Animal testing could be phased out, with scientists told to carry out experiments on lab-grown organs instead, The Telegraph can reveal.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is launching a review that will task officials with finding ways to end the use of animals in the development of medicines.
Plans include investing in technologies such as testing on lab-grown organs and cells, and limiting the reasons for which creatures can be used in experiments.
Ms Patel met with Lord Goldsmith, the animal welfare minister, after being shocked by a video of a facility where beagles are bred to be tested on.
Lord Goldsmith is understood to be pushing for a ban. He has spent his time in the post drawing up laws to ban foie gras, fur imports and the keeping of exotic animals as pets.
Animal testing is under the remit of the Home Office, rather than the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because of the high security involved in maintaining the test sites and protecting them from animal rights activists.
Last year, 2.88 million scientific procedures were completed on animals, with more than 4,000 tests conducted on beagles.
Videos emerged last month of the apparent condition beagles are kept in at a facility in Wyton, Cambridgeshire. The centre breeds puppies for testing, and they are moved from there to labs across the country. Over the past week, peaceful protesters have set up camp outside the testing plant, many bringing their own pet beagles as a form of protest.
In the footage, whimpering puppies are shown being herded by the scruff of their necks into crates, in which they are transported for experimentation.
Officials at the breeding facility insisted the puppies are "happy and comfortable" and live free from cruelty.
However, the footage has sparked discussions in Government about how quickly animal testing can be phased out. Ministerial sources said the footage was "awful" and "grim".
A Government spokesperson said that the UK is "determined to replace the use of animals in science".
They added: “Our statistics show the lowest number of procedures involving animals since 2004, with the number of procedures decreasing by 15 per cent on last year."
Beagles on their way back to their kennels after being shown at a dog show
Credit: Paul Grover /Paul Grover for the Telegraph
Universities trying to cut animal testing
Universities are already trying to reduce the amount of animals they test on, making use of cell cultures and computer models. The University of Cambridge recently switched to using increased numbers of zebrafish in order to spare the pain of larger animals including rodents and pigs.
The RSPCA said the Government’s plans do not go far enough and has demanded ministers set a date to end testing on animals.
Dr Penny Hawkins, head of the animals in science team at the RSPCA, said: “A strategy for phasing out animal use is not about stopping important research; it is about reducing and avoiding the negative impacts – lab animal use and suffering.
"The RSPCA wants to see a clear statement and commitment from the Government that phasing out animal experiments is a legitimate and desirable goal. And much more investment will be needed in developing, validating and using Non-Animal Technologies.”
MBR Acres, the facility in Wyton where the footage was filmed, said it adheres to legislation on animal testing and that animal welfare "is always our top priority".
A spokesperson added: "This issue is revisited regularly because it is an important one, but it is worth remembering that we exist only because successive UK governments, including the current one, demand that all potential medicines are tested in animals before being given to humans and animals.”