The number of animal experiments carried out in the UK rose by 3% last year, according to government figures.

The rise was largely due to an increase in the use of genetically modified (GM) and mutant animals, a trend that shows no signs of abating.

The news comes as campaigners warn a new EU directive threatens standards of welfare for UK lab animals.

They argue that a number of the directive’s regulations fall short of those already in place in the UK.

Just over 3.7 million scientific experiments on animals were started in Great Britain in 2010, an increase of 105,000 on the previous year.

The statistics show that breeding to produce genetically modified (GM) animals and harmful mutants (an animal with potentially harmful genetic defects) rose by 87,000 to 1.6 million procedures.

This rise, mainly due to the increased breeding of mice and fish, represents an increase of 6%.

But when GM animals are excluded from the statistics, the total number of procedures rose by 18,000, from 2.09 million to 2.10 million.

Home Office minister Lynn Featherstone commented: “The figures released today once again show the important work being done in this country to regulate animal procedures and ensure the highest standards of animal protection are upheld.

“The UK has one of the most rigorous systems in the world to ensure that animal research and testing is strictly regulated.”

But the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) has warned that a new EU directive could threaten this system.

It says that if the UK chooses to amend its own regulations in line with the minimum requirements of the directive, some animals could be allowed to suffer “severe” pain or suffering.

Dr Maggy Jennings, head of the RSPCA’s research animals department, said: “Successive governments have made proud claims that the UK has ‘the highest standards in the world’ for animal research and testing.

“Now they seem prepared to weaken this legislation and take a step backwards on lab animal welfare.”

Source: BBC

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