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.
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?
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.
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