Animal welfare groups attacked the Ministry of Defence today after it defended shooting live pigs to train army surgeons.
The pigs are shot by marksmen at a Nato training facility in Jaegerspris, Denmark, to replicate battlefield wounds and are then operated on by military medical staff.
Formerly known as Operation Danish Bacon, the practice has been described by animal rights groups as "impossible to justify medically, ethically and educationally."
An MoD spokeswoman said: "This training provides invaluable experience, exposing our surgical teams to the specific challenges posed by the injuries of modern armed conflict."
It "has helped save lives on operations and by participating in the Danish exercises we minimise the overall number of animals used," she said.
The MoD said although the practice would not be illegal in Britain, approval would have to be obtained on a case-by-case basis from the Home Office.
The government of the day suspended British participation in the surgical training exercises in summer 1998 after they were brought to the attention of ministers.
But the courses were re-instated after it was determined there was "no equally effective alternative" and that it was "entirely appropriate and, indeed, necessary" for military surgeons to carry out training on animals.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals described the procedure as "invasive and deadly" and claimed it would be illegal in this country.
It called for life-like dolls that "breathe" and "bleed" to replace the use of live animals.
Associate director for Peta UK Mimi Bekhechi said: "The overwhelming majority of the UK's Nato allies do not shoot, stab and dismember animals for their military training exercises."
The RSPCA said it was "upsetting that pigs were shot for surgeon practice.
"Pigs are highly intelligent animals and many people will be very distressed to hear about this," it said.
"It is yet another example where animals pay the price of man's inhumanity to man.
"We implore the military to explore the viability of alternative methods, and where these are found lacking, to invest in their further development."
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