By Cara Sulieman
ANIMALS used in experiments in Scotland have risen by a whopping 42 per cent – and it seems to be due to a huge increase in the number of fish used in research.
The figures – obtained by charity Advocates for Animals – show that 555,567 procedures were carried out on animals in Scotland in 2008.
And 184,335 fish were used in experiments – up 258 per cent from 51,497 in 2007.
The figures have shocked Advocates for Animals, who are calling for fewer experiments to be carried out.
The increasing use of zebrafish in medical research may be the reason for the jump in the number of fish used.
A lot of the genes that are responsible for human diseases have an equivalent in the zebrafish genome and their embryos are transparent – meaning that they are more easily inspected.
They are typically used for research into the regeneration of spinal cord and optic nerve after injury, cardiac development and skin cancer.
As well as the jump in fish numbers, there has been a massive increase in the number of experiments carried out in universities and medical schools across the country.
Just 267,016 happened in these institutions in 2007, going up by 56 per cent to 417,734 in 2008.
And most of the increase seems to be for non-toxicological experiments – where research is carried out on animal behaviours or genetic research.
It has gone from 329,843 in 2007 to 500,133 in 2008.
The dramatic increase has shocked animal charities, who say that the increase in fish is “worrying” as they can feel pain as much as any other animal.
Ross Minett, campaigns director for the charity, said: “This kind of huge increase, 42% rise on the previous year, is unprecedented.
“I’m sure many people in Scotland will be shocked to learn that well over half a million animals were used in experiments in Scotland last year.
“The huge increase in the use of fish in experiments is of concern. It is now widely acknowledged that fish are capable of feeling pain and so can suffer just like other animals.
“While it is illegal to cause pain and suffering to animals kept as pets, it is perfectly legal for a scientist under licence to inflict pain and suffering on animals for scientific research and testing purposes.
“Animal experimentation almost invariably involves subjecting sentient animals to physical and/or mental pain or distress.
“Advocates for Animals seeks the replacement of all animals in experiments with advanced non-animal alternatives. This would benefit both people and animals.
“Meantime, we can all help reduce experimentation on animals by choosing to buy cruelty-free products such as cosmetics and household products.”
Major health problems
But the institutions behind the research defend their practices, saying that they are necessary for the advancement of scientific research, particularly medical.
A spokesman for the University of Edinburgh: “Research using animals has played and continues to play a key role in the advancement of biological, biomedical and veterinary science.
“It 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.
“Animal research has also contributed to developing methods for preventing and treating diseases of domestic and farm animals, and for improving their welfare.”