The Government has announced that it plans to adopt an EU-wide change in the law which would permit animal testing on stray dogs and cats, under limited circumstances.
The change will come into effect next January as part of EU directive 2010/63/EU. The directive is generally aimed at providing higher welfare standards for animals across the EU but one provision could open the door for scientific testing on strays in special circumstances.
These were identified in a government-consultation document on the topic to include essential studies relating to the health and welfare of the animals in question, or serious threats to the environment or to human or animal health.
Any lab looking to test on strays would also have to provide a scientific justification for why the use of a stray animal is necessary.
The proposals have shocked many, including animal rights campaign groups and MPs. Liberal Democrat Adrian Sanders feels so strongly about the change in the law that he has tabled an early-day motion to oppose it.
"I'm shocked that the Government is considering removing the current protection given to our stray cats and dogs from being used in experiments," he told the BUAV.
"Losing a pet is distressing, but the idea that the animal could potentially end up in a laboratory is ghastly and unacceptable, and I urge the Government to reconsider," he added.
The move to oppose the legislation has been welcomed by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) who are also opposing the change in the law.
"If these new rules are imposed, the Government could allow the use of stray, lost or abandoned cats and dogs to be used in experiments and sentenced to a life in a UK laboratory," said the BUAV in a statement.
The Home Office is, however, sticking to the official line that the change in the law will not result in an increase in experiments on stray pets.
In a statement to the Sunday Times, a Home Office spokesperson said: "We can envisage no circumstances where a license would be granted to test on strays," they said.