IT is not the kind of league table universities boast about, but thanks to freedom of information legislation, the public is able to see the list of universities which conduct the most animal experiments in the UK. At the top is the University of Oxford, which carried out 226, 739 experiments in 2014, and in second place is Edinburgh with 200,861.

There are moral absolutists who will say that not a single one of those experiments can be justified, but the figures have to be seen in the context of a progression, by degrees, towards the ending of experiments on animals for good. Even those who conduct the experiments accept that the ultimate aim must to be reduce and then replace the use of animals in research.

Edinburgh University appears to be making some progress towards that aim (the 2014 list shows a drop from year before, when 241,865 animals were used). There have also been considerable leaps forward in recent years - testing cosmetics on animals was banned in Europe in 2009 for example and in 2013 the EU went even further and banned the sale of any new cosmetics regardless of where in the world testing on animals was carried out.

However, where viable alternatives do not exist, the use of animals in experiments continues to be justifiable in the pursuit of medical breakthroughs - on cancer for example. Many such breakthroughs have happened in the past, but the guiding principle at all times should be that vivisection is justified only if human benefits are gained which could not be obtained using other methods.

The work to develop other methods must also continue as quickly as possible and there are signs of progress – a team at Glasgow University for example is working on an implant for rats that could reduce the number of animals needed for experimentation. Every other university must also do its bit to reduce the total number, by sharing their data for example. Experiments on animals continue to be necessary but everyone involved should be doing whatever they can to ensure that one day they won’t be.