Thank you for contacting me about dogs and animal testing.
I am proud that the UK has consistently led the way on animal welfare, and it is right that we cement our status as a global leader by continuing to raise the bar. I am pleased that the Government's first-of-its-kind Action Plan for Animal Welfare committed to maintaining high standards of protection where procedures are undertaken on live animals for scientific or educational purposes.
The use of animals in scientific research remains a vital tool in improving our understanding of how biological systems work in health and disease, and in the development of new medicines, treatments and technologies. However, animals are only used in research when there are no suitable alternatives, and any tests are carried out under controls that keep suffering to a minimum. This is known as the last-resort principle, which will be retained and strengthened in the Environment Bill. I am opposed to animal tests where alternative approaches could be used.
Like you, I welcomed the introduction of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill to Parliament. This Bill will not only enshrine recognition of animal sentience in domestic law, but will also establish an expert-led Animal Sentience Committee, which will produce reports on the impact of policy decisions on animal welfare. Further, I am pleased that the new Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act has enabled tougher prison sentences for the most serious perpetrators of animal cruelty, from the previous maximum of six months to up to five years. The maximum five-year sentence is one of the toughest punishments in Europe, strengthening the UK’s position as a global leader on animal welfare.
On the use of animals in tests carried out at Porton Down, as I am sure you are aware, the work done by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) helps provide the latest scientific and technological advantages for the UK's Armed Forces and other security organisations. It remains the case that finding solutions to the technological problems faced by our service personnel unfortunately cannot all currently be addressed without the use of animals in research. I know and understand why this is upsetting for many people, but please be assured that I will continue to press the Government to find alternative methods of conducting tests wherever possible.
I am, however, reassured by the fact that strict procedures are in place to ensure the suffering of animals is kept to a strict minimum. When research programmes are being planned, Dstl follows the ‘3Rs’ principle which mandates that experimental procedures must be sought which replace the use of animals, or reduce the number of animals used, or refine how the animals are treated during the process. I therefore welcome the fact that the number of animals involved in scientific procedures at Porton Down between 2011 and 2019 fell from 9,722 to 1,490.
As necessary as animal testing is for scientific research, I am relieved and heartened that Dstl is able to continue its important work helping to protect the lives of our Armed Force, while also making significant efforts to keep its animal testing to the absolute minimum.
I hope this offers you some reassurance that this Government is deeply committed to maintaining the very highest standards of animal welfare in research.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP