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Dame Joanna Lumley has called for “kinder science” as she spoke out against animal testing for medical purposes.
The Absolutely Fabulous star, patron of Animal Free Research UK, spoke at a reception in Parliament and called for a formal inquiry into current medical research as well as the appointment of a minister for human relevant science.
The actress and campaigner said using animals “yields little in the quest for medical cures and treatments” for humans.
The speech mentioned suggested steps the charity put in their “eight steps to accelerate human relevant innovation” report, which include ensuring the UK completely replaces animal experiments with human ones and enabling experts in human-relevant research to suggest ways to replace animal use.
“I was so shocked to hear that there was not a specialised minister for this,” Dame Joanna told the PA news agency.
She said: “Presently, responsibility for the use of animals in research is fragmented, shared between several different Government departments, including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Home Office, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
“This disjointed approach leads to poor understanding and knowledge of the alternatives – those which have the potential to save time and taxpayers’ money in the search for better medicines and improved health.”
She also said the event has happened at “just the right time,” with the Covid pandemic and monkeypox being prevalent in the news.
She added that measures discussed, including the use of artificial intelligence and an organ-on-a-chip – a chip that simulates the activities, mechanics and physiological response of an entire organ – offer a “less cruel, more efficient and effective way” of tackling diseases that continue to prevail.
Dame Joanna said nearly three million animals are used every year “in outdated medical research”, including dogs, horses, pigs, rabbits, cats, monkeys, mice and rats.
She quoted Government statistics from 2020 which she said showed the number of experiments on dogs was up year-on-year by 3%, on cats by 11%, and on horses by 3%.
She added: “Countless animals were used in basic research by scientists seeking to understand more about the human body and why and how we get diseases.
“Yet using animals in an attempt to better understand humans, as you will learn, yields little in the quest for medical cures and treatments.
“What these figures expose is the sheer lack of concerted effort to replace animal testing with modern medical research, despite this being the age of digital innovation and enlightenment.”
She called on those listening to go to “the people and places with influence” to urge them to “accelerate human relevant research, that which would make the UK a world leader in a kinder science – one that benefits humans and animals.”
Carla Owen, CEO of Animal Free Research UK, said the eight points have been designed in a way that the Government can “copy and paste” them onto a manifesto.
An animal lover herself as the owner of a dog called Alfie, she said: “We’re talking about helping animals and people and about being really solutions-focused as well.
“Animals are still being used in medical research to find solutions for patients and yet we don’t understand these diseases and we don’t have to do it.
“It’s really important to be in Parliament today because these are the people who can make the decisions and we’ve tried to make it easy by having eight steps, so political parties can copy and paste them and put them in their manifestos.”
Conservative MP Anna Firth also spoke at the event – the MP for Southend West, Sir David Amess’ former constituency.
She said Sir David was a regular attender at Westminster Dog of the Year and was said to have had six aquariums at one point.
She told guests that she was “so proud to continue his legacy and commitment” to animal welfare issues.