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Number of Laboratory Animals Used Decreases Significantly

49/2021, 16.12.2021

In 2020, the year of coronavirus, significantly fewer mice, monkeys, dogs, cats and fish were used in animal experiments

Compared to the previous year, the number of laboratory animals used in Germany fell by about 14 percent in 2020. A total of around 1.9 million vertebrates and cephalopods were used in animal experiments pursuant to Section 7 para. 2 of the Animal Welfare Act. This is according to the laboratory animal statistics published for the first time this year by the German Centre for the Protection of Laboratory Animals (Bf3R), which is part of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). "For several years, we have observed largely stable numbers of laboratory animals; for 2020, we see a sharp decline for the first time", says BfR President Professor Andreas Hensel. "I assume that the decline can be explained by Germany's commitment to more animal welfare in this area."

The severity of most experiments can be classified as mild (about 67 percent). The proportion of animal experiments classified as moderate was about 24 percent, only four percent were classified as severe. Just under six percent were performed under general anaesthesia, from which the animals did not wake up (non-recovery of vital function). More information on the definition of severity:

Research into human and animal diseases

About 58 percent of laboratory animals were used for basic research (for example, for studies of the immune and nervous systems) and about 13 percent for research of diseases (for example, cancer) in humans and animals. About 19 percent of the animals were used for the production or quality control of medical products or for toxicological safety tests (for example on the efficacy or safety of drugs and vaccines). About ten percent were needed for other purposes, such as education or training, or for breeding genetically modified animals.

About 78 percent of the experimental animals used were rodents, mainly mice and rats. In the case of mice (1,341,134 animals), as in previous years, there has been a significant decline (2019: 1,438,336 animals). The number of experiments on monkeys and prosimians (2,031) is also down sharply compared to the previous year (3,276). Great apes were last used for scientific purposes in Germany in 1991.

The number of dogs used (2,560) fell sharply in 2020 (2019: 3,519). Dogs and cats are used in particular for research of animal diseases and for the legally prescribed testing of veterinary and human medicines. The number of cats used in 2020 (644) has also decreased significantly (2019: 954).

227,996 fish were used in animal studies in 2020. The number was up sharply in 2019 (347,543) compared to previous years, which can be explained by experiments on species conservation, especially on the effects of hydropower plants. In 2020, the number of fish used fell considerably again.

In addition to animal experiments, animals killed for scientific purposes, for example to use their organs or tissue for cell cultures, are also reported in Germany. The number of these animals (633,784) also fell by around nine percent in 2020 (2019: 699,756).

Proportion of genetically modified animals increased, but fewer laboratory animals overall

The proportion of genetically modified animals was around 48 percent and increased slightly compared to the previous year (2019: 43 percent). Mice (89 percent) and fish (ten percent) were used in particular. Genetically modified animals were mainly used in basic research. Genetic factors play a significant role here. Genetically modified animals improve research of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's or infections as well as their treatment - and in some cases make them possible in the first place. Although the percentage of genetically modified animals has increased, the total number of genetically modified animals has decreased by four percent compared to the previous year.

Until now, the figures for laboratory animals used were published by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). This task has been transferred to the BfR as of this year. The German Centre for the Protection of Laboratory Animals (Bf3R) is part of the BfR. It researches alternatives to animal experiments.

Strict requirements under the Animal Welfare Act

The Animal Welfare Act sets strict guidelines for animal experiments. It specifies the purposes for which animal experiments may be carried out. When deciding on a permit, it must always be checked in particular whether the purpose pursued cannot be achieved by other methods or procedures.

The approval and control of animal experiments is the task of the competent authorities in the Federal States. The state authorities report the numbers of animals used in experiments to the BfR, which collects and processes the data and forwards it to the European Commission. The basis for this reporting obligation is the EU Laboratory Animals Directive 2010/63/EU.

About the Bf3R

The German Centre for the Protection of Laboratory Animals (Bf3R) was founded in 2015 and is an integral part of the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). It co-ordinates nationwide activities with the goals of restricting animal experiments to only those which are considered essential, and guaranteeing the best possible protection for laboratory animals. Moreover, it intends to stimulate research activities and encourage scientific dialogue.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. The BfR advises the Federal Government and the States (‘Laender’) on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.



Date Title Size
Figures on Laboratory Animals Used in 2020 1.1 MB



Date Title Size
Updated BfR FAQ
Questions and answers on animal experiments, alternative methods and animal experiment numbers 128.2 KB


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