The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has campaigned against the use of animals in research since 1898. If they had got their way when they started we would likely not have insulin (dogs), blood transfusions (guinea pigs and dogs), penicillin (mice) or asthma inhalers (guinea pigs), among a very long list.
The BUAV has conducted a number of high profile infiltrations into British animal research facilities in the last few years. At least one of these, Imperial College London, triggered investigations by the Home Office’s Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU). Despite hundreds of allegations of mistreatment, the inspection reports have now been published and clears the institution of nearly all of the BUAV’s allegations, save five minor infringements (Category A or B), none of which involved “significant avoidable or unnecessary pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm” (which would make them Category C or D infringements; more information on these classifications can be found on pages 35-36 of the ASRU annual report).
In a previous post, BUAV – Spies, Lies and Videotapes, we looked at the BUAV’s infiltrations of Cambridge University and MSD and explained that neither showed any “unnecessary suffering” of animals. While an ASRU report is not yet available for the Cambridge infiltration (though the video produced to the BUAV fails to corroborate any of their claims, which have also been comprehensively refuted by the University), the ASRU report for Imperial College London (a third infiltration) shows how baseless the BUAV’s allegations really are.
Imperial College London Infiltration by the BUAV
In April 2013, The Sunday Times covered a BUAV infiltration at Imperial College London (Ranked 2nd in QS World University Ranking 2014). They claimed “staff breached welfare standards by mistreating laboratory animals”, that “[Their] investigation [had] shown the terrible suffering of animals in a supposedly leading UK university”, and that the “reality is … that standards are often poor with numerous breaches of the law“.
The University instantly ordered its own investigation to run concurrently with a Home Office investigation. The Brown Report did not aim to investigate the BUAV allegations (which was the Home Office’s remit), but to “undertake broad and detailed examination of all aspects of animal experimentation at the College facilities,” aimed at improving best practice at the University. The University accepted all 33 recommendations made by the report. In a recent release, Imperial announced:
The College has taken action to improve its culture of care. It has revised its governance structure, improved its ethical review process, strengthened support for operational management and put in place better systems for training and sharing good practice through stronger communications.
Meanwhile, the BUAV had provided ASRU with a 71 page document and accompanying video footage containing over 180 allegations against Imperial relating to the use of animals under the terms of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986 (ASPA). The allegations included (p12) “very large scale appalling animal suffering; unlawful regulations by the Home Office; inadequate care of animals by establishment staff; [and] inadequate enforcement by the Inspectorate“. The ASRU report was damning in its conclusions:
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.
Category B means that while there may have been “some animal welfare implications“, it “[did] not involve significant, avoidable or unnecessary pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm“, there was “no evidence of intent to subvert the controls of ASPA“. Typically a category B non-compliance results in a written reprimand and individuals involved may require additional training.
Furthermore, over 97% of the allegations were found to be unsubstantiated upon investigation by ASRU. The BUAV will have to console itself with being less than 3% honest. However, the BUAV appear to be encouraging unethical behaviour in its infiltrations. The Report noted:
No concerns about animal welfare were recorded as raised by the investigator with the agency.Similarly, the investigator from the animal rights organisation did not raise concerns through the recognised whistle blowing policy in place at the Establishment
Essentially, the infiltrator saw what she believed was animal cruelty and then refused to mention it when asked by her agency and neglected to mention it to anyone else. Her inaction could have caused animal suffering. Why did she refuse to mention it? Presumably because the BUAV, who she was working for, did not want her to.
A similar issue was noted at Cambridge University in their response to the BUAV’s infiltration of their sheep research facility (into Batten’s disease):
The University has robust mechanisms in place for whistleblowing; however, no animal welfare concerns had been raised by any staff during the times noted in the reports,
And the unethical behaviour appeared to go a step further. Cambridge’s response mentioned a section of the BUAV video where a lone sheep appears agitated:
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.
Given the BUAV’s goals of ending all animal research, perhaps we should not be surprised at their tactics – indeed their levels of donations are heavily influenced by how much press coverage they get; itself determined by the shock-factor of the story.
ASRU Strike Again
A second ASRU report also came out, investigating a BUAV infiltration at a pharmaceutical company. The allegations by the BUAV were based on “material and video material covertly gathered by an investigator working as a junior animal technician”.
The Report of the ASRU Investigation into compliance found that:
No non-compliance with authorised programmes of work was detected apart from two minor issues with no welfare implications.
The two minor issues (both Category A infringements; least concern) were both described as “technical non-compliance” and were essentially paperwork issues.
When considering the allegations levelled at the pharmaceutical by the BUAV, the report is even clearer:
Our detailed investigations and review of available records and other evidence, does not support the allegations in the investigation report.
Our findings confirm that the site is well managed with staff at all levels committed to the provision of appropriate standards of welfare and care, within the constraints of the scientific requirements of the research.
Of the £1.3 million that BUAV spent in 2013 (and almost £2 million in 2012), 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.
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. There are few endeavours in the world that you could not create a shocking videotape about by filming staff and premises for hundreds of hours and cleverly editing it down to a 5 minute video.
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)? 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. So we challenge the BUAV:
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