The law

Working to create a world where human diseases are cured faster without animal sufferingAnimals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986

The law that covers all animal use in experiments and testing in the UK is the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA) which was revised in 2012 to include new regulations specified by the European Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. The revised legislation came into force on 1 January 2013 and is now known as the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 Amendment Regulations 2012 (ASPA 2012).

The use of animals in scientific research in England, Scotland and Wales is regulated by the Home Office. Within the Home Office is the Animals in Science Regulatory Unit (ASRU) which is the department responsible for regulating and enforcing the law related to the use of animals.

A note about terminology

At Animal Free Research UK, we recognise that language and the words we choose to use are powerful – they can reveal and conceal different perspectives, values and interests. We choose our words carefully in line with our values.

It is helpful to define some of the phrases that are used frequently throughout ASPA so that we can better understand the law. Some words have precise definitions which are different to everyday use, and others have become quite contentious.

We explain them here so that members of the public can be better informed about the law – but that does not mean we endorse their use or the rationale behind them. Instead we set out our position so that we are transparent about our views.


According to ASPA, a ‘protected animal’ is any living vertebrate other than humans and any living cephalopod. Only ‘protected animals’ are safeguarded under ASPA; unfortunately, other animals are not afforded any legal protection. This definition is used within the UK and European Union.

At Animal Free Research UK, we go further than the law and define the term ‘animal’ as including all organisms of the Kingdom Animalia (excluding humans). This means that the research we fund must not use any animal from the Kingdom Animalia.


A ‘regulated procedure’ in ASPA is any test, experiment or other procedure done to a ‘protected animal’ which may cause them pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm which is equivalent to, or higher than, that caused by the introduction of a needle in accordance with good veterinary practice.

At Animal Free Research UK, we find the word ‘procedure’ to be sometimes unhelpful as it can conceal the experience of the individual animals used. Instead we tend to use the words ‘test’ or ‘experiment’. If we are talking about a particular test then we do our best to describe what actually happens to the animals involved because we believe we have a responsibility to shine a light on their lived experience.


ASPA 2012 has enshrined the concept of the development of ‘alternatives’ as a legal requirement. The wording in ASPA 2012 reads:

20B Alternative strategies

  1. (1) The Secretary of State must support the development and validation of alternative strategies.
  2. (2) In particular, the Secretary of State must—
    (a) assist the European Commission in identifying and nominating suitable laboratories to carry out validation studies on alternative strategies;
    (b) nominate a person the Commission may contact for advice on the regulatory relevance and suitability of alternative strategies proposed by the Commission for validation;
    (c) take such other steps as the Secretary of State considers appropriate to encourage research into alternative strategies;
    (d) ensure the promotion of, and dissemination of information about, alternative strategies.
  3. The Secretary of State may make grants to any person concerned with the development, promotion or validation of alternative strategies.
  4. “Alternative strategies” means scientific methods and testing strategies which do not use protected animals, or which (compared to existing scientific methods and testing strategies) use fewer protected animals or reduce the pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm caused to protected animals.

With the exception of clause (4), the aim of these regulations is to develop and promote alternatives at a Governmental level, not just at a scientific level. The Law requires the Government to do what it can to ensure that scientific methods and testing strategies which do not use protected animals are used and developed instead of similar methods that continue to use protected animals.

Animal Free Research UK supports the principle that the Government must ensure non-animal scientific methods are developed and used. However, millions of animals continue to be used in research every year. We want to see the Government do much more to proactively accelerate the growth of new approach methodologies that replace the use of animals.

We prefer the term ‘replacement’ to ‘alternative’ because it makes our position clearer. We do not believe that animals should be available to use as one option in the scientific toolbox. Instead, we believe the use of all animals should be replaced by ethical, scientifically superior new approach methodologies which can better predict human responses and do not involve animal suffering.

The 3Rs: replacement, reduction and refinement

ASPA 2012 has enshrined the principles of the 3Rs – the replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in research – into UK Law. This is defined in Section 2A of ASPA 2012:

  1. The Secretary of State must exercise his or her functions under this Act with a view to ensuring compliance with the principles of replacement, reduction and refinement.
  2. For the purposes of this Act —
    (a) the principle of replacement is the principle that, wherever possible, a scientifically satisfactory method or testing strategy not entailing the use of protected animals must be used instead of a regulated procedure;
    (b) the principle of reduction is the principle that whenever a programme of work involving the use of protected animals is carried out the number of protected animals used must be reduced to a minimum without compromising the objectives of the programme;
    (c) the principle of refinement is the principle that the breeding, accommodation and care of protected animals and the methods used in regulated procedures applied to such animals must be refined so as to eliminate or reduce to the minimum any possible pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to those animals.

This means that when a scientist applies for a licence to conduct animal experiments, they must explain to ASRU why there is no scientifically satisfactory non-animal methodology that can be used instead of an animal experiment.

At Animal Free Research UK, we believe that experiments on animals are ethically unjustified and that pioneering animal free research provides the best chance of finding treatments for human diseases.

We only support and fund replacement research. This is research that uses non-animal methods. We do not fund research refinement or reduction research, or any research that uses animals or animal-derived biomaterials in experiments.

Page last modified on July 30, 2020 1:29 pm

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