Lab rat

Aside from the controversies routinely surrounding genetically modified (GMO) foods, the biotech industry’s other elephant in the room may just be a mouse in a cage, according to new data released by the UK’s Home Office division. While the report shows a decline in tests involving monkeys, experiments involving other test animals, particularly mice, are actually at 30-year high, reports the BBC.

Tests involving animal subjects rose to nearly 4 million last year, and nearly 1.6 million of those animals were bred with genetic modifications and mutations.  Studies intentionally paralyzed animals, forced them to develop symptoms of certain human diseases, and were designed to test reactions to experimental drugs that can originate from genetically modified substances. In addition, new market-bound genetically modified foods for both humans and livestock are also regularly tested on animals.

Seventy-one percent of the tests performed in the UK in 2011 were on mice, nearly 15 percent on fish, seven percent on rats, and the remaining subjects included a mixture of rabbits, birds, dogs, pigs, cats and monkeys, states the report. Tests on cats and pigs rose in 2011 over 2010, while monkey experiments significantly declined. Primates are often the poster animals for the egregious suffering animals endure in laboratories because of their close link to humans.

But the BBC reports that Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust says the overall increase in animal subjects despite the decline in primate experiments is “not a good indicator of the great efforts going into reducing, refining and replacing animals in research.”

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Image: jschroe