is implemented by the Home Office Animals in Science Regulation Unit.

Until recently, this unit used methods that had been refined over the past 36 years to improve the protection of laboratory animals.

But they set up a new system for regulating experiments hence the phrase “Change Programme”. The RSPCA says that it dismantles the current protections.

The reason given is that the new system for assessing whether laboratories comply with the law has been moved from a programme of regular often unannounced and mainly in-person visits to a less frequent audit-based system which is often carried out remotely.

The laboratories are checked through a focus on assessing their processes and paperwork rather than the animal welfare outcomes. There is less emphasis on inspecting the animals and meeting staff to see how things are done.

This is a reduction in standards. The unit is only checking whether laboratories comply with basic minimum standards.

The changes increase the chances that the regulator will miss important issues and concerns regarding animal welfare. The changes dilute vital protections.

The RSPCA’s assessment is the point that Laura Harris MP is making in the debating chamber. And she’s had complaints from her constituents on this topic.

The response by the minister at the dispatch box is in my view unhelpful. He is more or less saying in a coded way that he is not going to look into this ‘lacuna’ to use a legal term meaning a black hole or weakness in the system.

The Conservative government which many people believe has been in power too long has once again let down animals living in the UK. The Conservatives favour businesses and businesses historically are less concerned about animal welfare than others because animal welfare gets in the way of making a profit. I do not like the Conservatives for this reason. Actually, it’s a disgrace to water down protections for laboratory animals which, in my view, shouldn’t be there in the first place.

All animal testing laboratories as far as I am concerned should be closed. We don’t need them anymore. We can find alternative, far more humane methods. This is an abuse of animals and has been for donkeys’ years.

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