GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Switzerland saw a sharp drop in the number of animals used for experiments in 2011, down 13 percent from a year earlier, federal statistics show.
Switzerland used some 2 million animals for medical and cosmetic experiments in the early 1980s; the number has fallen to under 700,000 in 2011, with far tighter regulations governing their use. The lower numbers are due to animal protection laws, says the Federal Department for the Economy. These were made more stringent in 2008.
The steep fall was due mainly to one large experiment ending, with chickens at an industrial scale chicken farm in Lucerne.
Overall, however, numbers were down, reversing the trend of a slight increase in the past 10 years: down by 4 percent in universities and hospital research centres, which account for about one-third of research that uses animals, and by 25 percent in industry, which accounts for about 40 percent of the animal-based research.
Only one experiment, on rats to test ultraviolent (UV) rays, was used for cosmetics, an area that is categorized as medical rather than cosmetic by the US and Australia, but cosmetic by Switzerland and the EU, although the impact on health is acknowledged.
Rodents (rats, mice, hamster, guinea pigs) made up 79 percent of the animals used. Birds, especially fowl, accounted for 10 percent, mainly for studies on how detention conditions have an impact on animals. The 11 percent of other animals used were fish, some pets and income-producing animals, rabbits, amphibians, primates and other mammals.
Swiss animal protection laws govern the use of animals for research, allowed only when an approval commission agrees with an applicant who has shown that there is no alternative and the benefits to society from the research outweigh the downside, which is any suffering caused to the animals during experiments.
The commissions are cantonal and are made up of specialists in related areas and animals rights defenders. The Federal Veterinary Office has the final word and can challenge a cantonal decision.
The “constraints to which lab animals are submitted” are given a note on a scale of 0 to 3, with 0 “no constraints” and grade 3 “strong constraints”. For 2011, 79 percent of the experiences were 0 or 1, 19 percent were 2 and 2 per cent were level 3.
Detailed statistics are available online, in French and German.