Category Archives: Animal Rights News

Is British Animal Rights Extremism Back? A Profile of National Operation Anti-Vivisection

There was reason for celebration on 12th August 2014 when SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) announced an end to its fifteen-year campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), an international contract research organisation who have been the subject of a long campaign of violence and harassment. The campaign has seen around two dozen activists sentenced to over 100 years’ worth of jail time in the US and UK, with more sentences due to be handed down next month in the UK. This comes at a time when animal rights extremism remains at an all-time low in the UK.

However, within a month of the SHAC campaign ending, a new animal rights campaign has sprung up in Cambridge (UK), which bears many hallmarks of SHAC.

national operation anti-vivisection

National Operation Anti-Vivisection (NOAV) claims to be:

“a completely grass-roots network of animal rights activists opposed to vivisection in the UK … We feel strongly that institutional animal abuse of all kinds will continue while the benefits to the companies abusing animals outweigh the detriments. Through campaigning, lawful protests, boycotts and all other lawful means we intend to create those detriments!”

The call to keep the campaign legal is laudable, but few animal rights extremist organisations openly declare illegal intentions. Indeed SHAC, with its 100 years of jail time, claimed that it “[did] not encourage or incite illegal activities.” NOAV go on to say that:

“The time for talking, thinking and plotting is over – it’s time for action! We are not a talking shop or a social club, we are a no nonsense anti-vivisection activist group! If you are ready to take action to stop animal testing, please check out our campaign pages!”

The campaign pages bring up two separate campaigns NOAV are running. The first, which offers cash incentives to students, for the details of fellow student animal researchers so that they “can be used for covert monitoring or naming and shaming student animal abusers.

The poster (below, left) produced by NOAV shares much likeness of a similar campaign poster (below, right) created by American animal rights extremist group, Negotiation is Over, led by Camille Marino. If you look carefully below you will notice the use of language, and structure of the poster is remarkably similar. Both offer students “easy cash/money” for the names, pictures, addresses, contact details, and experiment details of students involved.

Posters offering cash for details of student researchers by National Operation Anti-Vivisection (left) and  Negotiation is Over (right).

Posters offering cash for details of student researchers by National Operation Anti-Vivisection (left) and Negotiation is Over (right).

We have condemned the targeting of students before, and we do so again. Stalking and harassing students is not a legitimate way of running a campaign. It is these sorts of actions which can force brilliant minds out of the life sciences out of fear, as happened after an NIO campaign targeting Scripps student, Alena, in 2011.

National Operation Anti-Vivisection’s second campaign targets a new animal research facility being built by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca, in Cambridge. What makes this campaign concerning is a section of the website called “Secondary Targets”.

NOAV - secondary targets SHAC national operation astrazeneca

The webpage then provides names, addresses, pictures and contact details of individuals and organisations who are involved in building the new facility in Cambridge. This tactic is similar to SHAC’s campaign against HLS; as John Salon described these tactics in a Salon article:

“SHAC’s modus operandi is simple, elegant and shockingly effective: Publish the names, home addresses and telephone numbers of executives and employees of Huntingdon and any companies it does business with; identify these individuals as ‘targets’”.

It is at this point we may care to question why SHAC closed down its operations. SHAC’s wide reach and big impact in the preceding 15 years has made it a prime target for legal action by firms wishing to protect themselves. At least 18 companies, including Oxford University and AstraZeneca, have won legal injunctions to prevent or limit SHAC protests aimed at themselves, their employees, or their stakeholders. Any activists running under the SHAC name are therefore restricted in acting against these companies. Many may believe that by running under another banner they can avoid those legal injunctions imposed on SHAC.

Does National Operation Anti-Vivisection (NOAV) represent a violent threat at a time when extremism is almost unheard of? Time will tell. A rise in legal activism by animal rights groups is bringing fresh money into the movement. While most of this goes on above-the-level campaigns, it is often hard to prevent some of it spilling into more questionable hands. SHAC collected almost “£1 million in donations to SHAC’s collection buckets and bank accounts” back in the early 2000s.

Organisations and individuals must continue to be open in explaining why they conduct animal research. In this way the public and younger potential-activists will be dissuaded from supporting or joining these fringe animal rights groups, which threaten research and the benefits it can bring.

Tom Holder

Extremism is Not the Only Threat to Medical Research

Research into heart disease was dealt a blow when Maastricht University decided to suspend a scientific study involving dogs in August after growing pressure by animal rights groups in the Netherlands.

The University gave a statement saying that their Animal Experiment Committee had approved the cardiological study involving Labradors, but that “societal concerns with respect to the use of laboratory animals” had forced them to suspend the study “to take additional time to consider the case further”. The University then went on to assure readers of their commitments to the 3Rs, and say that “in some cases the use of laboratory animals remains necessary to achieve medical breakthroughs that will benefit both people and animals”.

The decision was questionable at best. On 28th August a statement by the University announced they were “stick[ing] by [their] researchers” and not “shap[ing] [their] course solely based on demands of activists with a pronounced view on the matter”. Four days later they announced that the “experiment has been suspended, and is unlikely to resume in the foreseeable future” and that they had given the eight dogs at the facility up for adoption.

So why had they given in? The animal rights group Anti Dierproeven Coalitie (ADC), the Dutch sister organisation to the UK’s Anti Vivisection Coalition (AVC), collected 120,000 signatures (online) and carried out a series of demonstrations outside Maastricht University.

protest animal rights labradors

Protest outside Maastricht University by the ADC

ADC and AVC have been growing in the UK, Netherlands and Belgium (as CAV). They are one of the few animal rights groups in those countries still drawing a crowd for semi-regular rallies and are increasingly making their presence known in the media (mainly local newspapers). Nonetheless, they have a chequered background. Five ADC activists (including co-founder Robert Molenaar) are currently on trial for breaking into a beagle breeding facility and stealing six dogs. In the UK, AVC has similar characters. Its former head was twice-convicted extremist, Luke Steele, and many of its current members have come in from the leftovers of the recently ended (and historically very violent) SHAC campaign.

The research in question had received funded from the medical research charity, the British Heart Foundation (BHF), who have been ahead of the curve in explaining the animal research they fund. The BHF put up a fantastic statement of support for the research, saying:

Recently, a BHF-funded study at Maastricht University involving dogs was suspended after a campaign by an animal rights group. This has been reported in the UK by a national newspaper.

Explaining why the BHF funded this project, our Medical Director Professor Peter Weissberg said: “This study could help to improve a pacemaker treatment for people suffering from severe heart failure – a debilitating condition that ruins the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the UK.

“The treatment, known as cardiac resynchronisation therapy, can help control the symptoms of heart failure which commonly include overwhelming breathlessness and chronic fatigue. But this treatment does not entirely relieve the symptoms, the risk of death remains high and in some patients it does not work at all.

“If this treatment were to be made more effective, it could dramatically improve the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people living with heart failure.

“The researchers are working to improve this pacemaker treatment but these studies must be carried out in animals before they can be assessed in clinical trials in heart failure patients. The electrical wiring and size of a dog’s heart is very similar to a human heart, allowing the researchers to see how pacemakers might behave in patients. There is currently no alternative that could be used to carry out this potentially life-changing research.

“Our research has led to life-saving medical advances for heart patients over the past half century. But there’s so much work to be done and, for the foreseeable future, that will involve using animals in research.”

To anyone who doubts the importance of heart research, I recommend they watch the following video produced by the BHF and a heart disease victim

In the last decade there has been a large, and long overdue, crackdown on animal rights extremism. This is positive, but is not enough. Unless scientists take advantage of this new found safety by speaking up in support of their research, it will still be at risk in the fight for public opinion.

The Maastricht University dog study provides a worrying case study for anyone not willing to put up a fight to defend their research, because in the end, we all lose out.

Speaking of Research

Show that you care about the future of research that is crucial to medical progress by signing this petition to urge the U. S. Surgeon General to Voice Support for Animal Research, and then making a donation to the British Heart Foundation.

Learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Why Animal Research-based Criticisms of the Ice Bucket Challenge are Misguided

The following is a guest post by Caitlin Aamodt, a neuroscience graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a debilitating motor neuron disease that progressively destroys the neurons required for voluntary movement, speech, and eventually breathing and swallowing, killing patients in just three to five years.  Through the Ice Bucket Challenge the ALS Foundation has raised over $100 million in funding while simultaneously providing a platform for over three million people to voice their support for scientific research.  But the wildly successful social media campaign was not without its critics.  Some were hesitant about the idea of wasting clean water, a luxury that isn’t afforded to many parts of the world and one that is growing more and more precious as the drought in the West worsens.  Others, particularly religious leaders, were unhappy with researchers’ use of embryonic stem cells, citing a conflict with their belief that life begins at conception.  But one of the most common criticisms, and the most dangerous, is that organizations that fund animal research should not be supported.

Aamodt Article Fig

Pete Frates, for whom the ice bucket challenge was created.

Initially it may seem harmless.  One might see a post about it in their Facebook feed and think, “Oh, so-and-so really has a soft spot for animals,” and then continue on without giving much thought to the implications of what they just read.  The issue can become murky, since the vast majority of people support the idea that animal abuse is wrong.  However, animal research is not abuse, and it is dangerous to voice opposition without considering the implications of what that really means.

What would one have to do to really extract him- or herself from taking advantage of the benefits of animal research?  To start this would involve declining any and all vaccinations, accepting vulnerability to dying from disease.  This actually extends to any intravenous injection, so all life saving therapies involving this simple procedure would be eliminated.  Death from blood loss due to a traumatic injury could not be prevented by a blood transfusion.  All surgeries would be off the table.  The basic antibiotics we take for granted would no longer be an option. No insulin treatment for diabetics.  No dialysis for those suffering from kidney failure.  Any hope for those suffering from breast cancer or depression would be lost.  Even the most recent medical advances, such as transplanting organs engineered from a patient’s own stem cells, would all be unavailable.  With these and countless other treatments directly resulting from animal research you would think that these activists would be sending us thank you cards instead of blind criticisms!

Could this hypocrisy be mitigated by any validity to their claims?  Absolutely- except for the fact that these concerns have already been addressed and protections already put in place.  Researchers and lay people alike want to ensure that no animal needlessly suffers.  Multiple oversight committees govern research activities conducted at universities. All federally funded research centers have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) made up of experts in the field as well as lay people to ensure that experimental design is deemed humane by both scientists and people unfamiliar with research practices alike.  Considerations include alleviating pain and side effects, minimizing the number of animals used, ensuring that animals are used appropriately and only when necessary, overseeing their healthcare and living facilities, and even requiring that a plan be in place to save the animals in the event of a natural disaster.  Research animals should be respected, and in keeping with that ethical consideration IACUC and many other oversight organizations ensure that they receive the best possible care.

The general perception of animal rights activists is that they are well-intentioned, if uninformed, individuals who are exercising their First Amendment right to protest whatever they want.  Unfortunately the reality is that their members include dangerous extremists willing to harass and carry out attacks on researchers.  At UCLA researchers are all too familiar with anti-research terrorism.  In 2006, 2007, and 2008 firebombs were planted at the homes of UCLA scientists.  In 2007 Dr. Edythe London’s home was flooded, along with a threatening note.  Dr. David Jentsch’s car was set on fire while he was in his home in 2009.  The terrorists also left a note filled with razorblades detailing a fantasy about sneaking up on him and slitting his throat.  On-going harassment includes yelling slurs at scientists outside their home.  In 2011 they referred to the daughter of holocaust survivors as “Hitler with a cunt,” and directed the homophobic slur “You cocksucking bastard” among others toward another researcher.  These extremists even directed their terrorism toward the children of Dr. Dario Ringach.  In 2010 they put on masks and banged on his children’s windows to terrify them and sent letters threatening to target them at school.

In the words of Dr. David Jentsch, “The anger generated by their failure to make a persuasive argument to the public, amplified by their sense of self-righteousness, is sufficient to convince them they are entitled to use violence to achieve their goals.”  We can no longer afford to be silent.  Animal research saves lives.  Anybody who reaps the benefits of animal research while claiming to oppose it should be made aware of this hypocrisy.  It is also essential that we banish the myth that modern-day biomedical research animals are tortured.  There are many layers of protections in place to ensure that they receive the best possible care.  There is no excuse for terrorism.  Nobody should fear for their lives or that of their children, especially researchers who dedicate their lives to scientific progress.  Now is the time to disseminate the truth about animal research and stand up for the welfare of all biomedical researchers.  The next time you hear someone claim to oppose the ice bucket challenge on the grounds of animal research be sure to speak up and educate them.  Society needs to hear the voices of the scientifically literate.  Don’t let them be drown out by ignorance.

Caitlin Aamodt
UCLA neuroscience graduate student

References

[1]  http://www.alsa.org/about-als/what-is-als.html
[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137497/
[3] http://www.alsa.org/news/media/press-releases/ice-bucket-challenge-082914.html
[4] http://www.refinery29.com/2014/08/73360/grimes-als-ice-bucket-challenge-peta
[5] http://www.animalresearch.info/en/medical-advances/timeline/
[6] http://grants.nih.gov/grants/olaw/tutorial/iacuc.htm
[7] http://unlikelyactivist.com/2014/02/03/join-pro-test-for-science-to-end-the-age-of-terror/
[8] http://unlikelyactivist.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/arson.jpg
[9] http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2010/02/23/time-to-get-mad-time-to-speak/
[10] http://fbresearch.org/als-ice-bucket-challenge-for-a-cure/

Animal rights fanatics offer stunts, not real solutions

This post is simulposted with the Unlikely Activist blog, run by this post’s author, David Jentsch.

Fanatical animal rights groups in the US love attention-getting stunts. PeTA creates video games extolling violence and propagates advertisements that exude adolescent sexuality. White Coat Waste uses Tea party rhetoric to insist federal investment in research is tantamount to borrowing money from China. And the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS] reels endless videos of sad animals on the television to raise money for their lobbying efforts, while tricking people into thinking their donations actually help animals in shelters.

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

These are stunts, nothing more – nothing less.

In Los Angeles, local animal rights zealots are trying hard to carve out their own niche in the “stunt” art form. They light candles during vigils on the beach, hand out post cards decrying UCLA researchers at art events and recite chants in eerie synchrony, while standing in front of our homes. In truth, the occasional bizarre chanting during these stunts is slightly less demented than their usual shrieks, threats and harassment.

Later this month, the ironically named anti-science group – Progress for Science – will mount an 11-day campaign to “honor” the 11 monkeys they believe are involved in scientific research projects at UCLA. They will probably once again come to my home and threaten my neighbors, while trying to make my life miserable.

But if Progress for Science truly has the respect for life than they claim they do, perhaps they should consider a different strategy. Perhaps before mounting their 11 day campaign for 11 hypothetical monkeys, they should find it in their hearts to lead initiatives for real people affected by real disease. For example, they could:

Lead a 930 day campaign for the number of Africans that have died from Ebola so far this year.

Initiate a 4,600 day campaign for the young people in our country who took their own lives last year, often due to mental illness.

Kick off a 1.1 million day campaign for the number of people living with HIV in the US.

Support a 2.2 million day campaign for the people suffering from or disabled by schizophrenia in this country.

Demand an 8.2 million day campaign for the number of people that will die from cancer in one single year, worldwide.

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

It is, of course, true that multi-million day campaigns are impossible, but biomedical researchers in many cases dedicate their entire working lives to addressing the harm in these diseases: our own life-long campaigns. Animal rights fanatics could contribute positively to these efforts, rather than standing in the way of progress, but they won’t do that because they are not actually interested in preserving life. They are interested in stunts.

If you are interested in preserving life, then please support biomedical research, including that which involves animals. This year alone, two Americans received a treatment for Ebola that was developed based upon animal research and that likely saved their lives. This is the promise of science. Stunts, on the other hand, contribute nothing, save no lives and end no suffering.

David J. Jentsch

ALF Claims Responsibility for CALAS National Office Vandalism

On Tuesday, July 15, an act of vandalism occurred near the Canadian Association for Laboratory Animal Science National Office in Toronto, ON.  There were no injuries and a police investigation is ongoing.

CALAS Canadian Association Laboratory Animal ScienceThe extremist website Bite Back published an unsigned communique:

“On July 14, 2014, in Toronto, the Animal Liberation Front injected butyric acid into the office of the Canadian Association for Laboratory Animal Science. CALAS is an organization made up of vivisectors that promotes animal research. The butyric acid will soak through the carpet and into the floorboards of their offices, and major repairs will be needed to get rid of the stench. Any building managers considering taking in CALAS as a tenant should be aware that unless you want something similar to happen in your offices, then think twice before doing business with these murderers. -ALF”

Any type of vandalism, violence or intimidation is counterproductive to informed and civil discussion.  We, at Speaking of Research condemn this type of activity while applauding CALAS for their dedication to the welfare of laboratory animals in the face of this cowardly and illegal act. The following excerpt is taken from the CALAS website:

CALAS/ACSAL is a national association dedicated to providing high quality training and educational resources to animal care professionals across Canada. We believe animal research, when necessary, must be conducted professionally, ethically and compassionately.Our training and certification programs are internationally respected and support national standards of excellence in animal research, teaching, and testing across Canada. Our members are committed to the humane and professional care of research animals. They have received advanced training in the highest standards of animal care. We support a diverse group of professionals including animal care attendants, animal health technicians, and veterinarians.

The irony that ALF failed to see is that this association, by promoting training for laboratory animal professionals and promoting the sharing of best practices actually lead to improved animal welfare of laboratory animals.

Speaking of Research

Undermining a cornerstone of medical research – examining a biased commentary on animal studies

Medical sociologist, Pandora Pound, and epidemiologist, Michael Bracken, recently wrote an opinion piece entitled “Is animal research sufficiently evidence based to be a cornerstone of biomedical research?” for the British Medical Journal. The article was chosen as the editor’s choice, leading to an editorial by the editor in chief, Fiona Godlee.

BMJ Pound and Bracken

Pound and Bracken criticise the poor quality and reporting of many animal studies, asserting that this is leading to ineffective drugs going on to clinical trials before failing.

Pound and Bracken make some suggestions for improvement, concluding:

In addition to intensifying the systematic review effort, providing training in experimental design and adhering to higher standards of research conduct and reporting, prospective registration of preclinical studies, and the public deposition of (both positive and negative) findings would be steps in the right direction. Greater public accountability might be provided by including lay people in some of the processes of preclinical research such as ethical review bodies and setting research priorities. However, if animal researchers continue to fail to conduct rigorous studies and synthesise and report them accurately, and if research conducted on animals continues to be unable to reasonably predict what can be expected in humans, the public’s continuing endorsement and funding of preclinical animal research seems misplaced.”

While some aspects of the article are reasonable, the overall impression the reader is left with is that animal research doesn’t work and can’t work in its current form. Their bias is obvious to those who are familiar with the arguments of those who argue against animal research. When they’re not incorrectly conflating basic science* with animal research (most basic biomedical research does not involve animals, e.g. human genetic research), Pound and Bracken argue that “lack of translation” is (apparently) not just from poor research practises, but also due to fundamental differences between humans and other animals, writing:

Even if the research was conducted faultlessly, animal models might still have limited success in predicting human responses to drugs and disease because of inherent inter-species differences in molecular and metabolic pathways.”

However, the bulk of the supporting literature they present to support this statement is – unlike most of the claims made in their commentary – not in the form of peer reviewed scientific research papers or meta-analyses but rather commentaries and books written by (other) opponents of animal research, including a certain Dr Greek whose misleading claims we have discussed several times on this blog (most recently here). For a commentary that sets great store by its evidence-based credentials this is, to say the least, disappointing.

Indeed, in their 2004 publication on whose anniversary this commentary was published, Pound, Bracken and their co-authors found that in all 5 cases where a therapy appeared to be successful in pre-clinical animal studies but later failed in human studies, more rigorous meta-analysis of the pooled pre-clinical animal studies showed that the treatment was not in fact successful in them, and that for one therapy (thrombolysis for stroke) such rigorous analysis would have enabled a serious side effect observed in clinical trials to be identified in the pre-clinical animal studies. In short, their own work shows that animal studies can predict the human outcome when their results are analyzed properly..

Other investigators who have examined failed therapies in cancer, ALS and stroke, have come to the same conclusion that too many therapies in some areas of research have failed in clinical trials not because of species differences, but because they never actually succeeded in animal studies, with most of the apparent successes being false-positive results due to flaws in experimental design and biases in reporting and publication. The authors all agree on a number of steps that need to be taken to avoid false-positive results being taken through to clinical trials, including better study design, requirement for independent replication of results in several animal models of the condition in question, publication of negative results (where the candidate therapy doesn’t work), meta-analyses of animal studies before beginning human trials.

An excellent analysis of animal models of stroke by van der Worp et al (2010) covers many of these issues, but also advises that to avoid false negative results in the clinical trials – where poor trial design leads to the erroneous conclusion that a therapy doesn’t work when in fact it does – human trials should match as closely as possible the conditions e.g. time to drug administration, dose, type of injury) of the successful animal studies.

The “rapid responses” to Pound and Bracken’s piece shows that many scientists who specialize in translating research from bench to bedside are alert to the flaws in their analysis.

To quote the response by Andrew Whitelaw and Marianne Thoresen, Professors of Neonatal Neuroscience at the University of Bristol:

The reader was left with impression that there were no examples in recent years of animal research leading directly to major advances in human health.

Three life-saving treatments in neonatal medicine would never have been given ethical approval for clinical trial if there had not been high quality animal models showing efficacy.

Rather than unselectively condemning the whole of biomedical animal research, we suggest that a more critical approach by funding bodies and journal editors could reduce bad research while supporting the good.

They ought to know, as basic and applied research in animals was crucial to the development of techniques that use cooling and xenon gas to protect babies from brain damage following oxygen starvation during birth.

Dr Thomas Wood, is more succinct:

[T]he overriding message of the article is somewhat confusing – demanding that we optimise and streamline animal research is very different from suggesting that it is useless, but both of these ideas are presented side-by-side.”

Prof Malcolm Macleod, a neurologist at the University of Edinburgh, and a frequent critic of poor design in some animal studies, agrees with many of Pound and Bracken’s criticisms, but in a more balanced manner, noting:

When conducted to the highest standards, animal research can indeed inform the development of human medicines. Given that there are many diseases for which we do now have treatments, it is perhaps self evident that the diseases which remain are more challenging, probably requiring research that is done to a higher standard – there is less signal, and more noise.”

Professor Macleod is one of Europe’s leading experts on the development of therapies for stroke, and is one of the leaders of the EuroHYP-1 trial of therapeutic hypothermia in adult patients with acute ischaemic stroke, a trial he advocated after undertaking a rigorous meta-analysis of studies on this therapy in animal models of ischaemic stroke.

Dr Charles M Pearman discussed how basic science makes up the building blocks that lead to human medicine:

Much clinical research is performed by standing on the shoulders of giants. A phase III drug trial comparing two antihypertensives will have much greater direct impact on clinical decision making than any individual animal model based basic science study. However, hundreds or thousands of such “low impact” works are needed to develop the drugs in questions. The authors reference Wooding et al. who themselves acknowledge this and conclude that clinically motivated basic biomedical research should be encouraged.

Basic biomedical research may try and may fail. Without it, however, there will be no successes to base clinical triumphs upon.

There have been many other comments, Prof Fernando Martins do Vale discusses why some of Pound and Bracken’s criticisms may not have much of an impact on results. Prof Robert Perlman argues that evolutionary differences between species can inform animal research. And Dr Vanitha A J explains that much cancer research has been effectively translated from animals to humans, noting in particular recent progress in cancer immunotherapy.

Another, separate, but strong response to Pound and Bracken’s paper was from Dr Liz Harley at Understanding Animal Research. Harley notes that many of the criticisms made in the original opinion piece are already being addressed by the industry. The UK Government’s delivery plan, “Working to Reduce the Use of Animals in Scientific Research”, explicitly mentioned the problems of poor experimental design and outlined several initiatives aimed to improve current practices. While Pound and Bracken call for a lay person to sit on ethical review bodies, they fail to note this is standard practice in the UK, while US regulations demand a lay person unaffiliated with the university stand on their Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees. Clearly Pound and Bracket do not do their homework sufficiently.

We finish with a quote from Prof Martins do Vale:

But the existence of bias and errors does not invalidate Science; on the contrary, as Karl Popper said, the awareness of errors is the first step for their correction and scientific progress.”

Pound and Bracken’s article opens up some important questions, but their biased interpretation risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater as they use flaws in experimental design to try and argue for a fundamental flaw in animal research. Their attempts to use legitimate concerns over experimental design to attack animal research are in fact a dangerous distraction from ongoing efforts to address problems that affect all areas of biomedical research (and indeed any areas of research where scientists have looked for them) from the most fundamental in vitro molecular biology studies right through to clinical trails.

Speaking of Research

* Confusion over what is meant by basic research is a theme throughout Pound and Bracken’s piece, it’s notable that many of the examples of “basic” research they mention are in fact applied or translational research, and that they focus on a paper on translation of basic research published by Contopoulos-Ioannidis et al. in 2003, a paper whose serious flaws in both design and conclusion we have discussed previously.

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

The BUAV – Spies, Lies and Videotapes

For the second time this year the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) infiltrated an animal research facility and sent footage to a British tabloid. For a second time this year, the BUAV has shown us nothing the public could not find out for themselves. No unnecessary suffering. No misbegotten science.

Let us also make a quick distinction between whistleblowing and infiltration. Whistleblowing is a standard lab policy in all UK labs whereby anyone who sees anything they find concerning (particularly relating to animal welfare) can – and should – report it to one of a number of different people up the chain of leadership. Infiltration is a tactic of sending someone into a lab with the express intention of filming as much as they can to create the most dramatic short video possible. Those involved are often double paid by both the organisation they infiltrate and the animal rights group who sent them there. Importantly, infiltrators are actively trying to find shocking video moments. Furthermore, whereas whistleblowers should report animal welfare issues quickly, infiltrators will tend to sit on any animal welfare issues they see until they have finished working at an institution – leading to unnecessary animal suffering.

Cambridge University research into Huntington’s and Batten disease
Last weekend, the Mirror on Sunday ran a story alleging sheep were “being left to suffer in pain and misery for pointless experiments” at Cambridge University following a BUAV infiltration. It should be noted that we have given examples before of the Daily Mirror playing fast and loose with the truth of animal research. Thankfully the Mirror on Sunday provided more balance than its Daily sister-publication usually does by including the perspective of both a patient and a scientist.

The BUAV took hours and hours of footage provided by their undercover infiltrator and edited it down to 4 mins 21 of the “worst” footage. In it we see several sheep exhibiting the symptoms of Batten’s disease. The BUAV also make several allegations about animal welfare, none of which seem to be corroborated by their video footage.

sheep

We see sheep, group housed in large hay-covered pens, clearly well cared for, and behaving calmly when examined by scientists and veterinarians. It is a mark of the BUAV’s duplicity that they make a great play on the term “crush cage”, when in fact these cages (known as squeeze chutes in the US) are widely used by farmers to hold an animal still to minimise the risk of injury to both the animal and the operator while work – veterinary care or routine husbandry – on the animal is performed. It is worth considering that the UK eats around 1 million sheep and lambs per month.

While this may be disturbing, the reality of Batten’s disease in humans, and its effects on a patient’s loved ones, are far, far crueller.

The University of Cambridge has strongly defended this research, pointing out that:

The researchers have been testing a sheep model of Huntington’s Disease developed by collaborators in New Zealand and Australia and studying a line of sheep that carries a natural mutation for Batten’s Disease.

Whilst every attempt is made to keep distress to a minimum, the very nature of these diseases means that the animals will show symptoms related to damage of the nervous system similar to those seen in humans.

A treatment that could slow the disease process once it has started would be a major advance, but the ideal treatment would prevent the onset of symptoms.”

MSD testing and developing vaccines for pets
In March, the Sunday Express (another tabloid not known for its science journalism…to put it mildly) ran a story purporting to show “horrific photographs and video footage showing puppies panicking as they were injected with needles before being dissected” that had been taken by “a brave undercover investigator who worked at the centre for eight months” while “also working with the BUAV throughout that time”. The research at MSD Animal Health was for testing and developing veterinary vaccines. This time the BUAV edited eight months recording into six minutes of footage that showed …. nothing. No, not nothing, it showed researchers and lab technicians conducting research with animal welfare heavy on the list of priorities. The animals were healthy, well socialised, group housed and cared for by researchers who stroked and chatted to the animals.

The video did include the dissection of a dead animal. This doesn’t look nice. Dissection rarely does. However, let us remember that the animal had been humanely killed and its welfare was not influenced by the science being carried out after it died.

Who are the BUAV?
The activities of animal rights groups cost money – the BUAV spent well in excess of £1.3 million in 2013 (and almost £2 million in 2012). With fierce competition between the numerous large national animal rights groups in the UK addressing the animal research issue (including BUAV, Animal Aid, NAVS, PETA UK and HSI), the public donations tend to go to the one with the biggest campaigns and resulting media stories (see our post on structure and motivations of animal rights groups).

The BUAV spend around 10% of their £1.7m (2013; $2.9m) – £2.0m (2011/12; $3.4m) income on investigations. Half of this is on staffing, and half is on “Other Costs”. Given the sums involved it is not unreasonable to assume that the BUAV has lab technicians it has placed in labs on its payroll (note the Sunday Express described the infiltrator at MSD as “working ” with the BUAV). These are not casual whistleblowers, but people who are working at animal research facilities with the express intention of creating horrifying videotapes.

BUAV infiltration Finances

From BUAV accounts 2011-13

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)? Then again, if the last two videos are the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) that the BUAV produce Each of the above infiltrations involved hundreds of hours of footage being taken of which 5 minutes was considered dramatic enough for watching. Even those five minutes lack any real substance.

To the BUAV – Prove it!
To the BUAV we ask you for the openness and transparency you accuse the research community of lacking. Show us the rest of the footage. Show us the hours and hours of footage that never made it onto your final mix tapes.
Will we find hours of shocking footage? Or will we find hours and hours of individuals working hard, caring for animals, and conducting research in a manner which provided high standards of animal welfare. It’s for you to prove.

Speaking of Research

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