Category Archives: Animal Rights News

Stop vivisection Initiative fails to impress at EU hearing

In March we discussed a new attempt by animal rights supporters to ban animal research in Europe, The Stop Vivisection European Citizens’ Initiative, which was signed by  1.2 million people (half of them in Italy). 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”. On Monday 11th May the organizers of the initiative had an opportunity to present it to a joint session of  several European Parliament committees, in a hearing that was also addressed by scientists who spoke in favor of keeping directive 2010/63/EU.

So how did it go?

Well, an editorial in last week’s edition of Nature gave a fair assessment of it when they described the session as “a pretty grey affair” in which the duo who presented the initiative – Gianni Tamino and Claude Reiss – “spoke calmly but unconvincingly” to a half-filled auditorium. A transcript and summary of the key points made by the European Animal Research Association and put together the key points that were said during the meeting (download here) indicates that the initiative is almost certain to fail in its objective of  persuading the EU Commission to repeal Directive 2010/63/EU.

European-Parliament

A look through the EARA report  shows why. Any MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) hoping to hear new evidence from Dr Ray Greek and Dr Andre Menache, the scientific advisors who the Stop Vivisection Initiative organizers had brought along, were in for a  disappointment, as instead they presented a veritable greatest hits of anti-vivisection claims. Their testimony included Dr Ray Greek’s trademark  misrepresentation of what “prediction” means in biomedical research, while Dr Menache reheated the old 0.0004% myth. Surprisingly, these were far from being the worst claims made by supporters of the Stop vivisection initiative. Particularly low points came when MEP, and initiative supporter,  Anja Hazekamp stated that there has been massive increase in animal testing (The EU’s own statistics show the opposite) and when Claude Reiss, one of the organizers of the Stop Vivisection petition, ventured deep into conspiracy theory territory with a claim that there is a patent on HIV treatment that completely cleans the virus from the body, but has not been developed because it is not profitable.

In contrast the voice of science was very ably represented. Professor Francoise Barré – Sinoussi, 2008 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine for her role proving that HIV causes AIDS, put forward a very strong case for the importance of animal research in advancing medicine, and repeatedly demolished false claims made by anti-vivisectionists, particularly claims that animal research had not made a useful contribution to HIV research and the development of a vaccine against HIV infection. On this she is on safe ground as there is no doubt that animal research has made very important contributions to HIV research and development of therapies (for examples see here, here and here), and while development of an effective vaccine has been slow – because it’s very, very difficult – there has been real progress in recent years, and most HIV experts is that studies in  non-human primate models of the infection have a critical role to play in evaluating potential vaccination strategies.

Francoise Barré - Sinoussi, undoubted star of the EU parliament hearing.

Francoise Barré – Sinoussi, undoubted star of the EU parliament hearing.

Throughout the hearing one very important voice was conspicuous by its absence, that of the patients who rely on medical research. MEP Françoise Grossetête, who spoke in favor of retaining Directive 2010/63/EU, noted in particular that EURORDIS, the organization that represents rare disease patients in Europe, had not been invited to present evidence at the hearing. We hope that the EU commission will now actively seek the advice of EURORDIS and other European patient organizations before making their final decision.

What happens now?

At the hearing the Vice-President of the European Commission confirmed that the Commission will provide a formal response to the initiative by 3 June 2015. On the basis of what we saw at the hearing, and the fact that the majority of MEPS present were in favor of retaining Directive 2010/63/EU, it is a near certainty that the EU commission will reject the Stop Vivisection initiative and retain the Directive.

In 2017 the Directive will undergo it’s first 5 year review, which is likely to focus on its implementation across the EU, but the commission have also promised to organize a scientific conference that year to discuss the validity of animal research. With that in mind it’s good to see that last week’s Nature editorial noted that scientists across the EU are becoming increasingly – and refreshingly – vocal on the need to support animal research as a pillar of scientific and medical progress. In recent weeks we’ve seen thousands of scientists sign a motion of solidarity with a neuroscientist targeted by animal rights extremists in Germany, more than 140 research organizations, patient organizations, medical research funders and scientific associations sign up to a statement in support of Directive 2010/63/EU, Sixteen European Nobel laureates publish an open letter in UK and German newspapers to rebut the Stop Vivisection campaign. We’ve also seen several excellent letters appear in the national press, including a letter in the Times by Steve Ford, Chief executive of Parkinson’s UK, on the importance of animal research, and articles such as that written by Oxford University Duchenne muscular dystrophy researcher Professor Kay Davies.

The Stop Vivisection Initiative may have almost run its course, but the threat to the future of biomedical science in the EU is sadly never very far away. We hope that the current re-invigoration of the European scientific community continues, and that scientists strengthen and expand their engagement with politicians, journalists and citizens in the run-up to 2017 and beyond.

Speaking of Research

Max Planck neuroscientist abandons primate research due to animal rights lies and harassment

To show your solidarity with Professor Nikos Logothetis please sign this open letter published by neuroscientists at the University of Tubingen.

http://www.cin.uni-tuebingen.de/sign-open-letter.php

Last week by Professor Nikos Logothetis of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen, Germany, announced in an email to colleagues that he will no longer use non-human primates in his research into the physiology of cognitive processes, and that the work of his team will in future focus on rodent studies. This announcement is a major blow to neuroscience research in Germany, and indeed in the EU as a whole. His decision also raises serious question as to what more the Max Planck Society, and indeed Nikos Logothetis’ fellow scientists in Tubingen and further afield could and should have done to publicly support him and his colleagues over the last few months.

Nikos Logothetis

Nikos Logothetis has long been recognized as one of Europe’s top neuroscientists, with a particularly strong track record in improving MRI techniques and technology (see also this Nature review), and  has also been one of the few neuroscientists and primate researchers in Germany to regularly engage with the media, and to explain to the public the importance of work being done in the institute and how they ensure the welfare of the research animals.

On 12 September 2014 German animal group Soko Tierschutz, in collaboration with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), published video footage taken by an infiltrator purporting to show mistreatment of monkeys at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics.  The allegations were investigated by the Max Planck Society and animal protection authorities in the state of Baden-Württemberg, who cleared the institute of any major animal welfare infringements (the MPS decided afterwards to provide additional funding to the institute for minor improvements to one area of animal care provision), while a third investigation by local Tübingen authorities is still ongoing. That the allegations made in the SOKO/BUAV video appear to have been highly misleading should come as no surprise, we have seen only a few weeks ago in Cambridge how BUAV laboratory infiltrators manipulate and distort the facts, and even stage footage of distressed animals, to further their agenda.

Nikos Logothetis has issued a full and detailed rebuttal of the allegations made by the BUAV, which you can download here, pointing out where they had misrepresented veterinary and post operative care. He also discusses how the infiltrator produced footage of monkeys exhibiting stereotypical movement patterns:

Lastly, in their effort to “disclose” the animal suffering in our institute, BUAV/SOKO presented a couple of animals with unusual stereotypical movement patterns, such as animals continuously turning in circles. Such behavior patterns are often observed in animals living in small single-animal cages. Our monkeys are held in a natural group setting with an enriched, stimulating environment. Small cages are only used for short times, i.e. if there is some need to separate an animal from the group, e.g. for medical treatment Such stereotypical movements have not been witnessed in our facilities for over 16 years. They can, however, be induced by any person standing too close to the cages, in particular when the animal is in a small cage and becomes nervous. In the filmed case, such stereotypical movements were almost certainly induced intentionally by the caregiver.

Deliberately inducing distress in lab animals and subsequently using the footage thus obtained in propaganda is of course a familiar animal rights tactic.

surgical-suite-of-prof-logothetis

The surgical suite at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics

Unfortunately, the Max Planck Society (MPS) took almost a week to issue a statement in support of Nikos Logothetis in response to the SOKO/BUAV allegations, too little and far too late to influence most of the media coverage. Likewise the Society for Neuroscience and Federation of European Neuroscience Societies issued a statement of support, but again far too late to impact on the initial coverage. While some news reports  in the intervening days were factual and balanced, many were not, and the result is that Nikos Logothetis and his colleagues have been subjected to months of character assassination, hate mail and harassment. Some politicians have since spoken up in support of Nikos Logothetis, but  the response of the other Max Planck Institutes in Tubingen left a lot to be desired, with one simply issuing a statement saying they didn’t conduct primate research, and there’s no doubt that this and similar dishonorable behavior by others in the research community contributed to Nikos Logothetis feeling that he and his colleagues had been badly let down.

The MPS has now responded to news of Nikos Logothetis decision to cease primate research with a statement condemning the threats and abuse that Nikos Logothetis and his colleagues received and reiterating their strong support for non-human primate research (in Tubingen and elsewhere).

The Society will continue to conduct research involving nonhuman primates, as it believes that this is still the only way to develop therapeutic approaches for neurological brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and psychiatric disorders as schizophrenia. The Max Planck Society will also promote innovative approaches to research in the field of primate research in the future.

This commitment from the MPS is very welcome, and we hope it is a sign that they are moving towards take a much stronger public position on the importance of animal research, and will in future make greater efforts to engage with the media and the public on this important issue. In the past the MPS has been somewhat lukewarm when it comes to public outreach on potentially controversial topics in research; if nothing else the Tubingen debacle shows that such hesitancy is ultimately counter-productive.

We have written many times on this blog on the need for scientists and supporters of biomedical research –  as individuals and as societies and institutions – to speak up for science and animal research, and we stand ready to help and advise those who agree that remaining silent is no longer an option.

We would like to take this opportunity to express our solidarity with Nikos Logothetis and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen. Lets now make sure now that no scientist in Europe ever has to go through what they experienced again!

Speaking of Research

Animal research openness in action – from Cambridge to Florida

Last week we published an article calling on all involved in animal research to speak up for science as animal rights activists held their annual World Week for Animals in Laboratories (WWAIL), writing:

This year, if your university or facility is among those that attract attention during WWAIL, we ask that you join in the conversation by providing protestors, public, and media your own voice.  Whether it is via banners, websites, or talking with reporters– speak up for science and for public interests in advancing scientific understanding and medical progress. Although it may not matter to those committed to an absolutist agenda, it can matter to those who are interested in building a dialogue based in fact and serious consideration of the complex issues that surround public interests in the future of science, health, and medicine.”

The past few days have seen several great examples of just the sort of engagement with the public that we had in mind, including videos form two top universities in the UK that take viewers inside their animal research facilities.

The first comes from the University of Cambridge, who have published a video entitled “Fighting cancer: Animal research at Cambridge”, which focuses on how animals used in research are cared for and how the University implements the principles of the 3Rs. It includes interviews with Professor Gerard Evans of the Department of Biochemistry, who uses mice in studies of lung and pancreatic cancers, and Dr Meritxell Hutch of the Gurdon Institute, who has developed 3D liver cell culture models that she uses to reduce the number of mice required for her studies of tissue repair and regeneration, as well as with members of staff as they care for the animals.

The second example is another video, this time from Imperial College London, which also show how research staff care for the animals used in research, and features an interview with Professor of Rheumatology Matthew Pickering, who studies the role of complement proteins in liver damage in mice.

For the third example we cross the Atlantic to South Florida, where animal rights activists are trying to close down several facilities in Hendry County  that are breeding monkeys for medical research, a service that is hugely important to biomedical research. One of the companies being targeted by the animal rights campaigns is Primate Products, so we were delighted to see Dr. Jeff Rowell, a veterinarian and President of Primate Products, speak up about the vital work they do in an interview with journalist Amy Williams of local news outlet News-Press.com.

Primate products

During the interview Dr. Rowell discusses how the work of Primate Products is misrepresented by dishonest animal rights campaigns, including the inaccurate and malicious allegations made by the group Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) in 2010. As we discussed in a post at the time, these allegations were based on the deliberate misrepresentation of photos taken during veterinary care of injuries several macaques received in fighting with other macaques when housed in social groups (a normal though infrequent behaviour in the species in the wild and in captivity).

The News-Press.com article also shows that there is still a lot of work to be done to improve openness in animal research, as the three other companies that are breeding monkeys for research in Hendry County refused to speak with the Amy Williams, a shame considering that it was their decision to base themselves in the county that triggered the current animal rights campaign. While they are justifiably nervous of speaking with the press (some journalists and publications are arguably beyond redemption) the truth is that the “No comment” approach works for no-one apart from those who oppose animal research. In speaking at length with Amy Williams, Jeff Rowell has provided an excellent example that his colleagues in Hendry County would do well to follow.

The initiatives we have seen from the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, and Primate Products over the past few days are extremely welcome, and we applaud them for their efforts. Nonetheless, we acknowledge that the future of medical science will never really be secure until they are the norm rather than the exception.

Before we conclude, it’s worth noting that it’s not just in the US and UK that researchers are beginning to realise the importance of openness in animal research to counter misleading antivivisectionist propaganda. In Italy Prof. Roberto Caminiti, a leading neurophysiologist at the University La Sapienza in Rome whose work is currently being targeted by animal rights activists, was interviewed recently for an excellent video produced by Pro-Test Italia, in which he discusses his primate research and how it is regulated.

Speaking of Research

Animal Research and the 2015 UK General Election

On May 7th 2015 the British voters will flood to the polls to determine the next Government (which for the second time in a row is likely to be a coalition). The political landscape has changed a lot since the 2010 election resulted in a Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition, with the rise of several smaller parties including the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Scottish National Party (SNP). The negotiation process of forming a coalition will mean that smaller parties can make demands on the largest parties (Conservatives and Labour) to secure a coalition agreement.

In the last week the parties have released their manifestos, outlining what they promise to do over the next five years if they are elected into Government. Many of the manifestos have specific pledges relating to the use of animals in medical and scientific research (which is supported by around two-thirds of the British population).

Nature and the Guardian have analysis of what the parties and their  manifestos say about science in general, so this article will concentrate on policies specific to regulation of animal research.

UK General Election 2015

The Conservatives Conservative animal research

The Conservatives (or “Tories”) are the larger of the two parties in the 2010-15 ruling Coalition. Their manifesto’s only mention of animal research says:

“We will encourage other countries to follow the EU’s lead in banning animal testing for cosmetics and work to accelerate the global development and take-up of alternatives to animal testing where appropriate.”

This fits the business-focused Conservative messages. The Coalition Government’s 2014 Delivery Plan on “Working to reduce the use of animals in scientific research“, which called for the UK to “develop an international strategy towards the eventual eradication of unnecessary animal testing of cosmetics products, adopting a science-led approach” (2.2.3).

The Labour Party Labour animal testing

Labour is the second largest party in British politics, currently neck and neck with the Conservatives. Their manifesto mentions hunting, protecting dogs and cats, and defending the UK ban on hunting with dogs, but does not mention animal research explicitly anywhere. Separately, Labour released a manifesto called “Protecting Animals“, signed by the Labour leader which expands on the main manifesto, but similarly lacks any specifics on animal research.

During their previous term in government, which ended in 2010, Labour established the National Centre for the 3Rs, and implemented legislation to stop campaigns of harassment and intimidation against scientists by animal rights extremists.

The Liberal DemocratsLiberal Democrats animal experiments

Traditionally third party in British politics, the Liberal Democrats (or “Lib Dems”) were in Coalition with the Conservatives during 2010-15. The last two Home Office ministers in charge of animal research – Lynne Featherstone and Norman Baker, have both been from the party. Their manifesto states (p82):

“Liberal Democrats believe in the highest standards of animal welfare. We will review the rules surrounding the sale of pets to ensure they promote responsible breeding and sales and minimise the use of animals in scientific experimentation, including by funding research into alternatives. We remain committed to the three Rs of humane animal research: Replace, Reduce, Refine.”

Under the 2010-15 Coalition, funding for the National Centre for the 3Rs rose from £5.3 million to over £8 million. The manifesto also uses the word “minimise” rather than “reduce”, so as not to focus on baseline figures, but on the 3Rs – preventing a repeat of confusion over terminology surrounding early Coalition pledges.

The Scottish National PartySNP animal studies

Buoyed by the Scottish Independence Referendum, the Scottish National Party (SNP) look to be mopping up almost all the Scottish seats in (the Westminster) Parliament, and will likely become the third largest party. Their manifesto promises “further animal welfare measures” but does not specifically mention animal research. They separately promise to increase funding for Motor Neurone Disease, which would likely involve animal studies.

While no other party is likely to reach over 10 seats in parliament (of 650 seats), the following parties are still worth mentioning (of these, only the Democratic Unionist Party (in Northern Ireland) is likely to get over 5 seats).

United Kingdom Independence PartyUKIP animal testing cosmetics

UKIP are a relatively new party at the far right of the British political spectrum. While their polling suggests them getting around 10-15% of the vote, they are unlikely to get more than 3 seats in parliament. Their anti-EU platform means they believe that the UK “can only regain control of animal health and welfare by leaving the EU”. Their manifesto calls for:

  • “Keep the ban on animal testing for cosmetics;
  • Challenge companies using animals for testing drugs or other medical treatments on the necessity for this form of testing, as opposed to the use of alternative technology;
  • Tightly regulate animal testing.”

It would appear that UKIP are trying to put in place the existing UK regulatory system. As Chris Magee, from Understanding Animal Research, says:

“these aren’t bad policies – but we know this because they have been working effectively for at least the last 29 years.”

The Green PartyGreen party ban animal experiments

The Green Party have recently surged in British politics, but are unlikely to make gains beyond the single seat they currently hold.

Their manifesto reads like it was written by the animal rights group, the BUAV:

  • “Stop non-medical experiments, experiments using primates, cats and dogs. End the use of live animals in military training.
  • Stop the breeding and use of genetically altered animals.
  • End government funding of animal experimentation, including any that is outsourced to other countries.
  • Provide greater funding for non-animal research methods and link funding to a target for developing of humane alternatives to animal experiments.
  • Increase transparency and ensure publication of all findings of animal research, including negative findings.
  • Introduce a comprehensive system for reviewing animal experiments and initiate a comparison of currently required animal tests with a set of human-biology based tests.”

Four of these pledges have analogues among the BUAV pledges, and it would similarly result in the end of over 80% of animal experiments in the UK. Quite simply, this policy is a disaster for human and animal health. Interestingly, both the leader of the Green Party (Natalie Bennett), and their only MP (Caroline Lucas), have both signed the BUAV’s pledges.

Plaid Cymru 

This party will be contesting all forty parliamentary seats in Wales. They are likely to come out with up to five of them (they currently have three). Their manifesto pledges:

“[T]he introduction of a European-level Animal Welfare Commissioner and adoption at all government levels of the new and comprehensive Animal Welfare law to end animal cruelty.”

The Democratic Unionist Party

Contesting seats in Northern Ireland, and likely to win 5 – 10 seats (currently holding 8), their manifesto does not mention animal research but says:

“[We want] a UK wide charter for animal protection.”

Some predictions (from April 22nd) on the number of seats parties will win. 326 seats are needed for a majority

Some predictions (from April 22nd) on the number of seats parties will win. 326 seats are needed for a majority

Animal Rights Election Activism

There are also various animal activist groups which are working to convince parliamentary candidates (PPCs) to put in place new regulations for conducting animal studies. Those that have contacted candidates include:

The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) are focusing on household product animal tests (which will be banned from October 2015), and reforming Section 24 (which is already underway).

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) are running their “Vote Cruelty Free” campaign, which asks candidates to make six pledges which would effectively destroy British medical and veterinary research. These include bans on GM animals, on “non-medical research” and on the use of cats an dogs.

Animal Aid are calling for an end to all taxpayer money used to fund research involving animals – thereby denying the National Health Service of many future treatments.

Speaking of Research

World Week to Speak Up About Animal Research

Banner at UW-Madison, April 2015.

Banner at UW-Madison, April 2015.

Each April a group of people committed to ending all use of animals for any purpose, including medical and scientific research, orchestrate events for a week they designate World Week for Animals in Laboratories (WWAIL). Among the primary objectives of WWAIL is to generate media coverage via picketing and protests. The event often culminates in World Day for Animals in Laboratories (WDAIL).

WWAIL events are primarily coordinated by Michael Budkie, leader of Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN). Budkie is also known for previous misrepresentation of animal research and its rebuttal by federal agencies. Budkie’s group is funded primarily by the Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Foundation, a “Biblically based organization” that believes “our call to mission is to restore God’s original creation intent of a plant based diet (Genesis 1:29-30).”  The  mission of the Hoffman Foundation  is quite clear: “To promote through education the elimination of the use of animals in biomedical research and testing, their use as food, or their use for any and all commercial purposes…

Sit-in at UW-Madison during WWAIL (April 18, 2015).

Sit-in at UW-Madison during WWAIL (April 18, 2015).

SAEN is like other absolutist groups whose position is that no matter what potential benefit the work may result in, no use of animals is morally justified. This extends across all animals – from fruit-fly to primate. Furthermore, all uses of animals, regardless of whether there are alternatives and regardless of the need, are treated identically. In other words, the use of a mouse in research aimed at new discoveries to treat childhood disease is considered morally equivalent to the use of a cow to produce hamburger, the use of an elephant in a circus, or a mink for a fur coat.

WWAIL protests are focused specifically on research. Thus, the sites for protest tend to be universities and other research institutions where scientists engage in work that produces the new knowledge and discoveries that drive scientific and medical progress to benefit humans, other animals, and the environment. The protests also target individual scientists with the kind of “home demonstrations” we’ve written about before (see more here and here).  In some cases the protests target businesses that support animal research.

Although the WWAIL activities vary some each year, they have a few consistent themes:

  • First, the primary objective appears to be media coverage. In fact, a quick view of the “successes” claimed by the primary organizing group shows that number of news stories is the prize accomplishment.
  • Second, the number of people participating in the activities is typically a few to a dozen.
  • Third, most of the materials used in the protests, social media coverage, and news releases reliably rely on outdated, out-of-context images and little reference to the protestors’ broad agenda and position.

We agree that public consideration of animal research is important. Stimulating serious, thoughtful education efforts and inclusive public dialogue about science, public interests, medical progress, and animal research are critically valuable to public decision-making and, ultimately, to global health. Informed decisions based in accurate information and in an understanding of the complex issues involved in animal research are in the best interest of the public, science, and other animals.

For that reason, many scientists, universities, educators, advocacy groups, and individuals engage in public outreach, education, and dialogue about scientific research with nonhuman animals. Their goal is to provide the public with accurate and thoughtful information about the range of issues that bear on decisions, policies, and practices related to animal research. Among those topics are:  how science works, its process, timescales between discovery and application, why animal research is conducted, in absence of alternatives; who benefits and what would be lost if it did not occur;  how animals in research are cared for, how ethical review occurs, and how regulation and oversight function.

None of these are simple issues, which is why there are many websites, books, articles, and interviews on the topic. WWAIL provides a unique opportunity for the research community to help point people towards these resources for education, dialogue, and serious consideration of animal research.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we have one example of how to do just that.  The website referenced in the banner shown in the photos here (animalresearch.wisc.edu) provides extensive information about animal research.  The site provides facts, interviews, videos, photos, and links for those interested in learning more about why animal studies occur, the role that they play in scientific and medical progress that serve public interests, how research is conducted, its ethical consideration, and the practices, policies, regulation and oversight that govern animal care.

By contrast, we have the signs held by those below participating in a WWAIL sit-in at UW-Madison on Saturday.  Among the signs are photos of animals from other decades and other countries.  For example, note the repetitive use of a picture of Malish, a monkey who was involved in research in Israel in 2001 (not exactly relevant to UW).  We also see quotes by an actor and numbers that do not reflect those from UW-Madison.  None of these are difficult errors or misrepresentations to correct; but they probably won’t be corrected in absence of voices and sources to provide accurate information.

Sit-in at UW-Madison during WWAIL (April 2015).

Sit-in at UW-Madison during WWAIL (April 2015).

This year, if your university or facility is among those that attract attention during WWAIL,  we ask that you join in the conversation by providing protestors, public, and media your own voice.  Whether it is via banners, websites, or talking with reporters– speak up for science and for public interests in advancing scientific understanding and medical progress. Although it may not matter to those committed to an absolutist agenda, it can matter to those who are interested in building a dialogue based in fact and serious consideration of the complex issues that surround public interests in the future of science, health, and medicine.

Speaking of Research

Animal Justice Project: Same nonsense, different name

When I first took up my job explaining animal science to the public, I thought I would spend much of my time talking about ethics.

I was looking forward to it – my academic specialisms within were rights and ethics and I was more than ready to talk about animal rights and the ethics of using animals in science. As a noted animal lover and adopter of the unadoptable of course I’d thought about and researched the area very carefully indeed. I also want to be on the right side of history, not pick a view and set out in search of cherry-picked corroborating evidence.

Except I didn’t end up spending much time talking about ethics and it’s mainly due to the tactics of the animal rights lobby.

There’s a pretty well worn template for animal rights groups, and in recent years, as the tactics of smaller groups have moved away from violence towards pseudoscience, I find myself saying to new members of staff when a new animal rights claim hits the headlines ‘They’re probably lying, and it’s our first  job to find out how.’

It is little surprise, then, that new animal rights group the Animal Justice Project (AJP) is conforming to the familiar template of smaller organisations such as For Life On Earth and the seemingly defunct Anti-Vivisection Coalition.

Animal Justice Project

Typically, it’s a handful of people who (a) register a company and a website, (b) sign up for one of those virtual addresses which people claim are their business address, (c) rent-a-quote veterinarian, Andre Menache, to be their ‘scientific’ advisor and get to work cherry-picking ‘evidence’, misrepresenting research methods and generally making hair-raising claims which collapse upon further scrutiny. I don’t know how they fund the startup – maybe bigger groups help with the costs. Who knows and who cares – what matters is that they conjure enough faux respectability that journalists will listen to them so it’s their claims which become the focus.

In this case, the AJP appears to be Brit-in-LA Julia Orr, her friend Clare in the UK. And Andre Menache (who is also ‘scientific advisor’ for at least five other animal rights groups). On their website, they have a selection of Freedom of Information requests and papers harvested from PubMed which have been chosen for their methodology and applicability to defence operations. Menache rather hubristically critiques some of the experiments despite not be qualified or knowledgeable in the areas under scrutiny. The template remains intact.

They make a lot of claims, but for the sake of space let’s look at a typical example and see if it stands up.

“55 mice were subjected to laser burns to their eyes to simulate battlefield injuries and, as if this wasn’t bad enough, then had liquid injected into their eyes. The mice then had their necks broken up to six weeks after the experiment.

  • No mention of pain relief following this barbaric experiment.
  • Breaking of animals necks, especially without anaesthetic, is brutal and often animals suffer.
  • The researchers admit that making a link between these experiments in rodents and humans is “difficult”. Added to which, at best mice’s normal eyesight is the human equivalent of being registered blind.
  • Laser treatment for humans has existed since the 1980s and, therefore, so has damage to eyes by lasers. Enough human data means these experiments are no more than curiosity driven.
  • There is no conclusion as to whether the injections into the eyes of mice can help or harm either humans or mice.”

The claims concern this paper . Let’s see how the claims stack up.

The first sentence is true, if hyperbolic – the researchers were looking for a triage technique for the battlefield, or in the event of a terrorist attack, which could save the eyesight of people who’d been affected by a retinal laser injury, so the first sentence is true. Then it all falls apart.

It wasn’t part of the experiment to see how living mice fared with broken neck. Cervical dislocation, which is considered the most humane ways to euthanise small rodents since it is quick and painless, is used to separate the brain stem from the brain resulting in an instant, painless death. This would allow researchers to dissect the now-dead animal to see what physical effects could be observed.

No pain relief was mentioned, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. In such a situation, a general anaesthetic would have been employed for ethical, legal and practical reasons. It would be much harder to do it while the animal was awake.

So far, one could chalk this up to a lack of knowledge, but what comes next is a deliberate deception. Researchers mentioned that it can be difficult to extrapolate some result s of animal experiments to humans, but not their experiment. The original paper reads:

“Given the interspecies differences in anatomy, genomes, and response to injury, in certain disease processes it may be difficult to make a direct correlation between the results observed in rodents and humans. However, as we have discussed, in both the rodent and human eye, photoreceptor cell death following laser injury has been shown in previous work, as has the protective effect on photoreceptors with the use of CNTF. Therefore, our study combines the use of these established facts and thus allows the extrapolation of results specific to cone injury.”

There can be no honest reason for leaving out the second part of the last sentence (my emphasis).

Our score for the first three claims is 1. Technically accurate but misleading, 2. Misleading if not outright wrong and 3. Active cherry-picking giving the exact opposite assertion of the researchers.

Next of their claims: “we have relevant treatments for laser eye injuries.”

The simple answer is no we don’t. Not ones which could be stowed in a medic’s triage kit or easily deployed in a crisis. As the paper notes “Retinal laser injury, for which there is currently no satisfactory treatment, represents an infrequent but potentially devastating cause of irreversible sight loss”.

Finally, they claim that no relevant conclusions were drawn. Really? The paper states “By using a multimodal approach consisting of both in vivo imaging and in vitro histological and molecular techniques, we were able to confirm the protective effect of CNTF in our model of laser injury” and “although our research has a military focus with regard to developing a potential treatment for offensive laser weapons on the battlefield, the model we have developed might be relevant to assessing any treatment relevant to cone neuroprotection and diseases of the human fovea“. Right. So, not only did it present a potential treatment, but it indicated it might be useful in treating other eye conditions to the one being studied.

Out of 5 claims, one was true, and that was the one establishing that the experiment had taken place.

In some ways, ignorance and confirmation bias can be viewed as innocent human foibles, although not ones which have any place informing national debates about science policy. But the deliberate cherry-picking of a scientific paper, presenting unrepresentative parts of papers and misrepresenting papers is the preserve of the scoundrel, whether it’s used in climate change denial, arguing for Creationism or indulging the fallacy that animal models do not have relevance to human physiology.

The tactics employed by the AJP are the same as marketers devising a poster for a new movie, compressing a bad review stating “It’s incredible this movie was even made!” to just “…Incredible…!”

It’s lying to the public, and if any of the activists would like me to comment on their right to do so, or its ethics, I am more than ready to oblige.

Chris

The BUAV – More Spies, Lies and Inspection Reports

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) is a UK anti-vivisection group with a history of infiltrations to labs and unsubstantiated allegations against labs. A newly published report from a government investigation reveals just how far the BUAV bent the truth when they made false allegations against the University of Cambridge last year.

Fool Me Twice

In October, 2014, we wrote about how two separate investigations by the Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU; the Government’s inspection unit) found allegations by the BUAV to be almost entirely groundless. In both cases the allegations had followed an infiltration by a BUAV activist.

The first report investigated the BUAV’s allegations against Imperial College London:

Over 180 individual allegations, made by the animal rights organisation, of non-compliance were investigated. Of these, all were found to be unsubstantiated apart from five formal non-compliance cases which have been completed – one category A and four Category B [none of which involved significant, avoidable or unnecessary pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to the animals].

A second ASRU report into BUAV allegations against a pharmaceutical company conducting tests on veterinary medicines found:

No non-compliance with authorised programmes of work was detected apart from two minor issues with no welfare implications.
[…]
Our detailed investigations and review of available records and other evidence, does not support the allegations in the investigation report.

So twice last year the BUAV has been found misleading the public with their unsubstantiated claims.

Third Time Lucky?

In the post “The BUAV – Spies, Lies and Videotapes” we discussed an infiltration by the BUAV at Cambridge University. The infiltration and subsequent “expose” regarded research on sheep into Huntington’s and Batten’s disease. The allegations made were that there was “…distressing animal suffering, unlawful regulation by the Home Office, in adequate care of animals and inadequate enforcement by the inspectorate”. The 32-page report by the BUAV was supplemented by a four-and-a-half minute edited video (put together from hours and hours of footage by the infiltrator) but when ASRU officials wrote to them requesting further video footage they might have, the BUAV replied that “there was nothing further they wished to share with ASRU”. One guesses hours of footage of Cambridge University researchers abiding by the laws and regulations was not in BUAV’s interest to share. It also proves that the BUAV’s aim is not to address animal welfare issues at Cambridge, but to score points in their stated effort to “end all animal testing”. This month ASRU released their report into the allegations.

A sheep with Batten’s involved in the study at the University of Cambridge (Image credit: University of Cambridge)

Cambridge had previously provided a strong rebuttal of each the claims made by the BUAV. These claims appear to be a mix of exaggerated information and flatly false information. For instance Cambridge noted:

It is alleged that a lamb had to be euthanized at a UK airport after becoming sick during transit from New Zealand. One of the lambs did appear disorientated on arrival in London, but was cleared by the Veterinary surgeon as being fit to continue his travels. No adverse effects were seen in any of the animals on arrival in Cambridge a few hours later.

ASRU’s report is equally clear about this claim [p.13]:

In summary, we conclude that this allegation is simply untrue in relation to the sheep imported for the Project Licence holder’s research. No animals required euthanasia or were found dead on arrival a Heathrow Airport.

And some of their allegations appear to be of the BUAV’s own making. Cambridge noted:

We are careful to avoid causing stress to the Batten’s disease sheep. As their disease develops, they become confused and can become agitated, particularly when approached by unfamiliar people or surroundings. Thus the animal care team is careful not to isolate any sheep from its flock-mates, allow interaction with strangers, or make sudden or unnecessary changes to their routines. It appears that the BUAV infiltrator not only disrupted their routines in the making of the undercover videos, but also isolated the animals. This will have made the sheep appear more agitated than they are when under routine care.

ASRU have added that [p.13]:

The Establishment has mechanisms in place for whistle-blowing, and it is of note that no animal welfare concerns had been raised by any staff at the Establishment, including the animal rights organisation’s infiltrator…

A similar comment was made in the ASRU report into the Imperial allegations. The conclusion to the ASRU report makes damning reading for anyone who believed in the integrity of the BUAV.

Our detailed investigations, and review of available records and other evidence to do not support any of the allegations made by the animal rights organisation
[…]
None of these allegations has been substantiated nor has any allegation given us further cause for concern with regard to compliance with the requirements of the legislation at this Establishment.

Sound familiar? Once again the inspection reports have found the BUAV telling lies, with their spies and their videotapes.

One additional paragraph in the ASRU report on the University of Cambridge gives an insight into what the inspectors really thought about the BUAV’s allegations:

A small number of the allegations were based on hearsay evidence and we can neither confirm nor deny these. However given the overall lack of substance where relevant evidence was to be found we do not consider it likely that any of these other allegations would be substantiated.

Ouch!

The BUAV

Of the £1.3 million that BUAV spent in 2014 (not including money spent by their three associate companies, Animal Properties, BUAV Charitable Trust and Cruelty Free International), around £200,000 was spent on “Investigations”. Any curious journalist should be asking the BUAV whether they were paying these infiltrators, how much these payments were, and what they expected (video wise) from their employees.

BUAV investigations expenditure 2011-14

To remind people of what we have said before. These are not casual whistle blowers, but people who are working at animal research facilities with the express intention of creating horrifying videotapes. Be it a school, a hospital, a factory or a restaurant, there are few businesses for which you could not create a cleverly edited 5 minute shock video having secretly filmed for hundreds of hours.

One has to wonder how many BUAV infiltrators are in labs around the UK. Moreover, one wonders, how many BUAV infiltration videos were never publicised due to the lack of shocking footage (even after clever editing)?

Speaking of Research