Multitudes, multitudes

Oxford University has made available the statistics of its animal research for 2015. I reproduce them here (on 24 April, World Day for Animals in Laboratories), with a few comments to follow:

Total Animals used in research, by species:

Species Number used in 2014 Number used in 2015
Mouse 208,905 207,216
Fish (Zebrafish) 13,136 16,051
Rat 3,880 2,363
Frog 280 322
Guinea Pig 81 81
Ferret 27 38
Rabbit 2 2
Non-Human Primates 5 4
Total 226,316 226,077

Severity of Procedures:

Severity % of Procedures
Severe 1
Moderate 14
Mild 53
Non-Recovery 3
Sub-Threshold 29

Severity by Species (% of procedures for main species used):

Species Severe Moderate Mild Non-Recovery Sub-Threshold
Mouse 1 14 54 2 29
Fish (Zebrafish) 6 3 52 0 39
Rat 1 19 33 39 8
Non-Human Primates 0 50 50 0 0

Severity of Procedures (2014 compared to 2015):

Year Severe Moderate Mild Non-Recovery Sub-Threshold
2014 (actual procedures) 1533 31494 110429 7146 76083
2015 (actual procedures) 2325 30683 120323 6077 66808
Change +792 -811 +9894 -1069 -9275
  1. Openness: The numbers in the first table have actually been published by the University on its web-site, the first time such numbers have been made public in that way. Previously, the only number given out was the one for animals accommodated at any one time in the new Biomedical Sciences Building: i.e. the more or less fixed number, 16,000. The University’s new informativeness is very welcome, as far as it goes. I guess that it has been brought about partly by the research industry’s recent ‘Concordat on Openness on Animal Research’ (for comment on this project, see post for 23 December 2015), and partly by the Freedom of Information Act, which meant that the figures could no longer be kept private anyway.
  2. Severity: The tables showing the levels of ‘severity’ of research procedures do not appear on the University’s web-site, and have been provided at VERO’s request. You’ll observe that although the annual total of animals has hardly changed (2014 representing an all-time high, which 2015 doesn’t quite match), the number of experiments causing the highest ‘severe’ level of pain or distress has for some reason increased by about 50%. To appreciate the implications of this, note that the Home Office’s definition of ‘severe’ includes “long-term disease processes where assistance with normal activities such as feeding and drinking are required or where significant deficits in behaviours/activities persist … any state that a person would find difficult to tolerate, or disease where clinical signs have progressed to such an extent that it threatens the life of an animal … A severe classification should be given in any situation where animals are in extremis.”
  3. Non-Recovery: For some comments on the welfare implications of ‘non-recovery’ in laboratories, see the post for 28 October 2015. The reference in these tables is of course to non-recovery from a particular procedure; in the longer run, no animal recovers from a stay in the Biomedical Sciences Building (BSB). In fact, lay people need to remind themselves how greatly the business of killing characterizes the laboratory scene. For instance, the whole of that cohort of 16,000 animals which the BSB accommodates is consumed within four or five weeks. That means that about 620 experimental animals are killed every day. In addition to those, there are the animals killed as surplus or unsuitable, who don’t appear in the statistics. No wonder many of the errors, malpractices, and delinquencies which are catalogued in the annual reports of the Home Office inspectorate arise from this aspect of animal research. Incidentally, the reports do not specify places or people, so I’ve no idea how often, if at all, Oxford University appears in them.

[References: Advisory notes on recording and reporting the actual severity of regulated procedures, January 2014, p.13; Animals in Science Regulation Unit’s Annual Report 2014, Appendix 1: both of these documents can be found on the Home Office web-page  The title of the present post is a quotation from the Book of the Prophet Joel, a short book in the Old Testament which includes a most remarkable description of a visitation of locusts (though the locusts are not the “multitudes” in question).]


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