Procedures carried out on animals in Northern Ireland, 2020

4 November 2021

Posted by: UAR news team

Category: News

 Procedures carried out on animals in Northern Ireland, 2020

  • 22,707 procedures carried out in Northern Ireland in 2020

  • Total procedures down 19.4% from 2019

report from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland shows that 22,707 procedures were carried out on animals in 2020. This represents approximately 0.8% of animal research across the UK.

Animal research and Covid-19 

In 2020, animal research has been essential for developing lifesaving vaccines and treatments for Covid-19. Ferrets and macaque monkeys were used to test the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines, including the successful Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Hamsters are being used to develop Covid-19 treatment strategies as they display a more severe form of the disease than ferrets and monkeys. Guinea pigs have also been used in regulatory research to batch test vaccine potency. 

Despite all this research to develop vaccines and treatments for Covid-19, the majority of UK research facilities carried out significantly less research than usual, due to the various national lockdowns. Therefore, the 2020 figures cannot be reasonably compared with previous statistics.

Species Experimental Procedures % Creation & Breeding of GA animals not used in experimental procedures % Total Procedures (2020) %  change from 2019
Mice 11,182 71.09% 6,913 99.07% 18,095 79.69% -22.94%
Rats 328 2.09% 65 0.93% 393 1.73% -57.28% 
Cats 56 0.36% 0 0.00% 56 0.25% 166.67%
Dogs 131 0.83% 0 0.00% 131 0.58% 367.86%
Domestic fowl 981 6.24% 0 0.00% 981 4.32% 20.52% 
Pig 481 3.06% 0 0.00% 481 2.12% 69.96% 
Sheep 653 4.15% 0 0.00% 653 2.88% -11.28% 
Cattle 469 2.98% 0 0.00% 469 2.07% -42.80% 
Fish 1,362 8.66% 0 0.00% 1,362 6.00% 38.56% 
Other animals 86 0.55% 0 0.00% 86 0.38% 1.18% 
Total 15,729 69.27% 6,978 30.73% 22,707 100.00% -19.40% 

In 2020 a total of 22,707 procedures were carried out on animals in Northern Ireland, a 19.40decrease from 2019. There was an increase in the number of procedures carried out in cats, dogs, birds, pigs and fish, and a decline in the number of procedures carried out in mice, rats, sheep and cattle, when compared to the previous year.

Of the 22,707 procedures carried out, 15,729 procedures (69.27%) were for experimental purposed and 6,278 procedures (30.73%) were related to the creation and breeding of genetically altered animals not used in experimental procedures. Experimental procedures decreased by 29.21% when compared to the previous year, while procedures related to the creation and breeding of genetically altered animals increased by 17.22%. 

Severity Experimental Procedures % Creation & Breeding of GA animals not used in experimental procedures % Total Procedures (2020) %  Change from 2019
Sub threshold 1,751 11.13% 4,342 62.22% 6,093 26.83%
Non-recovery 147 0.93% 2 0.03% 149 0.66%  
Mild 5,246 33.35% 2,070 29.66% 7,316 32.22%
Moderate 8,403 53.42% 390 5.59% 8,793 38.72%
Severe 182 1.16% 174 2.49% 356 1.57%
Total 15,729   6,978   22,707    

Severity assessments of all procedures carried out in Northern Ireland show that 38.72% of all procedures were categorised at moderate, 32.22% as mild, 26.83% as sub-threshold, 1.57% as severe, and 0.66% as non-recovery.

In Northern Ireland, 30.8% of all procedures were undertaken for translational/applied research, 26.1%  for basic research, 10.2% were related to protection of the natural environment, 2.1% were undertaken for regulatory purposes, and 0.1% were undertaken for forensic enquiries.

Northern Ireland regulates its animal research and compiles its statistics separately from the rest of the UK (regulated by the Home Office). Every year, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland produces a detailed report explaining what animals were used in different types of research over the year. The research is carefully regulated under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986.

In 2020England, Scotland and Wales carried out 2,883,310 procedures on animals, of which 92% were on mice, fish and rats. No primates have been used in experiments in Northern Ireland in over a decade.

More details on Northern Irish statistics can be found here: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/statistics-scientific-procedures-living-animals-northern-ireland