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Joanna Lumley: Britain should lead the way in ending animal experiments

Joanna Lumley: Britain should lead the way in ending animal experiments

Published on May 27, 2021

A brighter future where diseases are cured faster without animal suffering is within reach – Britain must lead the rest of the world to grasp it.   

Technological advancements in medical research methods herald the end of harmful testing on the nearly three and a half million animals subjected to experiments in British laboratories each year.

Many of these innovative breakthroughs – which include artificial intelligence, the use of human cells or tissues, organ-on-a-chip and stem cell technology – have been pioneered by scientists in British labs.

The animal free revolution cuts experiment times, makes research cheaper and, crucially, produces more reliable data on potential drugs to treat and cure deadly diseases from cancer to Alzheimer’s.

Yet every minute of every day, six animals – many we keep as pets including mice, dogs, cats, rabbits, primates and horses – continue to be used in UK research facilities. Many more will likely have suffered in the rush for Covid-19 vaccines.

Much of the British public care immensely as I do for the welfare of all animals.

The government says it does, too. In the recent Queen’s Speech and in its Action Plan for Animal Welfare, it outlined how it will promote higher standards of animal wellbeing, and acknowledged animals are aware of their feelings and emotions and can experience joy and pleasure as well as pain and suffering.

But for all the good intentions, it overlooks the suffering that continues to take place in British laboratories.  Animals used in experiments were covered by just one sentence: “[Government will] Continue to commit to maintaining high standards of protection where procedures are undertaken on live animals for scientific or educational purposes.”

This glib commitment rings hollow – more so after the latest Home Office report on lab experiments describes harrowing incidents such as animals dying due to inadequate food and water provision.  If animals are not even afforded the mere basics to keep them alive, one can only with horror imagine what else they are subjected to behind laboratory doors.

One argument is that testing on animals is necessary because it is better than experimenting with humans.

But British animal lovers will be, I am sure, shocked to learn that 90 percent of new medicines that look promising in animal tests go on to fail in human clinical trials.

Significant differences in our genetic makeup mean that data from animal experiments does not necessarily translate to people.

That’s why when we read one of the regular headlines about a lab breakthrough in fatal diseases like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, we rarely if ever see a follow up success story or receive the hoped-for treatment or cure from our GPs.

Archaic international regulations lead to all medicines being tested on animals – even though cutting edge alternative technology is now available, rendering the unethical practice obsolete.

The speed at which Covid-19 vaccines were developed using latest alternative methods saw human trials conducted in parallel with – and sometimes ahead of – animal tests.

Such evidential success means little, however.  Many animal free scientists complain that to have their research into ghastly diseases like diabetes, breast cancer and dementia peer reviewed in one of the esteemed science journals, they must show they also tested on animals.

Entrenched mindsets are not easy to budge, though they must.

Thankfully, one of the charities close to my heart, Animal Free Research UK, has declared May 27th World Animal Free Research Day to highlight the work of the pioneering, animal free scientists setting the gold standard in medical research.

We are calling on the UK government to spearhead the modernisation of medical research.  We want our ministers to walk their talk and make Britain a world leader in cutting edge science.  We want them to lead by example by tenaciously promoting and investing in the lab revolution already underway.

Alongside the ethical argument there is the economic case for modernising medical research. Supporting the development and take-up of animal free methods has huge potential for the British economy. For example, the global 3D cell culture market was estimated to be worth £7.3 billion in 2020, rising to £10.4 billion by 2025.

Our nation is already home to world-leading universities and pharmaceutical companies, and we are well placed to excel in this field. Our labs are brimming with scientific talent who know anachronistic animal testing is holding back treatment and cures.

Yet other nations are stealing a march on us.   The Dutch government has publicly embraced the need for animal free innovation.  The US Environmental Protection Agency has committed to stop funding and requesting tests on mammals by 2035. Denmark has given animal welfare professionals a voice in the regulation of animal research, and Switzerland recently announced a National Research Programme to advance the reduction of animal experiments – which establishes the issue as a matter of national importance.

If Britain is to achieve its ambition of becoming a global science superpower, we must lead the way in replacing animals with high-tech, non-animal methods.

Government must make modernising medical research a policy of national importance and should appoint a minister to oversee collaboration between government, academia, industry and the third sector to accelerate the development and universal take-up of animal free research.

A brighter future where diseases are cured faster without animal suffering is within reach.  Britain must lead the rest of the world to grasp it.





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