By Chris Marshall
The number of animals being used in research experiments at Scottish universities has increased by 12 per cent over the last year despite a UK-wide commitment to reduce live testing.
Figures collected by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) show that around 514,000 animals were used during tests at Scotland’s universities in the past year – up by more than 55,000 on the previous 12 months. According to the group, 12 of Scotland’s 18 universities carried out experiments on animals including mice, rabbits, sheep, seals and guinea pigs.
The increase comes despite a commitment in the coalition agreement between the Tories and Lib Dems in 2010 to reduce the use of animals in scientific research and ahead of legislation coming into force in January, which will strengthen a European Union directive. Universities said the research conformed to strict guidelines and was being done in the name of medical science, furthering the understanding of diseases including cancer and heart disease.
However, the BUAV, which has campaigned peacefully against vivisection since 1949, said many of the experiments were being carried out for “trivial” purposes. Using freedom of information laws, researchers uncovered the number of animals used in experiments at universities including Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews.
The biggest user was Edinburgh, where more than 173,000 live animals were experimented on. Dundee University used 47,313 animals, while Glasgow University carried out tests using 35,456 animals, according to the figures.
At St Andrews, 2,216 animals were used for behavioural studies. The BUAV said these included one experiment where grey seals were played loud sounds to test their startle reflexes, the results of which were published in the journal BMC Neuroscience. At Dundee, rats were surgically implanted with nicotine pumps to investigate the effects of smoking on the brain, an experiment which was published in the journal Neuroscience Letters.
Stirling University used 216,035 fish during the course of experiments, but said many were used in control experiments and not “exposed to any harmful treatment”.
Michelle Thew, the BUAV’s chief executive, said: “We are disappointed that instead of making every effort to reduce the high number of animals used in Scottish universities in 2010, the numbers used continue to rise at an alarming rate.”
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh University said: “Research using animals… has made a vital contribution towards the understanding, prevention, treatment and cure of a wide range of major health problems, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and mental illness.”
All the Scottish universities which responded to Freedom of Information requests stressed their adherence to the Home Office guidelines.