Thank you for contacting me about animal research and ethical innovation.
I share the Government's commitment to the development of alternatives to using animals in scientific procedures and I am glad the Government continues to actively support and fund the development and dissemination of the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement) for the use of animals in scientific procedures.
This is achieved through UK Research and Innovation’s funding of the National Centre for the 3Rs, which works nationally and internationally to drive the uptake of non-animal technologies, and through research into the development of alternatives by Innovate UK, the Medical Research Council, and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
The recommendations in the Non-Animal Technologies Roadmap continue to be delivered including a £1.6 million commitment for the development of a virtual dog to help reduce the use of dogs in the safety testing of new medicines and £4.7 million funding for next generation non-animal technologies that provide reliable, predictive and cost-effective alternatives to the use of animals. Scientists and representatives from regulatory bodies are involved in these efforts to accelerate the use of non-animal technologies.
The Home Office regulator, the Animals in Science Regulation Unit, will only grant licences to use animals in science where there are no alternatives, where the number of animals used is the minimum needed to achieve the scientific benefit, and where the potential harm to animals is limited to that needed to achieve the scientific benefit. Without animal testing at all, it is highly likely that a large number of potentially dangerous new medicines would be tested in healthy volunteers and patients in clinical trials. This would be completely unacceptable.
The Government has recognised the public concern around the testing on animals of chemicals used as ingredients in cosmetics. I welcome the fact that no new licences will now be granted for animal testing of chemicals that are exclusively intended to be used as ingredients in cosmetics products.
Alongside this, the Government is taking action to seek alternatives to animal testing for worker and environmental safety of chemicals used exclusively as cosmetic ingredients. This reflects the Government’s wider commitment to replacing the use of animals in science wherever scientifically possible. The Government is confident that the UK science sector and industry has the talent to provide the solutions needed here.
The regulatory framework around cosmetics has long required manufacturers to demonstrate that their products are safe for use by consumers. Animal testing for this purpose was banned in the UK in 1998 and this ban remains in force.
Under chemicals regulations, manufacturers and importers must assess and stringently mitigate the hazards to human health and the environment of the chemicals they place on the market. This includes chemicals used as ingredients in cosmetics. In some cases, where there are no validated alternatives, this has in the past required testing on animals as a last resort.
These regulations are separate from, and have a different purpose to, the consumer cosmetics regulations, which is why it had been possible that a chemical used in cosmetics could have been required to be tested on animals. On that basis, a small number of time-limited licences were issued between 2019 and 2022. However, a ban on new licences has now been introduced with immediate effect, and the Government is engaging urgently with the relevant firms to determine a path forward on the few remaining legacy licences.
The Government is also undertaking to review at pace the effective administration of the ban over the longer term. This will give due regard of the needs of the science industry, the need to ensure worker and environmental safety, and the need to protect animals from unnecessary harm.
With regard to concerns about the wearing of bearskin caps I know that Guardsmen take great pride in wearing the bearskin cap, which is an iconic image of Britain, and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is very sparing in the acquisitions that it makes. Individual soldiers do not possess their own hats, rather they are cared for and shared within the Household Division and, despite their constant use, every effort is made to carefully prolong the longevity of each ceremonial cap. On account of this, they usually last for more than a decade, with some having been in use for as long as 60 years.
That said, I can assure you that the MOD would like to find an alternative material to bearskin should one prove acceptable. This is a commitment the MOD takes very seriously. The MOD have not to date seen evidence that a suitable faux fur product exists to be considered as an alternative. Until that material is sourced and proven, I can assure you that the UK goes to great lengths to ensure that the pelts that make the King's Guards caps are procured in the most responsible way possible.
Let me be clear, bears are never hunted to order for the MOD. Bear pelts used for the King’s Guards’ ceremonial caps are sourced exclusively from Canada precisely because it is a regulated market and a declared party to the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora.
Establishments, such as MBR Acres, that either breed dogs for use in science elsewhere or conduct regulated procedures on dogs are required to provide care and accommodation to those dogs in line with the published code of practice for that purpose. Adherence to that code of practice, and to all other standard conditions applied to any establishment licence, is assessed by the regulator as part of its compliance assurance programme.
Establishments breeding, supplying, or using dogs in science are contributing to critical activities to protect human health and advance scientific progress. They are operating legally within a regulatory framework that requires licensure and assessment of their compliance.
I will continue to monitor developments in concerning animal welfare closely.
Craig Whittaker MP