What is ASPA?
ASPA is the ‘Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 Amendment Regulations 2012’, and is the law governing the use of animals in experiments and tests in the UK.
The original 1986 Act was revised in 2012, coming into forced in 2013, to include new regulations specificed by the European Directive 2010/63/EU, on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes.
Animals covered by ASPA legislation are used in ‘regulated procedures’ and are considered to be ‘protected species’.
What are Regulated Procedures?
An experiment carried out on an animal of a protected species, for a scientific purpose and may cause the animal a level of pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm equivalent to, or higher than, that caused by inserting a hypodermic needle in line with good veterinary practice.
Regulated procedures are categorised into severity grades, which describe the level of pain the animal will experience.
Which Species are 'Protected'?
These are all living vertebrates, excluding humans, and cephalopods, such as octopus, and are protected by law. Embryonic and foetal forms are considered to be ‘protected animals’ in the last third of gestation, or incubation for egg-laying species. Larval forms of fish and amphibians are ‘protected animals’ once they are capable of independent feeding. Zebrafish larvae, as an example, become protected 5 days after fertilisation.
Experiments on animals during early stages of development, before reaching ‘protected’ status, may be covered by ASPA if the animals are kept alive beyond the point at which they became ‘protected’.
What is the Concordat on Openness?
You will probably notice that some of the universities in our list are signatories to the Concordat on Openness.
The Concordat on Openness is a set of commitments for UK-based life science organisations to enhance their communications relating to animal experiments. Signatories to the Concordat have agreed to be more open about their use of animals in experiments. To sign the Concordat, the organisation must be based in the UK and be involved in animal research (e.g., by conducting or funding animal experiments). There are 128 signatories to the Concordat, including 52 universities.
Where do animal experiments take place?
Government statistics released in 2020 reveal that 54% of all animal experiments in Great Britain (Northern Ireland figures are separate) were conducted at universities or medical schools. Historically, the Home Office would show the percentage of animal experiments carried out at universities annually, which was a useful tool in understanding the impact that university procedures have on the number of animals harmed in experiments in Great Britain. However, the most recently released statistics, which were for 2021, omitted this information. This is a step backwards in terms of transparency, which is obviously of great concern.
The Forced Swim Test
One example of an experiment conducted on animals is the forced swim test.
The forced swim test is a behavioural test used by scientists to evaluate the usefulness of antidepressant drugs.
During the test, an animal (usually a rat or a mouse) is placed in an inescapable tank that is filled with water, whilst researchers watch to see how long they attempt to swim. Scientists claim that depressed rodents will give up more quickly than happy ones. This extremely cruel test is sadly conducted at some universities in Great Britain.
While this test and conclusion has guided many years of research on antidepressants, it is scientifically extremely poor.
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