USPCA in plea to researchers as animal testing on rise in Northern Ireland
A near 20% rise in cases of animal testing in Northern Ireland has been criticised.
A new report from the Department of Health has revealed that 28,790 procedures were carried out on live animals in 2018 - up from 24,756 the previous year.
USPCA chief executive Brendan Mullen called for researchers to take their lead from the cosmetics industry in reducing animal testing.
He said the experiments caused almost 280 animals to die and had "severe" consequences for over 900 others.
Mice were used in 70% (16,822) of the procedures, cattle in 10% (2,405) and fish in 7% (1,749) of the tests. Sheep, rats and pigs accounted for 3% of testing, and the rest were carried out on other mammals and amphibians, including 71 cats and 64 dogs.
Experimental procedures were carried out on 23,883 (83%) of the animals.
The rest related to the breeding of genetically altered animals which were not used for further testing.
The purpose of the experiments included researching oncology and multi-organ systems (13,690), as well as human cancer and other disorders (5,976).
Researching animal disease and welfare accounted for 2,110 procedures and 914 were used for regulatory purposes, mainly for veterinary medicines.
The suffering caused by the experiments was "moderate" in 50.1% of the tests, defined as a "significant and easily detectable disturbance to an animal's normal state" but not life-threatening.
Nearly 44% (43.8%) were "mild", where the pain or suffering at worst is only transitory and minor, while 3.9% were "severe" and caused "a major departure" from the animal's usual state of health and well-being.
Meanwhile, 1.2% were "non-recovery" in which the entire procedure is carried out under anaesthesia without recovery.
Universities and medical schools carried out the bulk (22,472) of procedures, most on mice and other small mammals.
The rest were conducted by non-profit organisations (3,261), government departments (1,419) and commercial organisations (1,278).
The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 imposes clear responsibilities on persons with specific roles in relation to the care and use of animals in scientific procedures.
Mr Mullen said: "While the USPCA accepts that the use of animals in research is required to advance human healthcare, it is disappointing to note the year-on-year increase.
"We would challenge the universities, medical schools and other research establishments to sign up to the principles of 'replacement, reduction and refinement' in order to promote and implement scientific methods that replace the use of animals in research.
"Investment in the '3Rs' has the potential to develop humane, innovative and animal-free science, just as has been achieved in the cosmetics industry."
A spokesperson for Queen's University said research on animals was only carried out when it was "absolutely essential" for clinical, biomedical and environmental studies and there are no alternatives.
They added that such work, including breeding, was heavily regulated and was subject to equal levels of scrutiny by the University Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body.
Ulster University did not respond to a request for comment.