Anti-Vivisection group Cruelty Free International has described Oxford as the “animal experiment capital of the UK,” after it released figures showing that the University carried out more tests involving animals than any other institute.

Oxford University tops a list compiled by the organisation. The University used 226,739 animals in experiments in 2014, a figure obtained through a Freedom of Information request. Cruelty Free International claims most of the experiments seem to be “driven more by curiosity” than a focused attempt to address any particular illness.

Dr Nick Palmer, Director of Policy at Cruelty Free International, told Cherwell, “According to the figures, Oxford conducted more animal experiments in 2014 than any other university in Britain. Despite more and more universities recognising this isn’t the way to do research and reducing the number of animals on which t h e y test, the stats we have obtained show that Oxford University’s figures are increasing – up by 19 per cent from the previous year.

“While the University spokesman asserts that they are seeking ways to reduce the numbers, this appears to be failing spectacularly, and in the absence of a coherent government strategy to reduce the numbers of animals used in experiments, it is difficult to see how this trend will sustainably reverse.

“Universities rarely need to conduct experiments for legal reasons and the majority of experiments take place because they are considered ‘interesting’. While universities often present their research as important strides in understanding what might help future medical research, most experiments appear to be driven more by curiosity than by a focused attempt to address any particular illness, as our example shows. This flies in the face of public opinion, which is very sceptical about causing suffering to animals in laboratories.”

Cruelty Free International released an example experiment from Oxford University in which monkeys were anaesthetised and head-holding devices were surgically implanted in their skulls, then restrained in chairs and “deprived of water before each test session” so that they had to work for small juice rewards. The experiment aimed to reveal more about how the brain makes rewardbased decisions.

Mice, rats and fish were the animals most experimented on, with pigs, monkeys and guinea pigs also on the list. A spokesperson for Oxford University said, “Oxford University is determined to carry out research using animals to the highest standards. Each researcher is trained and examined before being able to request a Home Office license. Each trial is designed to minimise the number of animals used and is reviewed and approved in a very similar way to a clinical trial in people. Animal care, including veterinary care, is provided around the clock. We are clear that no procedure using animals should be undertaken lightly and staff will challenge any behaviour that risks falling below the high standards we set ourselves.

“We are committed to replacing and reducing the use of animals wherever possible and to refining procedures to reduce the pain caused. We are not yet at a stage where animal research can be replaced altogether. Research using animals continues to provide important insights, whether into the effects of heart disease or the development of vaccines for major global diseases like malaria. Work with non-human primates has given us vital information about how the brain works, allowing us to understand better the effects of sudden damage like stroke and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.”

Jennifer Clements, President of Oxford University’s Animal Ethics Society, commented, “I don’t speak for the whole society, but I suspect very few members were surprised by the findings of Cruelty Free International. There are regular student protests outside various labs in Oxford, and whilst the society is academic in nature, we are regularly asked about protest opportunities at our Freshers’ Fair stall. I personally know several students in Bio-medicine and Psychology who are committed to minimising the use of non-human animals and are practising vegetarians and vegans. I’ve made these points in order to emphasise that many students reject the University’s unethical practices regarding non-human animals.

“I do not know the truth about the claim that most non-human animal experiments are designed for intellectual reasons, rather than direct medical benefit, but I have found from experience that claims that non-human animals are only experimented upon for medical discoveries are often thrown out as a way to stall intellectual debate on the topic.

“Such tactics are often used to present animal activists as extremists who do not care about human suffering, and so undermine their credibility rather than rationally challenging their arguments.

“Oxford University has many terrible legacies, and unfortunately its appalling treatment of animals continues to this day.”