Vivisection is a controversial subject – I’ve written about this several times before in my Daily Telegraph blog.

There are two news stories this week on the subject.

First, figures released by the UK government show that animal  testing in the UK has increased by almost ten per cent,  with more than four million experiments taking place a year, the highest figure since 1982. These figures have been “spun” by both sides of the debate, with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection understandably describing them as “shocking”, while supporters of animal experimentation maintain that the overall trend of  “experimentation” is downwards, with the apparent increase in numbers due to the recent development of genetically modified mice that have been bred to carry specific genes or to develop signs of human disease to assist progress towards cures. Whatever the truth, it’s clear that the figures deserve careful analysis before reaching sweeping conclusions: but who has time to wade through the reams of Home Office statistics?

The second news story has come in from the USA, with a “study of studies” demonstrating the poor level of return from animal experiments: only two out of 1411 animal studies on treatments for human neurological diseases came up with results that went on to produce ‘convincing’ data in randomised controlled trials in humans. The researchers have called for stricter guidelines for study design and analysis to improve these statistics in the future.

Vivisection is an emotive subject – who could not be against it when faced with images of distressed laboratory animals, as shown in the Daily Mail article? (Mind you, the images are out of context with the article’s content – rabbits have not been in racks for testing like that for many years in the UK, and research on great apes is already banned in the UK).

Is animal experimentation ever justified? In a meat-eating society, how is it worse than chickens, pigs, cattle or sheep being killed for consumption? Andrew Knight has written an excellent book on the subject, well worth reading: you can buy it here.

The good news is that the trend is moving away from vivisection (see the recent banning in the EU of all cosmetic products that have been tested on animals, anywhere in the world). But there’s a long way to go.