Nearly 25,000 live animals used for experiments in Northern Ireland last year
A rise in animal testing in Northern Ireland has been slammed by an MLA, who said more that 60 were subjected to "painful and damaging" tests every day.
The Department of Health has released figures showing 24,166 live animals were used in experiments here for the first time in 2017 - nearly 3,000 more than the previous year.
Approximately half the animals were mice, a third cattle, 102 dogs - specifically beagles - and 90 cats.
Nearly 5,000 of the animals - mice and rats - were also bred specifically with genetic modifications.
Green Party MLA Steven Agnew has called on the department to explain the rise, and claimed thousands of the animals were often subject to painful and even deadly tests.
The report, Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals Northern Ireland 2017, outlined the main purposes of the experiments.
These include: research into disease; testing drugs and foodstuffs; protection of the natural environment; preservation of the species; higher education or training for vocational skills, and forensic inquiries.
Two-thirds of tests were carried out in universities or medical schools. Government departments carried out a fifth of the procedures, 10% were done by non-profit organisations, and commercial organisations carried out 924 procedures.
The harm the tests cause to animals is also broken down into categories.
The highest level is 'severe', accounting for 2% of tests.
These usually involve long-term disease testing and can cause "a major departure from the animal's usual state of health and well-being" including "animals found dead unless an informed decision can be made that the animal did not suffer severely prior to death".
'Moderate' tests, accounting for nearly two-thirds of experiments, cause "a significant and easily detectable disturbance to an animal's state, but is not life threatening".
'Non-recovery' (1.4%) is when the entire procedure is carried out under general anaesthesia without recovery.
'Sub-threshold' (1.8%) and 'mild' procedures (57%) cause only minor and transitory discomfort.
The dogs and cats involved were only subjected to mild procedures, while over 6,000 mice underwent moderate or severe procedures.
Mr Agnew said more needed to be done to find alternatives to testing live animals.
"According to these stats, on average every day last year 66 animals were subject to often painful and damaging experiments," he said.
"These animals were subjected to procedures that are often painful, distressing and which cause long-term harm.
"Specifically, 8,000 procedures were described as moderate or severe which inflict pain, suffering and sometimes death upon the animal."
He added: "I'm disturbed at this rise. I want to know why we are using more animals in experiments rather than seeking alternative methods.
"I'll be writing to the permanent secretary for the Department of Health to ask how we can phase out the use of animals in these often painful and deadly experiments."
The report states The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 established "a rigorous system of controls" for scientific work on living animals.
This includes a requirement that projects and researchers are licensed as well as "stringent safeguards on animal pain and suffering" are in place and general requirements to ensure the care and welfare of animals.
This month personal care company Unilever, which owns skincare brand Dove, called for an international ban on animal testing on cosmetics.
The controversial practice has been banned in the European Union since 2013, but research from the group Cruelty Free International suggests 115 million animals are still being used around the world to test beauty products every year.
Humane Society International has said it hoped Unilever's stance would inspire other beauty brands to abandon animal testing completely.
In September the State of California announced it would ban all brands tested on animals by 2020.
The Department of Health, Queen's and Ulster University had not replied to requests for a response at the time of going to press.