Author Archives: Tom

The Stop Vivisection Initiative – Trying to Ban European Animal Research

This guest post by Aamna Mohdin has been simulposted with EARA.

There is a new effort to ban animal research in Europe. The Stop Vivisection European Citizens’ Initiative, and its 1.2 million signatures, has been submitted to the European Commission and the organisers have now been invited to discuss their petition. The initiative calls for “the European Commission to abrogate directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes and to present a new proposal that does away with animal experimentation”. The organisers will have the opportunity to present their ideas at a public hearing held by the European Parliament. The Commission now has three months (from March 3rd) to decide how to respond and explain their reasoning.

Stop Vivisection is the third initiative to be successful under the citizens’ initiative programme, where EU citizens are able to propose and amend legislation to the European Commission. First introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, the citizens’ initiative programme attempts to make EU-law making more accessible and democratic. Each initiative must gain one million signatures across from at least seven member states, these signatures are then checked and validated by the Commission.

Stop Vivisection collected 1,173,130 signatures across 26 of the EU’s 28 member states. The majority of these signatures come from Italy – where anti-animal research sentiment has been running high -, and five out of the seven members of ‘citizens’ committee’ are Italian. This comes as no surprise as the anti-science movement continues to grow in Italy, with the government recently restricting the use of animals in research; forcing scientists to change the focus of their research or pursue their research elsewhere.

Antivivisection European Intitiative

These seven countries account for 90% of all the signatures.

Among the misleading claims made by Stop Vivisection, the initiative argues that the Directive facilitates greater reliance on animal research. When, in fact, the Directive specifically requires that animal models are only used in research if no alternative is available. Regulation 12 of the Directive notes:

“The use of animals for scientific or educational purposes should therefore only be considered where a non-animal alternative is unavailable”

At the heart of the directive is the 3Rs—researchers must replace animals with alternative techniques when available, reduce the number of animals required in research, and refine procedures to minimise suffering.

In response to the initiative, over 120 organisations—including notable learned societies, patient groups and leading universities— have signed a joint statement supporting European Directive 2010/63/EU. The statement calls on the European Parliament to oppose the ‘Stop Vivisection’ initiative as repealing the Directive will damage Europe’s leading role in advancing medical progress, which human and animals hugely benefit from.

The statement is as follows:

Statement supporting European Directive 2010/63/EU (“Directive”) on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes

The European Parliament and Commission must oppose the ‘Stop Vivisection’ Citizens’ Initiative that is seeking to repeal the Directive and ban animal research. The Directive is vital to ensure that necessary research involving animals can continue whilst requiring enhanced animal welfare standards.

Summary: The use of animals in research has facilitated major breakthroughs in medicine which have transformed human and animal health. We support research using animals where alternative methods are not available, where the potential benefits to health are compelling, and where acceptable ethical and welfare standards can be met. The Directive has enhanced animal welfare standards and introduced the concepts of refinement, replacement and reduction (‘3Rs’) across the EU, while ensuring Europe remains a world leader in biomedical research. The ‘Stop Vivisection’ Citizens’ Initiative must be opposed by the European Parliament and the Commission – repealing the Directive would represent a major step backwards both for animal welfare in the EU and for Europe’s leading role in advancing human and animal health.

Research using animals has enabled major advances in the understanding of biology and has contributed to the development of nearly every type of treatment used in medical and veterinary practice today. Research on animals continues to be necessary to understand human and animal health and disease, and to develop and improve treatments for patient benefit across the world.

Animals may be used in research under the Directive where the potential medical, veterinary and scientific benefits are compelling and there is no viable alternative method. The use of animals for testing cosmetic products was banned across the EU in 2009 and the importation and sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals from outside the EU was completely banned in 2013.

For research using animals to be both ethical and scientifically rigorous, it must meet high welfare standards and the implementation of the Directive is key in achieving these standards consistently across the EU. Shaped by consultation with animal welfare groups, scientists and animal technologists, the Directive importantly embeds into EU legislation the requirement to consider the 3Rs when using animals in research. The 3Rs are:

  • Replacement – methods which avoid or replace the use of animals;
  • Reduction - methods which minimise the number of animals used per experiment;
  • Refinement – methods which minimise any suffering and improve animal welfare.

Developments for alternative methods to the use of animals in research, such as use of human cell models and computer modelling, continue to progress and the biosciences sector must continue to drive these forward. However, alternative methods are not able to fully replace the use of animals at this time. For many diseases, including complex conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, which affect multiple organs, we must understand how the whole organism interacts, which means that research using whole animals continues to be essential.

We call on the European Parliament and Commission to reaffirm their commitment to the Directive. Any roll back from this would both undermine animal welfare and compromise high-quality research using animals. Such research is critical to advancing human and animal health in the EU and globally -and to maintaining Europe’s leading role in that endeavour.

It’s important to remember that although the petition passed the one million threshold, it still only represents less than a quarter of one percent of the EU’s population. It’s therefore vital the scientific community remains open about animal research and opposes initiatives such as these to protect both human and animal welfare.

Aamna

Speaking of Research speak to future vets

The Ontario Veterinary College hosted the 3rd annual symposium of the University of Guelph Future Vets Club which explored topics related to the impacts of human-animal interactions. Speaking of Research committee member Michael Brunt was invited to speak about embracing the human-animal bond in research. The one day symposium offered a diverse selection of human –animal topics including medicine, parasitology, research, wildlife, epidemiology and animal welfare.

FVC Symposium 2015

Michael presented a lecture discussing the importance of the human-animal bond that develops with research animals. The 50 delegates in attendance were provided with background on why animal research is necessary as well as the debunking of several myths commonly perpetuated by animal rights groups. An extensive list of myths can be found on our “Animal Rights BINGO” post.  People that work with and care for research animals love animals. They treat them with the compassion and respect they deserve and provide them with the highest quality of life while they are with us. Further reading can be seen on our previous posts “Why I Became an Animal Technologist” and “Why I am a Laboratory Animal Veterinarian”.

The lecture offered an opportunity to present accurate information about the use of animals in research and further productive discussion surrounding this important issue. Many members of SR are involved in outreach. Please contact us if you are interested in having someone speak at your institution or conference.

Speaking of Research

Implementing the 3Rs at the University of Oxford

This Guest Post is by Stuart Peirson, Associate Professor in the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology and chair of the 3Rs sub-committee at The University of Oxford. This article was originally posted on the website of the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) and is reprinted with full permission. This article explains how Oxford is supporting the 3Rs, please read out page on UK research regulations and the 3Rs for more information.

Oxford imageThe University of Oxford is one of the world’s leading centres for biomedical research, with outstanding strengths in both basic science and its clinical application. The University’s Policy on the Use of Animals in Scientific Research outlines the University’s commitment to ensuring that all those involved in animal-based research are proactive in pursuing the 3Rs, engage fully in the ethical review process, and fulfil their moral and legal responsibilities for the care and welfare of animals.

Ethical review

Reflecting the enormous breadth of research across Oxford, the University currently holds over a hundred different project licences, with over a thousand personal licence holders. This poses a number of challenges for the coordination of ethical review as well as the dissemination of best-practice and advances in the 3Rs.

The critical element in this process is the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Board (AWERB). All applications for project licences require the ethical approval of the University before they are passed to the Home Office. At Oxford, this involves a rigorous and objective process of ethical review that challenges scientists to justify their use of animals, and that requires them, where the use of animals is unavoidable, to minimise animal numbers and maximise animal welfare.

At Oxford the AWERB process consists of two principal elements. Firstly, a central Committee on Animal Care and Ethical Review (ACER) is responsible for setting policy, as well as reviewing applications involving the use of non-human primates, severe protocols or novel techniques. Secondly, Oxford also relies upon a network of Local Ethical Review Panels (LERPs), which consider all other project licence applications. All project licences are required to provide a written retrospective review for their LERP at two years and four years, providing a critical opportunity for the LERP to assess how project licences have applied the 3Rs in their research.

The 3Rs sub-committee

In addition to the ethical review process, the University also has a 3Rs sub-committee reporting directly to ACER, which receives copies of all retrospective reviews to identify key developments in the 3Rs across the University. These developments are combined to form a termly 3Rs newsletter, which also contains information on relevant workshops, lectures and courses, such as NC3Rs notifications.

In addition, the committee also recognises the achievements of particular groups in the application of the 3Rs, providing letters of commendation to those project licence holders who show particular commitment and dedication to the 3Rs.

Since the introduction of the University’s Policy on the Use of Animals in Scientific Research, all departments involved in such research are also required to have termly Departmental Animal Welfare meetings. These are attended by project and personal licence holders, vets, Named Animal Care and Welfare Officers (NACWOs) and animal care staff, and provide a valuable forum for discussion of advances in the 3Rs.

The relationships within the network of animal committees at the University of Oxford

Summary of the role of the 3Rs sub-committee within the ethical review process

The 3Rs sub-committee also arranges lectures and workshops in areas it has identified as being important. For example, in 2013 we held a workshop on ‘Developments in Transgenic Mouse Models’, involving speakers from both Oxford and MRC Harwell, covering subjects ranging from colony management and background strains to existing transgenic resources and developing new transgenic models.

Working together

Biomedical Services (BMS) is an independent University Department of the Medical Sciences Division. BMS provides world class animal facilities that provide accommodation and care for its animals, delivered by professionally trained staff. A central principle of the University’s policy is the commitment to a culture of care, encouraging a team approach to animal work that fosters good communication and collaboration between all those working with animals in scientific research.

To facilitate this, in addition to their role on AWERBs, BMS staff, (including vets and NACWOs), routinely attend Departmental Welfare meetings, providing an informal opportunity for project and personal licence holders to discuss their work. The regular interaction has encouraged BMS staff and academic scientists to work together to achieve both high quality research and animal welfare.

Finally, BMS also provides key central services, such as the University’s new online training and competency records and colony management systems. Furthermore, practical veterinary assistance is also provided, such as a recent series of workshops on aseptic technique.

The future

Whilst Oxford has made great progress in implementation of the 3Rs throughout its scientific research programme, more can still be done. For example, we are currently building a ‘3Rs Knowledge Bank’ containing key and up-to-date references and protocols relating to best practice in the 3Rs.

We are also currently working on a University Strategy for the 3Rs, based upon the NC3Rs publication ‘Implementing an Institutional Framework for the 3Rs’. This will ensure that the 3Rs are thoroughly embedded in the research activities of the University, and that when animal research is necessary, it is conducted to the very highest of standards.

Professor Stuart Peirson

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>