Why People Are Wrong to Oppose the New UK Beagle Breeding Facility

This post was originally posted on Huffington Post UK’s website. It is reprinted with permission from both the author and the Huffington Post. The original hyperlinks which were stripped out of the HP article have been returned.

Where do medicines come from?

It’s not a question most of us bother with when we take advantage of the huge array of medical treatments available to us.

All modern medicine is built on the ‘basic research’ which allows us to understand our physiology, and the diseases we suffer. Much of this research has been done, and continues to be done, in animals. Had Mering and Minkowski not shown the causal link between the pancreas and diabetes in dogs, we might never have discovered insulin (much more work was conducted in dogs by Banting and Best who later won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of insulin). Had Pasteur not shown how dogs could be vaccinated using weakened samples of the virus (made from rabbits), we would not have both the veterinary and human rabies vaccines.

Animals are also used to develop and refine medical techniques. Dogs played a key role in perfecting artery to vein blood transfusions, as well as showing that citrated blood could be safely transplanted (thus preventing the blood from clotting). More recently, 23 pet dogs with paralysing spinal injuries were able to regain some use of their rear legs thanks to a novel stem cell transplant treatment. This research had originally been done in rats, and last year was used to successfully treat a paralysed man in what could prove to be one of the biggest medical advances of the decade.

By law, animals must also be used to test the toxicity and safety of new drug compounds before they can be given to human volunteers. A pharmaceutical company will have used the findings of basic research studies to identify types of drugs which might be effective against certain diseases. They will then use a variety of non-animal tests – computer modelling, cell cultures and more – to identify the most promising drug candidates. Those compounds will then be tested in animals. If they are deemed safe enough, they may then be moved forward to human trials. It is testament to the effectiveness of animal safety tests that nobody has died in Phase I clinical trials in the UK for over 30 years (with only one badly conducted clinical trial causing severe harm in recent times).

Given public misconceptions on the issue, it is worth being clear and saying that in the UK, and across the rest of the EU, it is illegal to use animals to test cosmetic products or their ingredients. The UK ban came into force in 1998, one year after a ban on tobacco research using animals. The Government has also announced a ban on using animals for testing household products.

Graph - Milestones in Animal Research

So what about dogs?

Laboratory DogsDespite the examples used in this article, dogs are not used that much in research in the UK. They account for less than 0.1% of all animals used in the UK each year. This compares to the 98% of procedures which are conducted on mice, rats, fish or birds. In 2013 there were 3,554 dogs used in 4,779 procedures (down 30% from a decade ago). Due to special protections that exist for dogs, cats, primates and horses, researchers must justify to the Home Office why another species, such as a mouse, fish or sheep, cannot be used instead of a dog. The research must be approved by an ethical review board, who will work to ensure the implementation of the 3Rs (Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research). The researcher, the institution and the individual procedure must each be licensed by the Home Office. The video below, produced by Understanding Animal Research, shows dogs in a typical pharmaceutical laboratory in the UK.

So why a breeding facility?

Currently, around 20% of the dogs used in research in the UK are imported from abroad (those involved in 956 of the 4,779 procedures in 2013). This is because the UK breeding facilities cannot provide all the dogs used in the UK. These dogs have to endure long and potentially stressful flights from other countries. Surely it is better to breed them here in the UK, where we have some of the highest standards of laboratory animal welfare in the world and where our facilities can be easily monitored by the Animals in Science Regulation Unit inspectors? The new breeding facility offers animal welfare standards above and beyond those demanded by the Government. Dogs will be kept in socially housed groups in multi-level pens which can be joined together to create larger runs for the animals. All the animals will have toys and enrichment in their enclosures, and will interact with trained laboratory technicians every day. It is this sort of investment in animal welfare we, as an animal-loving nation, should embrace.

Petitioning the Government to reverse their decision on approving the beagle facility in Hull is misguided. It will not reverse our need to use animals in research, or even change the number of dogs used in the UK. What it will do is force another generation of puppies to take long flights from other countries, having been bred in older breeding facilities away from the UK inspectorate.

Animal research may not be something we want to think about when we take our medicines – but it is something necessary for those medicines to exist. Instead of trying to ban animal research, let’s instead make sure that if we do it, we do it to world-class standards.

Tom Holder

Director of Speaking of Research

4 responses to “Why People Are Wrong to Oppose the New UK Beagle Breeding Facility

  1. This is a great article and I feel like you articulated your point well. It is a good argument as to why our society needs animal testing. Your appeal to logic is really good and I applaud you for that.
    But I personally can’t get behind it. I have two beagles of my own and my heart breaks to think of the kind of experiments are performed on beagles. I personally don’t feel like it is right to test on someone or something that has no voice. How can the dog express it’s pain? Discomfort? Surely they feel things like that.
    Maybe it’s time to look at the disease instead of just a symptom of it. Will we ever get to the point where we won’t need to test on animals? If so, how can we expedite this process? Why do we regard animal testing as a necessary evil in order to manufacture our drugs, cosmetics, and other goods?

    • Certainly it is a difficult decision. Dogs, like rats and mice, have the capacity to suffer. However, the research community does what it can to alleviate this suffering. Researchers must use anaesthetic to alleviate pain, and they are taught to recognise signs of distress in the animals.

      In the UK, cosmetics are not tested on animals.

  2. These “beings” feel pain, feel happiness, are different but sentient. This renders the human race as barbaric. Everything evil has consequences..this is ugly, cruel and evil to put us above all other living creatures. We think and use this planet as well and will simply end up destroying it and in so doing ourselves.

  3. Reblogged this on Excellence In Animal Science and commented:
    Tom does a great job at explaining how adding a breeding facility in the UK would add to the health and well being of the animals. This would allow research facilities to receive animals without shipping them over seas and stressing them.

    He also gives examples of how beagles have helped both humans and animals alike discover things like vaccinations.

    The comments posted on the original post are vey interesting to say the least. Many people still believe research and testing should be done on prisoners! Tom explains to this comment that this would one be a horrifying ethical issue but there is no way to control the research subjects. You can not create genetically modified prisoners to have the genetic background or disease that can be created and monitored in animals such as mice quickly.

    There is much more to animal research than just “poking and prodding” innocent animals. The point of these studies is to reduce the number of animals needed to generate valuable data. We in the field do everything in our power to ensure the animals are housed and cared in ethical standards.

    There is much more to discuss…