Category Archives: Campus Activism

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

Interview with a Primate Researcher

In the last few months, Italian animal rights activists have conducted a campaign against animal research, in particular against primate research. This is despite the important role that primates have played in breakthroughs in stem cell research and neuroprosthetics, among other things. Nonetheless, activists continue to try to claim such research is useless. In particular, they targeted Prof. Roberto Caminiti, a leading neurophysiologist at the University La Sapienza in Rome, and his research team, accusing them of animal mistreatment. Earlier this year students and scientists at the University rallied round Prof. Roberto Caminiti, his team, and his important research.
To answer some of the activists accusations, Pro-Test Italia has produced a video with Prof. Caminiti to illustrate why primate research is so important in the field of neurophysiology and brain-computer interface, and why animal models remain essential for this kind of research. Pro-Test Italia have also made an English version of the video:

It’s important to spread this video outside of Italy to both explain to the public what is going on, and to encourage other primate researchers not to remain hidden but to be clear about the important research that they do. Researchers should be proud of the important work they do in contributing to medical developments for everyone.

Marco

Students in Rome to rally for Prof Caminiti and future of science in Italy

Tomorrow students at the Sapienza University of Rome – Italy’s largest University – will join their Professors and members of the campaign group Pro-Test Italia outside the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology to show solidarity with Professor Roberto Caminiti, a leading neurophysiologist whose work is being attacked by animal rights extremists.

Tomorrow Pro-Test Italia will return to the streets of Rome, joining students and scientists in support of crucial research.

Tomorrow Pro-Test Italia will return to the streets of Rome, joining students and scientists in support of crucial research.

As with many recent instances of anti-scientific populism in Italy, the campaign against Prof. Caminiti began in earnest with a dishonest broadcast on the Italian tabloid TV news programme Striscia la Notizia which misrepresented the work being done by Pr0f. Caminiti and his colleagues. Prof. Caminiti responded to these false allegations in a video which you can watch here (in Italian with English subtitles)

Following the broadcast the European Animal rights Party (PAE) announced that they would be holding a demonstration Sapienza University of Rome, on February 5 2015, with the declared will to “free” the monkeys that are used by Pr0f. Caminiti and his colleagues. This has sparked concerns that the PAE – and the more extreme animal rights groups who will no doubt accompany them – will attempt to repeat the events of 20th April 2013, when five animal rights activists forced entry into the Pharmacology Department of the University of Milan, stealing hundreds of mice and destroying years of research.

There is, however, a major difference between 2013 and today; today scientists and students are ready to stand up and  defend their research. A group of neurobiology students at the Sapienza University of Rome have organized a counter-demonstration (see this Facebook event for details) tomorrow morning – February 5 – to show support for Prof Caminiti, defend their department, and speak up for the future of scientific research in Italy.

On Monday their stand received a boost when Professor Vincenzo Vullo, Head of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Medicine at Sapienza University of Rome, circulated an email to all scientists, staff and students to express support for Prof. Caminiti, and called on them to join him in defense of the research being undertaken at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology:

Dear colleagues, dear students,

I transmit an open letter by Prof. Roberto Caminiti in defense of the unacceptable smear campaign underway against the scientific activity of the Laboratory of Behavioral Neurophysiology, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology of our University.

In this regard, I wish to emphasize the scientific value of Prof. Caminiti, an internationally acclaimed researcher whose research has made a significant contribution to the knowledge of the central nervous mechanisms of motor control. I also want to remember especially his human qualities, demonstrated in the constant respect and care with which he always treated animals necessary for his studies.

In expressing my personal solidarity with Prof. Caminiti, I ask for the support of all members of the faculty in defense of the scientific research conducted at the Laboratory of Behavioral Neurophysiology of our university.

Vincenzo Vullo”

The email also included a letter addressed to all staff and students from Prof. Caminiti:

Dear Colleagues, dear Students,
On December 18 2014 the TV show “Striscia la Notizia”, using images illegally shot in our animal facilities, broadcast a report with the aim of stirring in the public opinion a campaign condemning the scientific activity of the Neurophysiology of Behaviour Laboratory, in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology of our Atenaeum, where other professors and I carry out our scientific activity, which started in the year1985.
To reply to the accusation of animal cruelty, as an act of absolute transparency of research towards the public, I posted online a reasoned reply, in which it is showed and commented on everything that is performed in our laboratories, thanks to several projects financed by MIUR (Italian Government research funder- Speaking of Research) and the EU, and according to experimental protocols regularly authorized by the Ministry of Health.
On January 23 2015, once again “Striscia la Notizia” returned to the topic, using the images we put online, to claim, with the help of a “flora and fauna” specialist (!) that our studies were useless and cruel, where it is unanimously recognized in the scientific community that our research, together with other work carried out in a select group of international laboratories, lead to the development of brain-computer interface in humans and to the cerebral control of artificial prostetics in patients with paralysis due to neurodegenerative or neurovascular diseases, just like similar researches lead to the development of deep brain stimulation in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Exploiting the footage broadcasted by “Striscia la Notizia”, the European Animal rights Party (PAE) launched a national demonstration, set to take place on February 5 2015, in front of our Department, with the declared will to “free” the animals that we are working with, and together with the Antivivisection League (LAV) stated that they have submitted a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office in Rome, to open an investigation aimed to the confiscation of the animals, and to open a criminal case against me for animal cruelty.
I call on you, confident that you believe in a country guided by reason, commitment and study, and not driven by obscurantism, just like the “Stamina” case, that you all well know (for more on the Stamina scandal see this recent report -Speaking of Research) . And I ask yo to defend, with the appropriate instruments, the scientific activity and the dignity of a Department of our Atenaeum.
On the morning of February 5, wearing a white lab coat and flower in the buttonhole, I will be in front of my Department to defend and reaffirm that ideal that drove us all to become MDs and researchers.
With best regards,
Roberto Caminiti

We congratulate both faculty and students at Sapienza University of Rome for taking this action in support of science, and wish them, Pro-Test Italia, and all friends of medical progress every success as they stand together in this noble cause.

Speaking of Research

The BUAV is misinforming UK policy makers

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

Introduction

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

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

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

The BUAV Email

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

Dear <Candidate>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The BUAV Claims: DEBUNKED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The BUAV’s Six Pledges: DEBUNKED

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

“1. Ban experiments on cats and dogs”

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

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

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

“2. End the secrecy surrounding animal experiments”

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

“3. Stop importing monkeys for use in laboratories”

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

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

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

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

“4. End non-medical experiments”

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

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

“5. Stop genetically modifying animals pending a review”

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

“6. Stop suffering in most extreme experiments”

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

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

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

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

Addendum

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

Dear <Candidate Name>,

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

<Your name>

Five Ways to Help

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

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

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

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

1 hour explain animal testing

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Webmaster

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

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

Kind Regards

<insert name>

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

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

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

sharing speaking of research

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

Send us a picture [10 minutes]

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

Speak up about YOUR research [30 minutes]

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

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

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

Join us [It’s up to you!]

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

Remember

Science Needs You