Testing our resolve

With little clarity on post-Brexit animal welfare policy, protections for animals in research could be at risk. Keith Taylor MEP explores the issues

Keith Taylor

In 2010, the Tories and Lib Dems promised to reduce the use of animal testing in Britain. Fast forward and the number of animals subjected to and sacrificed in the name of research has risen to almost four million every year. Shockingly, according to research I commissioned earlier this year, the numbers could rise even further post-Brexit.

It's one of the lesser talked about issues highlighted in my 'Animals and Brexit' report (which can be found on my website at www.keithtaylormep.org.uk), alongside vet shortages, veterinary medicine delays and the loss of key wildlife protections. Commentators have focused, understandably perhaps, on ministers' apparent readiness to sacrifice farmed animal safeguards on the altar of free trade, but little has been said about the potentially devastating animal welfare impacts of leaving the European Medicines Agency or the loss of access to crucial EU research networks.

At the moment, the welfare of animals used in research and testing is governed by an EU regulation, which sets basic minimum standards on everything from cage size to scientific objectives and requires national regulators to approve animal use only on a case-by-case basis.

Most important, however, is the stipulation that all member states work together to phase out animal testing entirely and develop non-animal alternatives. It requires member states to contribute to the development, validation and implementation of non-animal approaches, funding for which has been prioritised by the EU through the Horizon 2020 programme.

Although, as a member of the EU, the UK currently subscribes to these objectives, networks and funding programmes, there is no clarity on any post-Brexit policy in this area. Outside of the Single Market, the UK will lose access to the vital EU funding and scientific networks advancing animal alternatives.

The European Union Reference Laboratory for alternatives to animal testing (EURL-ECVAM), in particular, is a world leader in the validation of methods that reduce, reigne or replace the use of animals for safety, efficacy and potency testing of chemicals, biologicals and vaccines.

Post-Brexit, the UK Government will be faced with the task of creating a wholly new domestic regulatory system for authorising both the use of animals in research and the approval of non- animal testing alternatives. There is, therefore, a real risk of:

  • Research duplication across the UK and EU;
  • Loss of EU funding and coordinated research into alternative methods; and
  • Delay in alternative testing procedures developed in the EU reaching the UK.

The risks are amplified by the clarity offered by the EU; third countries, which is what the UK will be post-Brexit, cannot cherry- pick access to EU regulatory bodies or research networks. Worse still, Michael Gove has recently expressed his support for the 'gene-editing' of farmed animals once Britain leaves the EU. In the UK, 'gene-editing' experiments involve almost half of all of the four million animals used in testing and research.

Animal testing is the clarion call for all those seeking to ensure animals aren't thrown under the Brexit bus. As the Green Party's Animals Spokesperson, I pledge to continue standing side by side with animal advocates and campaigners in the right to protect animals post-Brexit.

Philip Lymbery, CEO of animal welfare campaign group Compassion in World Farming, comments:


I very much welcome this report and would like to echo Keith Taylor's call for action to prevent Brexit being used to weaken animal welfare protection in the UK.


We must take the opportunity provided by Brexit to reformulate food and farming policy. The core objective of agriculture in the UK, and globally, should be to provide nutritious food produced to high environmental and animal welfare standards.

The forthcoming Agriculture Bill provides an opportunity for a fundamental redesign of the way we farm in the UK. The government has recognised that there is a need to move away from direct payments, based on the size of the land covered by a particular farm, and towards a view in favour of 'public goods'.

This is a welcome first step. But the government must be bold in their vision and ensure that farmers who deliver high environmental and animal welfare standards receive support. As Keith writes, 'public money must not prop up intensive farming.' Britain cannot win a 'race to the bottom': the future for our farmers must be based on sustainable practices, not only for animal welfare but also for the wider environmental bene ts of moving towards pasture-based systems.