BUAV – Unsubstantiated Claims, Spies and Inspection Reports

This article was originally posted on 3 October 2014. On 4 June 2015 we received representation from Cruelty Free International (CFI) asking us to reconsider some of the wording. On 2nd December 2015, at a Judicial Review, CFI and the Home Office agreed to make two, small clarifications to an ASRU report. Having considered all of CFI’s comments, the Judicial Review, and reflected upon the article, we have amended these and reposted them as they appear below.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV; now renamed Cruelty Free International) 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.

Despite the huge number of allegations, the inspection report has now been published and found only five cases of 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 – Unsubstantiated Claims, Spies and Videotapes, we looked at the BUAV’s infiltrations of Cambridge University and MSD and explained that neither showed any “unnecessary suffering” of animals. The 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 the BUAV’s allegations really do not seem to stand up to scrutiny.

Sheep at Cambridge
Just one of the pictures by the BUAV of research at Cambridge.

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 together containing over 180 “events which might have formed the basis for an allegation of non-compliance” against Imperial, relating to the use of animals under the terms of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986 (ASPA). These 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, however, was clear in its conclusions, finding most of the allegations unsubstantiated:

Twenty-one potential cases of non-compliance were identified and 18 were formally 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 case results in a written reprimand and individuals involved may require additional training.

Ultimately, the investigation (and subsequent report) by ASRU failed to substantiate most of the allegations made by the BUAV. But it gets worse; the BUAV infiltrator appears to have failed to comply with their ethical obligations during their infiltration. 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 specifically about animal welfare concerns by her agency. Her inaction could have caused animal suffering. Why did she refuse to mention it?

The ASRU report found “animal care staff knowledgeable and vigilant”

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 infiltrator’s unethical behaviour may well have gone a step further. Cambridge University’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.

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.

Infiltration Budget

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 newsworthy 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

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8 thoughts on “BUAV – Unsubstantiated Claims, Spies and Inspection Reports

  1. You seem to have a knack of twisting my wording and meaning Tom, that is very obvious.I have never said it didn’t matter if people die. All the message has ever been is to you all involved in research and testing on animals, is to firstly stop using them, and continue to try an find cures or treatment, but find another way to do it as other scientists are beginning to find they can do today.
    One day the scales will tip against you as public opinion continues to gather in momentum against using animals for experiments and tests.
    What ever you say about the BUAV and the evidence that has been presented in the past, they cannot fabricate entirely what is on video or reported.
    HLS a case in point where Two members of staff were convicted of cruelty to animals under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, pleading guilty to “cruelly treating dogs”.
    As a result of the BUAV investigation these things were brought out and exposed.
    I would love to know what it is about the Beagle that makes it the target as such, for research ? Such a beautiful animal, does not deserve the life that some have had to endure in labs.
    No dog should have to endure any testing or being forced to have a life of misery for our sakes.
    But it is clear that the dog loving public opinion and concerns are of no interest to you, and you continue to ignore our calls for you finding more ethical ways to research.
    It will come home to roost in the not too distant future, and you may wish that you heeded the pleas of the public.

    1. Why would you mention the world being overcrowded if not to suggest that perhaps we shouldn’t do our all to save people who are sick? There is no twisting, you chose how you phrased your words.

      Scientists have been using and developing alternatives for decades (I suspect there is more in vitro research than animal research going on). However, some research we currently have no research, and it does not look likely that some research will ever be replaced.

      The BUAV didn’t farbicate their video footage, but they did appear to purposely damage animal welfare to film it. The rest of their Cambridge and MSD videos simply don’t show bad animal welfare in them.

      The HLS footage (which is now 18 years old) did show sickening behaviour from 2 technicians. Charges were brought. Good. I have been round the facilities at HLS several times and have always been impressed by the high standard of care they provide for the animals. They do tours occasionally for locals and school children, they want to show a standard of animal welfare they can be proud of.

  2. So what you are saying Tom is that the investigator should be held accountable for not reporting welfare concerns ? And that ultimately because she didn’t, it could lead to further suffering….that’s an admission in itself that there are risk factors in this situation of animal well being being compromised. What was everyone else doing then ? Ignoring the situation or maybe didn’t even appreciate the whole situation. I find it strange that you say the investigator disrupted the routines,and got away with it, as if there was no one in charge to oversee and make sure that the usual welfare routine was in place. Presumably if it was policy not to separate the sheep from the rest, quite simply put, why didn’t one of the others do something about it or challenge the investigator as to what was going on. The two do not add up, and you make it sound like she had total control of everything, and the others were powerless.

    As to whistle blowing, I think you may never have been involved in your career in the serious decision making and soul searching that goes on within an individual to report something (I am not talking about the undercover investigator here). In any industry or business, especially if it means a negative outcome for someone else it is a nerve racking business to whistle blow on a company or individual and is not done lightly, so to call it ‘casual whistle blowing’ just demonstrates to me your lack of knowledge and comprehension in this area.There is nothing ‘casual’ about whistle blowing, to pick up on this point you have made.
    By the way, reading a little about Battens disease, were the sheep deliberately induced to develop the disease ? Because from the research I did on the internet, it seems to say that it is a gene issue and inherited, and in humans, and that also it is a rare disease. It is fatal which ever way you look at it, so for the poor sheep whether it had it already (if that is possible) or it was by the hand of a scientist, it is a doomed animal because in all the years of study, none of you are any closer to a cure, or even slowing it down significantly. Despite all the years of funding and grants..So many animals sacrificed, so slow progress, so much tax payers money spent.
    Again I will ask, what is the end game plan is ? What world are you trying to create ?
    Is it to extend our lives even more on this overcrowded and overpopulated planet ? If you think I am just another animal activist ranting on I can say to you that I have not been solely influenced by BUAV or PETA (or the media), and I do not subscribe financially to either of them. I am a 61 year old woman who has cared about animals and their welfare along with other issues in society long before you were even born. I have my own opinions and enough life experience to have seen many changes in health and welfare of the population, and to object about the use of animals in testing and research is not a recent thing in my life. Animals have the right to liberty and to go about the planet living their own lives naturally and freely,This is what I passionately believe in.
    I do not condone some of the violent or aggressive things that have been done in the past in the name of animal rights, and a lot of the public is not backing that behaviour either.
    Go watch the David Attenborough thought provoking documentary called “How many people can live on planet earth” to get a better perspective on the long term consequences we are facing; in terms of extended life expectancy and how it has directly caused unsustainable population growth. See how we are to end up with the detrimental legacy contributed to by the ‘scientists of our century’, and the billion dollar industries and the pharmaceutical companies in this world, and think again.

    1. I’m saying IF there were welfare concerns then they should have been brought up. Understand that these infiltrators are not technicians who, upon seeing something they disagreed with, decided to start filming; these people have been sent in by the BUAV (almost certainly with financial support, very likely for their previous roles as well so they could get a clean employment record) with the express aim of filming things. The fact welfare concerns were not brought up only reinforces their nefarious reasons for being in the labs in the first place – not for animal welfare, but to give BUAV a story.

      No, not everyone was ignoring thing, the reality is there were no major animal welfare concerns. Read tomorrow’s post for more examples.

      Technicians are entrusted to their jobs – they are not watched in everything they do. The infiltrator seemingly has managed to remove sheep from their enclosure at Cambridge for a few minutes (away from the other sheep) – filmed it becoming agitated – then returned it to its enclosure. If one person is tasked with feeding the animals in one room in the morning, they don’t hire another person to make sure he does it correctly!

      Given the sensitivity in labs, whistleblowing policies are made as accessible as possible. Most labs have posters around providing multiple different contacts at different levels to address concerns. Many labs are introducing voicemail numbers where people can leave messages anonymously with any concerns. In all circumstances it can be done privately, and quietly – we’re not talking about going to the media with it.

      Reading the Cambridge report (https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/research-at-cambridge/policy-on-the-use-of-animals-in-research-and-teaching/report-on-the-allegations-and-matters-raised-in-the-buav-report-neurological-research-on-sheep-at) the Batten sheep they used had a natural mutation (they were not transgenic animals). Our knowledge of the disease is every increasing thanks to research such as that at Cambridge. Treatments do not happen bit by bit. When Sabin created the Polio vaccine (saving millions of future children from the disease) he did not first create a treatment that improved life a bit, then a treatment that improved it a bit more – he went from understanding the disease and looking at how it could be stopped to stopping it. There will be no treatment for Batten’s until there is, and when there is we will no doubt be able to thank the sheep for their part in this research.

      If you believe the planet is overpopulated and it doesn’t matter if people die that’s your prerogative – I find that disturbing and sickening.

  3. I think the whole point of being an undercover investigator is to remain undetected, and to (painfully) observe what is going on. Even though it may seem a paradoxical, the only way to rationalize and justify the inaction by the investigator and not whistle blow is to think of the greater good outcome, hopefully. Personally I know I would find it near on impossible to be able to stand back and do nothing if I witnessed an animal being in pain or suffering as a result of any of the procedures carried out. But then that would be counter productive, and the opportunity missed.
    Unless you reconstruct or rein-act something video has captured, and I guess that these are hidden cameras obviously, so filming will be awkward, I don’t think you can explain it all away as cleverly edited and ‘selective evidence’. If you want to salve your conscience by telling yourself this that is your prerogative.
    It is the fact that animals are used at all is the major objection.

    1. Part of the welfare process is to ensure that concerns are brought up with those who can change things. If this infiltrator had concerns about the welfare of animals he or she would be influencing, then it is concerning that they did not bring it up and allowed it to continue.

      We see the Cambridge infiltrator actively trying to stage some of the welfare concerns:
      “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.”

      Clearly animal welfare is not at the top of their mind.

      Expect another post tomorrow on infiltrations.

  4. “If … we would likely not have …” Thank you Tom, for your modesty.

    We would likely have had better medicine. OK?

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