As early as 2013 we discussed why it made sense, from an animal welfare perspective, for the UK to approve the expansion of the B&K beagle breeding facility. The UK currently imports 20% of dogs used in research (the rest are bred at UK breeding facilities). The expanded facility in Hull hopes to reduce the numbers bred abroad, reducing the number of animals bred far away from the UK Home Office inspectors, and which must endure long flights at a young age to reach their destination. The Oppose B&K campaign, now joined by a number of other high profile animal rights groups, has fought the decision in the courts and through protests on the streets, but in July 2015, planning for the expanded breeding facility was approved by the Government. Since then, there has been a rash of protests and petitions.
We wrote an article shortly after the decision to explain why we thought people were wrong to oppose the new breeding facility, saying:
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
An official UK Government e-petition (which demands email verification and address details) reached 15,000 signatures (compared with around 500,00 for a change.org petition which can be more easily manipulated). This prompted an official response from the Government. It is excellent, and well worth a read:
The use of animals, including dogs, in research is a vital tool for the development of new medicines and technologies. In order to ensure animals are protected, we have a rigorous regulatory system.
Home Office regulatory safeguards
The use of animals in scientific research remains a vital tool in improving our understanding of how biological systems work both in health and disease which is crucial for the development of new medicines and cutting edge medical technologies for both humans and animals, and for the protection of our environment.
The Government has a strong commitment to maintaining a rigorous regulatory system under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (the Act). Guidance can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/291350/Guidance_on_the_Operation_of_ASPA.pdf.
The regulatory system ensures that animal research and testing is carried out only where no practicable alternative exists, and that suffering is kept to a minimum. This is achieved through applying the principles of the 3Rs which require that, in every research proposal, animals are replaced with non-animal alternatives wherever possible; that the number of animals used is reduced to the minimum needed to achieve the results sought; and that, for those animals which must be used, procedures are refined as much as possible to minimise their suffering.
All applications for research to be conducted are assessed by Home Office Inspectors. The harm benefit assessment conducted provides advice to the Home Secretary that the likely harms are justified by the expected benefits. Only after completion of this process will the Home Secretary consider granting a licence for the proposed work to go ahead. All Inspectors hold either veterinary or medical qualifications and are specially trained. Proposals must also have been considered by the research establishment’s Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body.
Once a licence is granted, establishments are regularly inspected for compliance with their licence and the legislation.
The breeding and use of dogs in the UK
On occasion this research requires the use of dogs, mainly purpose-bred beagles. Dogs are accorded special protection under the Act and licences are only granted where justified where the specific results sought can only be achieved by using a dog.
All animals, including dogs, must be housed in accordance with the Code of Practice published by the Home Office: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/388895/COPAnimalsFullPrint.pdf. This sets standards for the housing, environmental enrichment, socialisation and exercise required for dogs in UK facilities. These standards are also regularly checked and monitored by Inspectors during often unannounced inspections.
Where it is essential to use dogs in research, it is better for their welfare that they should have been bred in facilities which meet the UK’s high standards and which are located close to the place where the dogs will subsequently be used. This minimises the potential stress of lengthy transport.
Currently less than 0.1% of animals used in research in the UK are dogs. Of these, more than 80% of the dogs that underwent procedures in 2013 were used in applied studies for human medicine or dentistry. Dogs are also used extensively in veterinary research to better understand naturally occurring diseases and to develop treatments and preventatives such as vaccines. Around 2% are used in fundamental biological research.
Following a Government ban in 1998, no animals have been used in testing cosmetics in the UK. The use of any species is also not permitted for the development or testing of alcohol or tobacco products as well as offensive weapons. During 2015, the Government is also implementing a ban on the testing of household products on animals.
Many people are understandably concerned what happens to animals, particularly dogs, at the end of scientific procedures and we are keen to encourage re-homing where appropriate. In deciding whether a dog should be re-homed, consideration of its welfare must be the first priority. It must be free from suffering and the likelihood of future suffering and it must have been adequately prepared to adapt to the new home environment. The types of studies that dogs are currently used for mean that the majority cannot be re-homed as it is often necessary to collect essential post mortem data at the end of a study. Such data is critical to achieving the scientific outcome for which the licence has been granted to enable the benefit of the research to be realised. Further information can be found on the Animals in Science Regulation Unit’s website: https://www.gov.uk/research-and-testing-using-animals.
This clear, informative response shows exactly how a Government should be approaching the animal research issue – openly, but with the clear message that such research plays an important part in the health of a nation.
Speaking of Research