Author Archives: Tom

Italian court finds beagle breeders guilty in politically motivated trial

Today, three members of management at Green Hill beagle breeding facility were found guilty of animal mistreatment and each sentenced to a 12-18 month prison sentence. This sentence is a farce, as we will explain. But first, let us return to the beginning.

In 2011, animal rights activists began a high profile campaign against the Green Hill beagle breeding facility in Italy. The facility, owned by Marshall Bioresources, was accused of mistreatment of the beagles . The campaign received enormous help from an Italian TV programme, Striscia la Notizia, that worked to turn public opinion against the breeding facility. In the course of the TV and newspaper reports many lies were told, for example that animal research was undertaken inside the breeding facility, that beagles were sold for cosmetic testing in France, and that dogs were debarked, even if the videos taken by the activists themselves showed dogs barking as normal (such debarking is not permitted in Italy), testing cosmetics on animals was banned at the time and the facility was neither licensed nor equipped to carry out research. Those of you who read Italian can find a summary of the top 10 lies about Green Hill that never made it to court.

Some local and national politicians, spotting a populist cause, joined the campaign. The campaign made headline news when, in April 2012, activists broke into the facility and stole dozens of beagles as the police watched on idly.

Beagles were "liberated" from Green Hill in Italy in full view of police

Beagles were “liberated” from Green Hill in Italy in full view of police

On 18th July 2012, public and political pressure led an Italian court to issue a temporary closure order so that allegations by the Anti-Vivisection League (LAV) and Legambiente could be further investigated. The court also gave the animal rights group responsibility for the 2,500 beagles at Green Hill. Of around 70 inspections that the Italian authorities have made of the facility over the three years prior to the seizure, only one reported any mistreatment; this inspection was requested by the assistant prosecutor and carried out by a veterinarian who had been on the protests against Green Hill (so not biased at all then!).

For example, in January 2012 three experts from the prestigious veterinary institute” l’Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale della Lombardia e dell’Emilia Romagna” conducted a surprise visit during which they thoroughly inspected the documents, facilities and dogs. Their report concluded that there were no problems with the way in which Green Hill was run:

“From surveys carried out and documentation examined there emerge no situations of abuse or situations where there is a risk of mistreatment of animals”

During the recent trial, the four defendants (one was acquitted), were accused of mistreatment because they “forced the animals under unbearable conditions for their characteristics”. The prosecutors alleged that cages contained too many dogs – using data of the number of animals in the facility – yet the regulations are based not on the number of dogs per cage, but the combined weight of those dogs (i.e. three small dogs could not go into the same space as three larger ones). Similarly confused data was used for many other aspects of the trial. Allegations regarding night-day cycle inside the breeding facility, the nutrition of the animals, and the number of pregnancies were used to suggest mistreatment, but the defence demonstrated that these claims were unfounded and that the treatment of the animals was in accordance with the regulations.

The prosecution also accused the facility of high mortality rates of the dogs, though they failed to note that these were comparable with other breeding facilities. The prosecution claimed that 6,000 dogs were killed in a 5 year period before the facility was seized, without saying that to this number included deaths occured at or ssoon after birth and the deaths caused by infectious disease such as parvovirus infections (for example, the parvovirus is a particularly dangerous common disease that affects dogs and there were outbreaks of a new strain that had to be controlled). The average mortality of 1.2 puppies every 6 puppies, is normal when compared to other breeding facilities.

In particular it was alleged by the prosecution that about 54 dogs were killed without reasonable explanations, basing this statement not on the autopsies of the dogs but on the technical data collected by Green Hill in the so-called “dog” sheet, that contains most important data about a dog. However, when a dog has to receive medical treatment this was noted on another sheet called “treatment” sheet that contains more and deeper details about the medical situation of the animal and the clinical development. These treatment sheets were ignored by the prosecuting magistrate. It must be noted that the role of the prosecuting magistrate (PM) in the Italian legal system is quite different to that of the prosecutor in the US or British legal systems; in Italy the PM has not only the duty of presenting the prosecution case, but also that of ensuring that justice is done. The PM is prohibited from withholding evidence that might clear the accused, and must request the judge to acquit them if, during the trial, they become convinced of a defendant’s innocence, or agree that there is no evidence, beyond any reasonable doubt, of their guilt. That  this doesn’t appear to have happened here casts serious doubt on the verdict.

Nonetheless, despite the lack of evidence, the judge found three of the management guilty and sentenced them to 12 to 18 months each. It will take a further 60 days before the motivations behind the sentences are provided by the presiding judge. It should be noted that this decision is the opinion of one judge, whereas the Appellate Court where the appeal will be held consists of three judges who must agree on the verdict, which is why the appellate court often overturns the first court decision.

The judge delivers his verdict (Image from TGCOM24)

The judge delivers his verdict (Image from TGCOM24)

This trial is part of a wider political movement against animal research which has seen extensive limits placed on animal studies. As Science reports:

“The Italian law goes far beyond the restrictions imposed by the directive, already seen by many researchers as quite restrictive. Among other things, the law bans breeding dogs, cats, and nonhuman primates for research purposes, or using them for any other purpose than health research; studies without pain killers or anesthesia, if the animal may experience pain (unless these are themselves the subject of the study); and using animals in studies of addiction, xenotransplantation, and for training purposes (except in higher education for veterinarians and physicians).”

The new laws force research institutions to import all dogs from abroad, increasing the cost of the research and damaging animal welfare by forcing the animals onto long flights. Surely Italian activists would prefer to have the animals bred inside their own country where their own inspectors can monitor animal welfare conditions?

This is not the first time science has been in the docks in Italy. In 2012, six seismologists were sentenced to six years for failing to predict the L’Aquila earthquake in another farcical legal trial. Thankfully they were cleared of these charges in November 2014 after an appeal (at the Appellate court). Appeals are very much a standard part of an Italian trial, and it is almost certain that the Marshall case will be put in front of a judge again. It will be important for animal research advocates to make the case for research clearly in the meantime, as public opinion has appeared to play a large part in the legal outcomes of this trial. Scientists and breeders clearly have a lot to do if they are to prevent a looming disaster for biomedical research in Italy

Marco Delli Zotti
Speaking of Research and Pro-Test Italia

Why I Became an Animal Technologist

Today’s guest post is by animal technologist, Jazzminn Hembree, who explains why she became an animal technologist and what her job involves. If you enjoy this, also check out an older post by Kelly Walton, DVM, where she explains why she became an animal veterinarian.

I’ll start by introducing myself, my name is Jazzminn Hembree and I am a certified laboratory animal technologist. I started in this field when I was 17 as a student helper at the University of Cincinnati, simply because all I wanted to do was work with animals. I graduated high school from Live Oaks CDC with a certificate in Animal Science and Management. Since then I have worked in several positions within animal research, I have been privileged to be co-author on several papers, present data, earn certifications, and do something that I love every day. I could not see myself working in any other field.

Why I Became an animal technologist jazzminn

“I started in this field … because all I wanted to do was work with animals”

Growing up, I always said I wanted to be a veterinarian and open my own clinic. Things have changed. Once I saw the possibilities available when I got into an animal facility, I knew this was my niche. I am inspired by the science behind it, and am passionate about the animals I work with. I have to admit that up until now I have been nervous to tell people what I do, people don’t understand animal research. I think this needs to change, we need to be more open and transparent about what we do, but we have to do so in a responsible manner.

Let me explain what a certified laboratory animal technologist is in the US is. Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG) is the highest level of certification available through the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). There are three certification levels: first, Assistant Laboratory animal technician (ALAT), second, Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT), and third, Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG).

“The future of the profession and biomedical science depends on promoting the benefits of biomedical research through public outreach and ensuring that high-quality training and education programs and materials are available for those working in the profession of laboratory animal science.” – AALAS Public Outreach website

As a Laboratory Animal Technologist today: I work closely with the research staff, the veterinarian, and the facility director to provide excellent care for the animals so the researchers can collect accurate and sound data. My job is to provide the daily care, such as health monitoring, feed and water, properly disinfect and sterilize equipment, and prepare work areas. I also assist in technical procedures such as blood draws and injections, as well as health treatments. Occasionally I might have to monitor the animals’ weight and or size, or food and water consumption. As a team, my co-workers and I are required to keep up to date and accurate documentation for the facility operations. I also assist the supervisor and director with the quality assurance monitoring by testing surfaces to ensure cleanliness, as well as the training of new students and employees within the facility.

Now that you have an idea of what I do I’ll get to ‘How could I work in this field if I love animals so much’? This may sound odd to some, but I do it because I love the animals. I know what we are doing is not only helping humans but also other animals. How would we ever know how to treat a sick pet if we hadn’t researched the disease and tested the treatments? I get to care for and handle animals on a daily basis. I am able to help a sick animal get well again. I know what I am doing today is going to help someone tomorrow. I believe these animals should be respected and honored for what they provide us. I know it is portrayed that the animals in a research facility are sad, distressed, hurting, and scared; frankly this is just not the case. Research animals are loved and cared for better than some companion animals. These rats are not at risk of diseases, they are not scrounging for food or shelter, they are provided sterile food and water, a clean environment, temperature and light controlled rooms, and have caretakers to care for and love them.

I have been on both sides of research, I have worked as a technician doing the daily cleaning and in a lab performing the studies and collecting the data. I know the importance the animal model is to the science, and have seen the outcomes. I was in a lab which mainly studied diabetes and metabolic diseases as a part of a team collaborating with a pharmaceutical company for many years. Having diabetic friends and family, I felt what I was doing could help save their lives one day. I am proud of the papers we published; in fact we won the 2014 Journal of Peptide Science Best Publication Award. I could not be more honored to be part of such a great group of people at the time. I then worked in another lab for a short time in which I was part of the Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Core, in which we worked on characterizing mouse models in support of quality research. I am now back to working on the daily care side of research with a new perspective of what our job and the animals provide to the researchers and their data.

I hope to share with everyone my strong belief that education, such as technical aining, competency in research procedures, and knowledge of the laws and regulations, are what keep the animals healthy, and results in effective, accurate research data. As I continue to work on my education, I want to inspire others to do the same. I also want to inform people of the critical importance of animal research. I believe the motives and caring nature of the people who take care of the laboratory animals, as well as the laws and the regulations we follow, are misunderstood by many which leads to the impression of cruelty. There are many institutions, regulations, and guidelines established to protect the welfare of the animals used in research. Research institutions are guided by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Public Health and Safety (PHS) Policy on the Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), as well as the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. I believe we, as a field, are failing to educate the general public in the laws and regulations we must follow to protect the animals in our care. As an animal lover myself, I understand the fear the general public has about animal research. What we do in research is very similar to the practices your veterinarian does, we are just trying to come up with new procedures and medications and answer questions to advance both the veterinary field as well as the medical field. I believe part of my job as a Laboratory Animal Technologist is not only to be an advocate for the welfare of laboratory animals and ensure that we follow all regulations and guidelines, but also to teach others the importance of the work being done.

Jazzminn Hembree, LATG

2015 – The Year of the Science Communicator!

Science is really, really important. From the ability to communicate with almost anyone in the world using a pocket-sized device, to the ability to land a robot on an asteroid 400 million kilometres away, science is constantly pushing us to new heights. Science also has a huge impact on the treatments and medicines that we can benefit from. 2014 saw an innovative cell transfer to treat spinal injury, stem cell therapies for macular degeneration and a promising new treatment for HIV.

Nonetheless, not everyone is sold on science. Science budgets have fallen over the last five years as policy makers take the axe to research. Science sceptics – from anti-vaxxers to animal rights activists, climate change deniers to chemtrail conspiracists, are also damaging the reputation of scientists and their research.

So what must we do? We must talk openly and clearly about the value of scientific research. 2015 must be the year of the science communicator. In many research institutions, science communication is simply part of the job of the press/media team, but we need every researcher to become a science communicator if we are to push back the tide of ignorance and teach people the vital importance of scientific discovery.

scicomms scicommSpeaking of Research is one of the many organizations trying to challenge misinformation in science. For this we need your help. 2014 saw our website traffic more than double (from 2013), but if we want to continue to grow we need more people to help communicate their science.

We recently wrote about five ways you can help Speaking of Research – all in less than the time it takes to watch an episode of Lost.

  1. Check what your institution says about its animal research [2 minutes]
  2. Get them to add a link to Speaking of Research [3 minutes]
  3. Help share Speaking of Research’s message on social media [3 minutes]
  4. Send us a picture of research [10 minutes]
  5. Speak up about YOUR research [30 minutes]

Let’s make 2015 the year of the science communicator – and let’s make every one of our readers an ambassador to the cause!

We hope you had a great New Year

Speaking of Research

The BUAV is misinforming UK policy makers

If you are a PPC who has arrived on this page via a link sent by a colleague or voter, it is because they wish you to have the facts on animal research before making any decisions on the BUAV’s 6 PPC pledges.

Introduction

The BUAV (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection) has been contacting Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) in the UK’s upcoming 2015 General Election, urging them to back their six pledges against animal research. They are also urging their supporters to send similar emails and tweets to their local PPCs.

The information provided in their email contains many examples of misinformation regarding animal research. We urge our readers (especially any PPCs) to share it with their colleagues and PPCs to ensure future UK parliamentarians make their decisions based on solid scientific evidence and not the misinformation of an antivivisection activist group. UK residents should make sure their candidates are kept informed – you can use the BUAV’s candidate finder search bar to find contact details for your local PPCs (remember to delete the BUAV’s preset email or tweet). You can find a suggested letter to your local candidates encouraging them to read this post at the bottom of the page (or click here).

Speaking of Research has criticized the BUAV before for dishonesty in their claims:

The BUAV Email

Click on any of the claims in the BUAV email below to be taken to the section of this post debunking it.

Dear <Candidate>

I am writing to announce the launch of our Vote Cruelty Free website, a new platform publicising the views of candidates, to encourage compassionate people across the UK to use their vote for animals in laboratories in the 2015 General Election.

Did you know that over 4 million animals are used for experiments in the UK each year?

The 2010 Coalition Agreement included a pledge to work to reduce the number of animals used in ‘scientific procedures’, but since then the number of animals licenced to suffer in experiments has increased by more than 11%.

Yet according to a 2014 Government survey, only 37% of people agree that it is acceptable to use animals for research.  And 95% of new drugs tested on animals fail in human trials.

The BUAV and Cruelty Free International, which work to end animal experiments, have set out six simple steps to reduce animal experiments in the next Parliament:

  1. Ban experiments on cats and dogs
  2. End the secrecy surrounding animal experiments
  3. Stop importing monkeys for use in laboratories
  4. End non-medical experiments
  5. Stop genetically modifying animals pending a review
  6. Stop suffering in the most extreme experiments

Please can you let us know which of the above steps you support? Please send your response to [us] by 5th January. Candidates’ views are being publicised on the Vote Cruelty Free website, which we will be promoting from January, so that compassionate people in your constituency can use their votes for animals in May.

The BUAV Claims: DEBUNKED

“Did you know that over 4 million animals are used for experiments in the UK each year?”

It is true that over 4 million animals were used in 2013 (4.12 million procedures on 4.02 million animals), but let us add some context. The numbers have been generally rising from around 2.5 million in 2000, however, it is far below the historical high of 5.5 million in in the mid-1970s. Furthermore, to put the numbers into context of other animal use, we eat around 900 million chickens per year, and an estimated 220 million animals are killed by pet cats per year.

Animal testing Perspective in ResearchRead more about the numbers of animals used in the UK.

“The 2010 Coalition Agreement included a pledge to work to reduce the number of animals used in ‘scientific procedures’, but since then the number of animals licenced [sic] to suffer in experiments has increased by more than 11%.”

We have written about the BUAV’s misguided criticism of the “Broken Promises” on reduction before. Ultimately the problem comes from the word “reduce”. While many people understand “reduce” to mean using less animals overall, reduction (one of the 3Rs) is about using fewer animals in any given experiment to achieve the same standard of results.

Realising this confusion on “reduction”, the Government clarified its position in 2014, in a paper called “Working to reduce the use of animals in scientific research”. It said:
[In] 2010, the Government made a commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research. This commitment is not focused on baseline numbers which are influenced by a range of extraneous factors. Instead, it encompasses replacement, reduction and refinement (the 3Rs) more broadly, putting them at the heart of a science-led approach.

The reality is that animal research numbers are based on many factors including current research techniques (so while the growth of GM mice research increased animal numbers, the CRISPR GM technique could help reduce it.), funding for animal research, research environments in other countries etc.

Yet according to a 2014 Government survey, only 37% of people agree that it is acceptable to use animals for research”

The BUAV has shown incredible bias in its reporting of the 2014 Government survey. Here is the first paragraph of the key findings, which include the 37% statistic:

“Overall the public (British adults aged 15+) is supportive of the use of animals in scientific research (68% agree it is acceptable ‘so long as it is for medical research purposes and there is no alternative’), but there is also widespread agreement (76%) that more work should be done to find alternatives to using animals in such research. Fewer than four in ten (37%) endorse the use of animals for all types of research – even where there is no alternative. Ensuring animal welfare is an important proviso; almost seven in ten (69%) can accept such research ‘as long as there is no unnecessary suffering to the animals and there is no alternative’.”

To take quotes from the survey (remember that legally animal research can only be done where there is no viable alternative).

  • “68% agree that they can accept the use of animals in scientific research as long as it is for medical research purposes and there is no alternative, with 17% who disagree”
  • “69% agree that they can accept the use of animals in scientific research as long as there is no unnecessary suffering to animals and there is no alternative, with 14% who disagree”

The survey found 37% believed “It is acceptable to use animals for all types of research where there is no alternative“. The reality is that most of us can think of some type of research we would disagree with (perhaps cosmetic testing, which has been banned across the EU) even if there were no alternative, so it is no surprise that only 37% agreed (and 41% disagreed) to all types of animal research. However the polls clearly show a majority of people do agree with animal research for medical or scientific purposes.

“And 95% of new drugs tested on animals fail in human trials.”

The BUAV seems to have caught up very late on this statistic. It was publicised by Speaking of Research in January 2013 in a guest post from Professor Robin Lovell-Badge. Unfortunately, they seem not to have read Prof Lovell-Badge’s post, which explains how this type of statistic has been misused exactly as the BUAV has done:

Reading Lovell-Badge’s original post is the best way to get your head around the statistic (which should be 94% unless you count registration of a drug as a human trial), but the basics of note are:

  • All the drugs which pass animal tests and fail at some point in human trials, have all passed pre-clinical tests using non-animal methods (e.g. in vitro, computer screening etc). In that context, if we were to use the same form of words, it would be much more than 95% of new drugs tested using non-animal methods which failing in human trials.
  • Of all the drugs which pass Phase 1 clinical trials in humans, 86% will fail in later stage human trials. Yet, we do not hear activists suggesting that humans are an entirely inappropriate model for drug development” – Prof Lovell-Badge
  • In over 30 years there has not been a single death in a Phase 1 clinical trial in the UK … animal testing has been exceptionally effective at keeping dangerous drugs away from people.” – Prof Lovell-Badge

The BUAV’s Six Pledges: DEBUNKED

So we move onto the BUAV’s six pledges that they wish PPCs to defend:

“1. Ban experiments on cats and dogs”

Firstly, it should be noted that cats and dogs, together account for just 0.12% of all animal experiments in the UK (mice, rats, fish and birds together account for 97% of all procedures). Both species (and monkeys and horses) have special protections to ensure that they are only used where no other species would be viable.

The reality is that banning experiments on cats and dogs would end the development of veterinary medicine for those species. Examples of research that might have been lost by such a ban include the use of dogs use to study spinal injuries, which has allowed both pet dogs, and people, to walk again thanks to a nasal cell transplant

The use of cats and dogs in research has fallen dramatically in the UK in the last two decades, nonetheless, an arbitrary ban would be bad for science and medicine

“2. End the secrecy surrounding animal experiments”

The BUAV has been focusing on this issue for a while despite the fact that nearly everyone – including industry and government – want to reform the Section 24 “secrecy” clause. The Government is well on its way to finalising these reforms. Read this article from Chris Magee, Understanding Animal Research Head of Media and Policy, explaining Section 24 reforms.

“3. Stop importing monkeys for use in laboratories”

Most primates used in research in the UK are imported from abroad. All these animals are F1 or beyond, meaning both they were bred in captivity – there are no wild primates in UK labs (most UK primates are F2 or beyond meaning both they, and their parents, were captive-bred).

Primate breeding centres tend to be in hotter countries with large outdoor corrals which allow large amounts of monkeys to play together – this is good for animal welfare. UK climate is not conducive to this.

Primates account for less than 0.08% of all animal experiments in the UK, they have special protections to ensure they are only used where no other species would be viable.

Nonetheless, primates are essential to work in understanding neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Deep Brain Stimulation – a treatment to stop tremors of Parkinson’s patients – was developed through the use of monkeys in research.

“4. End non-medical experiments”

The statistics which the Government publishes each year tries to distinguish different areas of research including “Fundamental biological research” (28%), “Applied Studies – human medicine or dentistry” (13%), “Applied studies – veterinary medicine” (4%) and “Breeding of GM or HM animals” (51%). This BUAV pledge wants to limit research to the “Applied Studies – Human Medicine or Dentistry” (insinuating this is the only research important for human health). The reality is that without the fundamental research (often called “basic research”), and the breeding of GM animals, the Applied research could not happen.

This is not to mention that the BUAV seems happy to ban veterinary research – which is important for animal welfare.

“5. Stop genetically modifying animals pending a review”

GM animals offer a way of “humanising” animals, increasingly their physiological similarity to humans. We can give an immunocompromised mouse a human cancer and then work out the best combination of treatments to destroy the cancer, we can splice in GFP gene (fluorescence gene from jellyfish) to allow us to measure cell death, and GM animals have many other uses. Watch this little video from Understanding Animal Research for more information on the importance of GM animals.

“6. Stop suffering in most extreme experiments”

When researchers apply for a licence to conduct animal experiments they have to estimate the level of suffering of the animal (from next year they will have to record actual suffering and submit this information back to the Home Office). This can be Mild, Moderate, Severe or Unclassified (where the animal is never woken from anaesthesia). In 2012, 2% of licences were “Severe”, though this does not necessarily mean 2% of experiments are severe. See more on licences here.

The Government states on its website that: “We have legislated so experimentation is only permitted when there is no alternative research technique and the expected benefits outweigh any possible adverse effects.” Essentially, if any severe licence will be approved, it is on the basis that this higher level of suffering is justified by the potential benefits to human and animal health.

Overall what we see is more misinformation from the BUAV. We urge parliamentary candidates from all parties to reject the BUAV’s approaches, and stand up for the important role of animals in research.

If you wish to discuss these points further, please contact us by email or phone.

Addendum

Here is a template email you can send to your local candidates, though we encourage you to personalise it as much as possible:

Dear <Candidate Name>,

I am aware that many PPCs have received emails from the Vote Cruelty Free campaign (run by the BUAV) asking candidates to support their six pledges on animal research. I am concerned that some of the information sent in these emails may not be entirely accurate.

Before making any pledges I encourage you to read an article by Speaking of Research, who have taken the time to address the claims made in the Vote Cruelty Free email. This post can be found here: http://speakingofresearch.com/2014/12/23/the-buav-is-misinforming-uk-policy-makers/

Speaking of Research also provide a general briefing on animal research in the UK which covers the key issues in a factual and scientific manner. https://speakingofresearch.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/background-briefing-on-animal-research-in-the-uk.pdf

Yours sincerely,

<Your name>

Five Ways to Help

Only have a few moments to spare? Quick jump straight to one of the Five Ways to Help:

  1. Check what your institution says about its animal research [2 minutes]
  2. Get them to add a link to Speaking of Research [3 minutes]
  3. Help share Speaking of Research’s message on social media [3 minutes]
  4. Send us a picture [10 minutes]
  5. Speak up about YOUR research [30 minutes]

There are over “300,000 Biological and Life Scientists” in the US. The average person in the US spends 5 hours 15 minutes per day doing leisure and sport activities, of which 45 minutes is spent “socializing and communicating”. Combine those statistics and you find that a single year contains over 500 million scientist leisure hours (= 65,625 years) or 82 million hours of scientists socializing and communicating for leisure (=9,375 years). Imagine the impact on the public understanding of science if those scientists spent 1% of their leisure time communicating science to the public (equivalent to one scientist fitting 650 years worth of science communication into every year).

Speaking of Research is small organisation with virtually no budget and a committee of less than 20 volunteers. This year we have produced over 100 posts and attracted well over half a million views to the website. For the hours of effort we have put in this year, we want one back from you. Here are five ways to help us in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Lost (and definitely more satisfying when you finish) or listen to the Beatles White Album (you could probably do that at the same time).

1 hour explain animal testing

Check what your institution says about its animal research [2 minutes]

A measly minute to do a Google search and/or the search box on your institution’s website. If you find one, check if it appears in our list of statements, and if not then use the form on the page to submit the link.

If there isn’t a statement available on why your institution uses animals in research then we recommend emailing the communications department to ask why not, and suggest they create one. Point out examples (particularly the exemplary statements in bold) of good statements.

Get them to add a link to Speaking of Research [3 minutes]

If you found an animal research page, does it have a link to Speaking of Research? These links help us rank on Google and get more people reading about the important role of animal experiments in modern science. We recommend sending the following email to the webmaster or commnications team:

Dear Webmaster

Please can you add the following paragraph to our departmental website, on our page about animal research here: <insert url>

For more information about the role of animals in research we recommend the following resources:
http://www.speakingofresearch.com – Speaking of Research
http://www.amprogress.org – Americans for Medical Progress
http://www.fbresearch.org – Foundation for Biomedical Research
http://www.animalresearch.info – Animal Research Information

Kind Regards

<insert name>

Help share Speaking of Research’s message on social media [3 minutes]

As we enter the sixth minute we ask you to think about how you can help inform friends and relatives about the role of animals in research. Could you help share our materials?

At the bottom of every one of our pages is a box (see picture below) where you can share our message on a wide number of social media websites including Facebook, Twitter and Google+. It takes seconds to share one of our posts, and helps us spread our message to those who have not come across our website.

sharing speaking of research

Another way of sharing is through our short tweetable facts about animal research. We will be posting one every weekday on Twitter until Mid January, so consider retweeting us, or writing and posting your own fact.

Send us a picture [10 minutes]

Last month we asked for your help to “show the world what animal research looks like!” We need you to spend a few minutes taking some photos of animals in your lab (make sure you get necessary permissions) and then send them to us. We don’t need to say which institution the photographs were taken, we just need real images showing what animal research really looks like. We want scientists to gift us these images, so we can redistribute them around the internet and help show the world what animal research looks like.

Speak up about YOUR research [30 minutes]

It’s great photographing animals, but what we really need is an explanation to go with it. We want scientists to write about why they use animals in research, what your research hopes to achieve, and how you care for animal welfare. Whether you are a PI, a post-doc, a veterinarian or an animal tech, you have a unique insight into how and why animal research is carried out, and we want you to share that! Read more on the Speaking of Your Research initiative here.

If Frederick Banting was alive, I'm sure he'd be writing about his research for us.

If Frederick Banting was alive, I’m sure he’d be writing about his research for us.

Join us [It’s up to you!]

Can you spare a little more time to help us run Speaking of Research? If you’re willing to participate on the email-based committee, and can commit to writing an article for us once every four months, then we would warmly welcome your help. Committee members put in whatever time they can spare to help us better communicate with the general public about animal research. So contact us today!

Remember

Science Needs You

What makes a good animal research statement?

Recently we created a list (still in progress) of the public facing statements institutions have on their website about their animal research. The quality of these statements and associated web pages are of mixed quality. In the second half of this post we assess ten top life science universities (according to the THE World Ranking) for how well they explain animal research on their websites.

In the UK, we ranked 13 out of 56 listed institutions as having exemplary pages relating to their animal research. In the US only 2 of the 47 could be considered exemplary. We lack enough statements from other countries to be able to draw any conclusions from there.

Many British institutions have recently updated their pages on animal research as part of their commitment to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK. So far in the UK, 85 organisations “involved with life science in the UK” have become signatories to the Concordat. Signatories pledged to:

Commitment 2:

We will enhance our communications with the media and the public about our research using animals

  • Within one year of signing up to the Concordat we will make a policy statement about the use of animals in research available via our websites, to provide clear information about the nature of our own involvement with animal research and its role in the wider context of our research aims…

British and American institutions can learn a lot from some of the best practices of the most open organisations. Below we provide six suggestions for improving a website.

Step 1: Have a statement about animal research!

This one seems obvious, but many institutions fail at this most basic hurdle. Of the Top 10 Universities in the World for Life Sciences (according to Times Higher Education 2014-15), MIT (Massachuetts Institute of Technology) either do not have any statement explaining that they do animal research and why, or have hidden it so well on their website that it may as well not exist.

A statement should provide some indication of why there are animal experiments being conducted at the university. It should be written in a style which is suitable for consumption by the general public (many institutions place a short statement on animal research on a

Step 2: Provide additional information about why and how animal research is conducted

A good statement should not only inform the public that an institution conducts animal research and why, it should provide an indication of what animal research is conducted and the welfare considerations and tight regulations involved. For example, the University of Cambridge (#3 for Life Sciences) explains that animal research has been and continues to be important for developing treatments, that it is only done where there is no alternative, that it is strictly regulated with welfare being a high priority and when it is done. This is before you read any of the accompanying pages (including an FAQ, case studies of current animal research at Cambridge, their policies etc.). Cambridge University’s statement on animal research begins with this:

Research using animals has made, and continues to make, a vital contribution to the understanding, treatment and cure of major human and animal health problems; including cancer, heart disease, polio, diabetes and neurological diseases and disorders. While new methods have enabled scientists and medical researchers to reduce studies involving animals, some work must continue for further fundamental advances to be made.

The University of Cambridge only uses animals in research where there are no alternatives. In fact, the law demands that where a non-animal approach exists, it should be used. The principles of reduction, refinement and replacement of animals in research (the ’3Rs’) underpin all related work carried out at the University; ensuring that the number of animals used is minimised and that procedures, care routines and husbandry are refined and regularly reviewed to maximise welfare.

To support your information, include a link to other websites which provide information on animal research. Perhaps add the following:

For more information about the role of animals in research we recommend the following resources:

Step 3: Make the statement page easy to find

There is no point creating a lovely set of resources about your animal research is no one can find it. There are three main ways people look for this information. The first is to Google phrases like “<institution> animal research” or “<institution> animal testing” or “<institution> animal experiments”. The desired page should really be first or second on the Google list if it intends to be read. The second way people search is the search bar on the institution’s website, and the third method is to try and browse through the menu system on  a University’s main page. Consider the ease with which people can find across all three.

Below looks at what position on Google their animal research statement comes when googling the following phrases (a dash means they were not in the top 8 search results)

 Institution <institution> animal research <institution> animal testing <institution> animal experiments
Harvard - - 2
MIT - - -
Cambridge 1 1 1
Oxford 1 1 1
Stanford 1 3 2
CalTech 1 1 1
Yale 1 1 1
Princeton 1 1 2
Johns Hopkins 2 5 4
Imperial 1 1 1

While six of the universities rank 1st for at least two of the phrases, the top two institutions – MIT and Harvard – fail to rank for most phrases on Google.

Step 4: Provide case studies which explain an institution’s animal research

Case studies are a great way of helping members of the public understand why animal research is done at a university. Case studies allow the public to better understand how the use of animals fits into the research process.

If a newspaper picks up a story (perhaps sent by an animal rights group) about an institution’s animal research, it can be helpful if a journalist can find examples of the types of research and research areas that a research facility is engaged in.

Of our top 10 Life Science universities, only Cambridge and Oxford universities provided Case Studies.

Step 5: Provide statistics on the use of animals in research

Numbers are not everything – they do not contextualise the size of an institution’s biomedical research department relative to other universities – they do not tell you how much work is being done using alternative methods – they can mislead people if one experiment, one year, happens to require a lot more animals BUT if you don’t publish them, someone else will – and you can be damn sure there will be even less context.

Freedom of Information laws in both the US and UK can allow animal rights groups to force the numbers out of institutions, and then use it for a press release condemning the university. However, newspapers are far less likely to run with the story if those statistics are available clearly on the website – it becomes less of an exclusive, and more of a non-story of “animal rights group emails readily available statistics on a website to a newspaper”. All responses to number-related enquiries should then simply direct people to the section of the website that hold them.

Good statistical information will include a breakdown of the number of animals by species, preferably including information on the use of non-AWA covered species such as mice, rats and even fish.

The UK institutions again come up trumps, with all three of its institutions on the top 10 providing some statistics. Cambridge provides its 2013 statistics alongside an explanation of why animal use is rising. Imperial College provide information on the number of animals used in both 2012 and 2013 including all vertebrate species. Oxford only provides information on the number of primates held, and the number undergoing procedures. This probably reflects a long time media interest in primate research at Oxford.

Step 6: Provide images and/or videos showing your animal facility

The best images include animals, but any image that can help dispel the idea of a blood-spattered basement with maniacal scientists is a step in the right direction.

Oxford are the only institution in the top 10 which provides any pictures, but let’s face it, it’s better having this:

Oxford University animal research

Than letting people think it looks like this:

PETA's MMA game depiction of animal research.

PETA’s MMA game depiction of animal research.

So all said and done, how do our top ten universities stack up on our six steps?

Institution Statement? More Info? Google? Case Studies? Statistics? Images / Videos?
Harvard
MIT
Cambridge
Oxford
Stanford
CalTech
Yale
Princeton
John Hopkins
Imperial

Communication on animal research is still new to many institutions,and we believe the website is a great place to start. Here we provide six steps to help universities provide more information to the public.

We encourage institutions to add a link to Speaking of Research so that the public can be better informed about why we need animals to help  medical, veterinary and scientific progress continue.

Speaking of Research

Animal Research Statistics for Northern Ireland 2013

We’ve been busy expanding our animal research statistics on the website. We now have a new main statistics page, from which viewers can then look at pages devoted to the number of animal experiments in different countries (note that “Statistics” in the Facts menu no longer sends readers to the US stats page, though no urls have changed).

On Friday we posted statistics for the Netherlands, today we produce the recently published statistics for Northern Ireland. Whereas England, Scotland and Wales (collectively “Great Britain”) produce one set of statistics together (which tend to be referred to as the “UK Stats”, though this is not technically correct), Northern Ireland produce their own. However, practically, Great Britain accounts for over 99.5% of the UK’s animal experiments, so they are often referred to as the UK stats.

According to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland, in 2013, there were 19,860 procedures on 18,638 animals*. Most of these were on mice, but there was also a significant number of pigs (959), sheep (790), cattle (914), birds (2095), rats (995) and fish (521). No cats, dogs or primates were used in 2013.

*animals are only counted in the total numbers the first time they are involved in research, so an animal which is used in both 2012 and 2013 is only included in the 2012 “number of animals”, but will be included in the “number of procedures” for both 2012 and 2013.

Compared with the previous year, there were 1,193 more animals used, representing a 7% rise from 2012. This was likely due to a rise in the number of chickens (up 1,076).

animal testing statistics northern ireland

Click to Enlarge

It should be noted that despite Northern Ireland using 200 times fewer animals than the rest of the UK, is still holds itself to the same high quality of statistical reporting.

Know of any other countries which have reported statistics in 2012 or 2013, then please tell us where to find them!