6 Must Know Animal Testing Facts in the Uk (2021)

by Becky

March 27, 2021

Animal testing is commonly used in nations worldwide – but that doesn’t make it right. The United Kingdom is one of the top ten leading nations in research-based animal testing, and there is much the general populace doesn’t know about this process. Let’s find out!

The UK tests on about 3.4 million animals annually, and at least half of their tests are driven by basic curiosity and conducted by university academics rather than large corporations. However, as opposed to other nations, the UK also has some of the most rigid regulations regarding animal testing to ensure the process is humane.

Read on to learn some of the top facts and statistics regarding animal testing in the UK. This information will range from what types of animals are tested on to what they are tested for and what regulations the nation has.

There are 3.4 Million Experiments Conducted on Animals Annually

According to government-provided figures, in 2019, the UK conducted experiments on 3.4 million animals, which is a 3.4% decrease from the previous year where they tested on 3.52 million animals and 3.79 million in 2017.

Although this is undoubtedly a significant figure, it is nothing compared to the other leading nations in animal testing.

As shown below, the UK only tests on a fraction of the top 3 nation’s figures:

  • China (20.5 million)
  • Japan (15.0 million)
  • the United States (15.6 million)

China is well known for it’s strict animal testing laws and they are shocking – especially when it comes to cosmetics. But things are taking a turn for the better now as people take a stand against this cruel practice and you can find out more about it here: Are Cosmetics Made in China Cruelty Free in 2021?

Funnily enough, Hong Kong is not included in these statistics as they have their own laws.

After these three nations, the numbers drop significantly. In addition to the UK, nations such as Canada, Australia, and South Korea all conduct about 3 million tests annually.

Australia is the 4th largest user of animal testing in the world, most of it is strictly observational. However, the nation is also very secretive about its animal testing numbers so these numbers could potentially be higher. If you are interested in learning more about their lack of transparency – take a look at this article: 6 Must Know Animal Testing Facts in Australia 

Of course, 3 million tests on animals is still a significant amount. However, it is encouraging to see that the numbers have dropped over time, and perhaps the UK will move away from animal testing altogether.

In the UK 87,557 Animals Are Subjected to Severe Cruelty

Beagle in cage for animal testing cruelty

There are several regulations globally regarding animal testing, and one details the amount of suffering you’re permitted to put the animal through by law.

According to the “Expert working group on severity classification of scientific procedures” published in 2009, there are four severity categories permitted by law for animal testing:


•Procedures, which are performed entirely under general anesthesia from which the animal shall not recover consciousness


•Procedures on animals as a result of which the animals are likely to experience short-term mild pain, suffering, or distress
•Procedures with no significant impairment of the wellbeing or general condition of the animals


•Procedures on animals resulting from which the animals are likely to experience short-term moderate pain, suffering or distress, or long-lasting mild pain, suffering, or distress
•Procedures that are likely to cause moderate impairment of the wellbeing or general condition of the animals


•Procedures on animals as a result of which the animals are likely to experience severe pain, suffering or distress, or long-lasting moderate pain, suffering or distress
•Procedures that are likely to cause severe impairment of the wellbeing or general condition of the animals

Severe suffering is the highest category legally permitted, which says a lot about the government’s priorities regarding animal testing. Unfortunately, in the UK, 87,557 animals were subjected to such horrendous animal testing conditions in 2018.

To make matters worse, allegedly, 17.5 % of all animals used for UK testing in 2019 fall under the category of either moderate or severe suffering.

Regulations in the UK are Stricter

Although some of the previous facts don’t shed a positive light on animal testing in the UK, there are some positives to discuss here.

One of the most influential and beneficial pieces of legislature in the UK regarding animal testing is the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986 (ASPA). As a result of this, the UK banned:

  • Research on great apes (orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos)
  • Animal testing for cosmetics or their ingredients
  • Use of an animal for testing if there is an alternative non-animal method available
  • Use of an animal for testing unless the expected benefits accrued from the research outweigh any potential animal suffering
  • Animal testing without all three licenses:
    • a personal license for the individual experimenting
    • a project license for each experiment
    • establishment license for the institution undertaking the experiment
  • Use of dogs, cats, monkeys, and horses unless an alternative, such as mice or fish, are not sufficient

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the UK’s animal testing regulations. Although you could argue animal testing should not be permitted under any circumstances, it is better to have strict rules like these in place than none at all.

Half the Animal Testing done is Experimental

Unlike other nations that use animal testing primarily for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, the UK typically uses it for more general purposes driven by curiosity. These scientific studies usually fall under the categories below:

  • Basic research (i.e., the study of biological functions and diseases)
  • Development of treatments
  • Safety testing of medicines and other chemicals
  • Surgical training and education
  • Environmental research
  • Species protection

However, basic research is by far the most prevalent where many aim to understand biological systems, both in animals and humans. It is believed that these experimental tests make up about 57% of all UK animal testing and are primarily conducted by universities.

Mice Are Used for the Majority of Testing

Mice for animal testing cruelty

When it comes to animal testing, mice are consistently one of the most common animals used. This is mainly because they closely resemble human characteristics genetically, biologically, and behaviorally. There are also a vast number of mice, and they are easy to acquire.

In 2019 the UK conducted 2,507,549 procedures on mice which accounted for 73.7% of all tests. The runner-up test animals, fish, don’t even come close to these figures as they were used in 479,581 tests accounting for only 14.1% of the total. The remaining percentages are scattered between various other animals.

Overall, mice, rats, birds, and fish are used for 96.75% of all animal testing in the UK in 2019. The remaining 0.14% were conducted on dogs and cats and 0.11% on primates.

The Nation’s 2011 Promise is Still Unfulfilled

In 2011, the British Parliament made a national promise that there would be a reduction in animal testing for scientific research within the UK. Unfortunately, since this promise was made in the Written Ministerial Statements on July 18, 2011, very minimal reductions have occurred in the past decade.

According to government records, 3.71 million animals were used in 3.79 million scientific experiments in 2011.” This means that the experiments have only decreased by about 390,000 by 2019.

What is most frustrating about this failed promise is that many scientists have supported the fact that animal testing is highly unsuccessful. Not to mention that modern technology has progressed so significantly that it could easily reduce animal tests by drastic amounts.

If you want to learn more about the ineffectiveness of animal testing you can read this article: Why is Animal Testing Cruel?

Although it is a positive result that the experiments have at least decreased since 2011, the numbers are far from impressive and beg the question of how much the government is really prioritizing this change.

Final Thoughts

Animal testing is a highly controversial topic no matter what nation you are discussing. Although the UK is one of the leading countries that use animals for experimentation, it is not statistically the cruelest nation.

Animal testing can be highly beneficial to human research, but modern technology can help reduce the number of tests and animals needed for such information.

One can only hope that with time and as technology and human understanding continues to progress – animal testing will continue to decline in the UK.

The nation's animal testing would be significantly impacted if it could decrease the number of higher severity tests and shift towards solely mild and/or non-invasive testing.

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