2009 statistics of animal experiments are now available

Many people may be unaware that every year in Australia, millions of animals are used for research and teaching purposes.  The types of animals used range from mice to sheep to fish, and the purpose of the research taking place ranges from environmental studies to understanding human or animal biology.  The severity of this research ranges from procedures involving minor interference to studies which actually aim to kill the animal used (known as ‘death as an endpoint’ studies).

Animal use statistics are published at the State and Territory level, and the statistics of animal use in research and teaching for 2009 have recently been collated by Humane Research Australia (HRA), a non-profit organisation which challenges the use of animals in research and promotes the use of more humane and scientifically-valid alternatives.  Humane Research Australia is currently the only organisation in Australia that collates this information to give a picture of animal use at the national level.

The results for 2009 show that the number of animals used (5,311,321) is slightly higher than the number from 2008 – this figure, however, is a conservative estimate as it does not take into account the animal use in Western Australia, the Northern Territory or Queensland, as these numbers are currently unavailable.  Going by the most recent available statistics for those states (589,047 in 2004 for Qld and 1,049,379 in 2007 for WA) the total number of animals used is closer to 6.9 million.  New South Wales recorded the largest figure with 2.4 million animals used, followed closely by Victoria with a total of 2.2 million.  Of the total number of animals used in 2009, there were over five and a half thousand dogs and over 700 primates.  Overall, fish accounted for nearly 30% of animal use, with mice accounting for nearly 19%.

In comparison to the 2008 statistics, the highest recorded figure for purpose of procedure was for ‘environmental study’; other purposes included ‘understanding human or animal biology’ and ‘improvement of animal management and production’.  In terms of the severity of procedures, thankfully, nearly forty per cent were observational studies involving minor interference.  Disappointingly, however, was the ‘death as an endpoint’ total, with nearly 32,000 animals killed - this figure is higher than the 2008 total and is in contradiction of the 3Rs famously proposed by Russell and Birch in 1959, who state, “Refinement is never enough, and we should always seek further reduction and if possible replacement… replacement is always a satisfactory answer” (cited in Knight 2011, 99).  Additionally, the production of genetically modified animals has nearly trebled since the previous year, with just over 100,000 animals used.

Chief Executive Officer, Helen Marston, explains that, “the extrapolation of data from animals to humans can be dangerously misleading due to anatomic, genetic and metabolic differences. It is therefore not the most efficacious method of medical research. Australia should be investing in the development and validation of more humane and scientifically valid research methods – as occurs in Europe and the United States”.

To see the statistics in their entirety, please visit www.humaneresearch.org.au/statistics/

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