On 28th November 2013, the UK Animal Procedures Committee (APC) released its latest report entitled “Review of the assessment of cumulative severity and lifetime experience in non-human primates used in neuroscience”. The report, by the APC’s Primate Subcomittee, was chaired by Prof John Pickard, Head of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cambridge University.
This comprehensive review of experiences of primates in neuroscience research over a long period of time concluded that the majority of the animals do not experience cumulative suffering – adverse effects resulting from repeated scientific procedures and associated housing and husbandry practices. Those involved in the report assessed the lives of 234 primates over 10 years, using 13,000 data points to assess the suffering of primates in labs over a lifetime.
The report acknowledged the improvements in animal welfare including the time invested in positive-reinforcement-based training and effective anaesthesia and pain control. It recommended that organisations should continue to share best practise, a process strongly supported by the NC3Rs who have spent £1.4 million in grants for research to refine primate experiments. It also suggests all primate research publications should adhere to ARRIVE guidelines. The review also endorsed the “increasing use of CCTV to supplement monitoring of the welfare of non-human primates in their accommodation”, a suggestion focused on by some of the media.
The report (Pages 42-46, sections of which are quoted below) also shed light on the misleading tactics used by some animal rights groups when they made their contributions to the report. Those contributing included the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) and Animal Defenders International (ADI; the same organisation and leadership as NAVS, presumably contributing under two names to attempt to have a bigger impact), Humane Society International (HSI) and HSUS, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
The report talks about the types of submissions made by these animal rights groups before saying:
It was very helpful to have the general perspective provided by many of these detailed submissions. Unfortunately, much of the literature cited was not specific to non-human primates in general and to the UK in particular. This is because the procedures are not necessary or allowed, the husbandry systems are different or the species is not used. For example, whilst it is the case that many breeding centres worldwide wean young macaques before the biologically normal age of around 10 to 12 months, which can affect the physiological and behavioural development of the animals and compromise their welfare in both the short and long terms, the majority of macaques used in UK universities are rhesus macaques supplied from a UK source, which now ordinarily weans at or beyond 12 months of age (Prescott et al., 2012a). [My emphasis]
The review all but states that many animal rights groups are clueless about the UK animal welfare standards they condemn, when it states:
During the written and oral evidence gathering it became clear that one valuable function of the Review would be to update all those interested in animal welfare on the contemporary standards applied to UK non-human primate neuroscience.
Perhaps it’s referring to the general public? Oh wait, it has started quoting (and criticising) lines from animal rights groups submissions:
“Many primates live in small, barren cages.” This is not the case in the UK, the Home Office and NC3Rs guidelines do not allow it.
“Animals with headcaps should be pair—housed.” This is accepted practice in UK universities, although occasionally there have to be exceptions.
“fluid deprivation” Non-human primates on fluid control protocols are not deprived of fluid; rather their free access to fluid is scheduled in order to motivate them to work for small fluid rewards. Steps are taken to ensure that they receive sufficient daily fluid amounts, which are bounded by their normal ad libitum daily fluid intake at the top and the minimum amount necessary for physiological functioning at the bottom. A level somewhere in between these two bounds is mostly used and adjusted for each animal.
This Review, and the recent commitment to greater openness from the bioscience community, may help to avoid such misunderstandings in the future (O’Neil 2002; Concordat 2012)
But at least we can hope organisations as big as the Humane Society (HSUS and HSI), with huge resources at their disposal would be able to provide relevant information. Right….?
The primatological studies cited by the HSI and HSUS were almost exclusively from US literature involving housing conditions that are not comparable with those in the UK.
Rather than provide useful contributions to the discussions on primate suffering, many animal rights groups scrabbled for any information on any animal species, from any country, in their desperate attempts to justify their positions. They may sometimes have valid points, but they should not expect to be listened to when they mix in clear misrepresentations of animal research.