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Over three and a half million animal procedures a year are currently carried out for UK biomedical research and testing. Mice, rats and fish for 86%* of the total. From an individual perspective, each of us enjoys the medical benefits of animal research from the use of three mice and one rat over our entire lifespan.
While three and a half million animals a year may sound like a large number, a look at some of the other ways we use and treat animals in our society helps put it in perspective. Unlike animal research, reliable numbers are sometimes hard to come by, so we have had to rely on estimates.
It is estimated that UK meat and fish eaters consume 2.5 billion animals every year, nearly 700 times the number that are used in research.
Official figures show that UK abattoirs slaughter 900 million poultry, and 30 million cattle, sheep and pigs every year. These figures do not include imported meat; the UK is probably a net importer so it is likely that we consume close to 1 billion farm animals a year. Tonnage figures from the MarineManagement Organisation together with estimates for average weight of fish suggest that, in addition, we consume about 1,500 million sea fish and 80 million farmed salmon.
Official 2011 estimates put the UK dog population at 8.3 million and the UK cat population at 8.6 million. In 2008, a poll by GfK NOP for the Dogs Trust calculated the number of stray dogs collected each year to be just under 100,000. About 7,000 of these were put to sleep, the equivalent of 130 every week.
The RSPCA rehomes 200 pets every day, many of them cats and dogs, and investigates 110,000 cases of alleged cruelty every year. In 2009, 135,295 animals were rescued by the RSPCA and 2,579 convictions against cruelty were secured.
In 2010, 3,727 dogs were used in UK medical research. This is half the number of unwanted strays that are put down.
All dogs and cats used in research are purpose bred. In 2010, just 152 cats were used in research.
Pets killed on the roads
A report by MORI in 2001 found that 1 in 5 drivers (21%), around 6.3 million, have knocked a cat or dog down whilst driving in their car and a quarter of those (about 1.5 million) confessed to simply driving off without checking to see if the animal was alright or to report the incident.
This works out at over 100,000 cats and dogs hit by cars per year.
House mice, brown rats and black rats spread diseases. Our cities have rat problem, and according to media reports there are an estimated 70 million of these vermin roaming the sewers and streets. These estimates vary wildly but one rat per person in the UK is about average.
Overall, government figures - English House Condition Survey (EHCS), 2001 - estimate that 1.4% of houses have mice inside, 0.3% rats inside and 2.9% rats outside. If the UK housing stock is 26 million, this suggests that 364,000 are infested inside with mice and 78,000 with rats. The Environmental Health Journal (EHJ) in 2000 agreed with these estimates, stating that there were about 370,000 rodent-infested dwellings in the UK of which about 130,000 received professional treatment (mice are mostly dealt with by trapping, rats by poisoning).
Estimates for the average number of animals killed for each building treated are not generally recorded. However, some years ago, UAR obtained estimates from pest control organisations that suggested an average of five rodents per building. Together with the EHJ figures, this suggests that professional pest control operators destroy 650,000 vermin in UK dwellings every year.
EHCS found that about twice as many infestions inside houses were treated by non-professionals, so the total number of vermin destroyed inside houses every year is probably at least 2 million.
Wild animals killed by domestic cats
More small animals are killed by domestic cats in one week than are used annually in UK biomedical research.
In 1997, the Mammal Society surveyed the numbers of animals brought home by domestic cats to estimate how many wild animals were being killed by cats each year. This survey suggested that about 92 million animals, of which 55 million were birds, were caught by the estimated UK population of 9 million cats in the 5 month survey period - equivalent to about 220 million wild animals caught and killed per year in the UK.
This is only the number of animals that were known to have been caught. It doesn't include those that cats caught but didn't bring home, or which subsequently escaped but died.