Category Archives: Campus Activism

Pro-Test: The demonstration that changed a decade

“No more threats, no more fear, animal research wanted here”.

On February 25th 2006 that chant, and many others, rang out across the city of Oxford. Around 1,000 students, scientists and patients marched through the streets both to demonstrate support for the building of a new animal research facility, and to protest against the animal rights extremism that plagued scientists in Oxford and beyond.

The first Pro-Test rally. Image by Nick Anthis

The first Pro-Test rally. Image by Nick Anthis

Rival protesters set for bitter clash over animal testing lab” – wrote the Times. Police lined the streets – with horses and riot vans – as did journalists from all over the world. The world’s first pro-animal-research-rally, and on the same day, in the same city, as a national animal rights demonstration. The city of Oxford held its breath in anticipation. For all of us organising the event – myself included – we had no idea what would happen.

But how did we get here?

Animal rights extremism had been an intractable problem in the UK for decades, but the mid-1990s brought activists a string of successes. Campaigns in 1996 – 1997 shut down both Consort kennels and Hillgrove cat farm, which bred dogs and cats (respectively) for animal facilities. In 1999 the SHAC campaign began its 15-year campaign against HLS; the same year also marked the start of a campaign against Newchurch Guinea Pig Farm. Extremism continued unabated; in 2004 activists dug up and stole the remains of Gladys Hammond – a family member of the owners of the guinea pig farm. After petrol bombs and further threats the farm closed. The same year, the University of Cambridge abandoned plans to build a new primate research facility after intense pressure from activists including the activist group SPEAC (Stop Primate Experimentation at Cambridge).

In 2004, shortly after Cambridge abandoned plans for its new lab, the University of Oxford laid out plans for a new animal research facility which would combine many of the smaller labs dotted around Oxford into one new facility with improved welfare for animals. SPEAC activists immediately moved to Oxford, renaming the group SPEAK. The extremism that had plagued Cambridge also moved to Oxford. In July 2004 construction on the new lab was halted for six months after the original building contractors – facing intense harassment from activists – pulled out of the project (as had many other firms connected to the building work). In the summer of 2005, with building work restarted, extremists from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) targeted the students.

Boathouse Fire July 2005

The arson attack on the University of Oxford college boathouses caused approximately £500,000 worth of damage.

“We must target professors, teachers, heads, students, investors, partners, supporters and ANYONE that dares to deal in any part of the University in any way. There is no time for debate and there is no time for protest, this is make or break time and from now on, ANYTHING GOES.” – ALF Communique

The targeting of student run, student owned boathouses mixed with threats against all university members shocked the student population. But it wasn’t the activists that would set the student population alight – it was a 16-year old school dropout – Laurie Pycroft.

Laurie PycroftPlacardLaurie Pycroft walked through the streets of Oxford in January 2006. On his way, he came across an animal rights demonstration protesting the construction of the new animal lab. Laurie was bright, with a keen interest in science. He knew the only reason his grandfather was alive was because of surgery developed in animals. So Laurie went into a shop and bought a pen, and paper, writing “Support Progress – Build the Oxford Lab!”. He stood outside the demonstration holding his sign aloft. After receiving comments of support by passing members of the public, and screaming abuse by a number of activists, Laurie went home.

I got home quite late that evening. I hung up my coat, made my way to my room, sat at my computer, and made an entry about the whole incident on my blog. Within a few minutes, the comments started flooding in, with messages of support such as: “Genius! You truly are a hero to the people of Oxford! You’ve got to organise another pro-test.” – Laurie Pycroft

From one anonymous commenter, the Pro-Test name was born. News of Laurie’s one man demonstration hit the student press and a number of students – including myself – got in touch with Laurie to offer him our support.

“What do we want. The Oxford Lab. When do we want it? Now!”

In four crazy week we organised a demonstration that would be reported on almost every major news network in the UK. Despite the  proximity of animal rights activists and Pro-Test-ers, the event when off without violence. Mild-mannered scientists shouted along to chants. Students raised hastily created placards above their heads. The mood was positive despite efforts from animal rights groups to force the climate of fear upon the rally.

“Hundreds of police, some on horseback, prevented the two groups, which were at one stage just 20 yards away from each other, from clashing. On two occasions, anti-vivisectionists broke out towards the main march before being surrounded by police and moved away.” – The Guardian

It was a huge success. Debates about animal research raged across the media. Documentary makers lined up to tell the story of Pro-Test. The world-famous debating chamber – the Oxford Union – voted against a motion that “This house would not test on animals” by a whopping 85%. In preparation for a second rally in June, Prof Sir Robert Winston wrote in The Guardian:

“How disgraceful that a 16-year-old boy has put the medical and scientific establishment, drug companies and universities to shame.

[…]

It is time my colleagues got real. All British universities doing worthwhile research use animals, and, instead of hiding, they should be boasting of their achievements. Pharmaceutical companies could do far more to promote investigations that are humane, ethical and legal. Scientists should demonstrate the care taken in their research and the benefits it brings to society. And government? Shockingly, my family feels nervous because I speak out on animal research. So politicians have a duty to pursue animal extremists with vigour.”

Over the next two years the whole tenor of the debate changed – scientists became more willing to speak out – filling a vacuum that animal rights groups had filled with misinformation. In November 2008 the Oxford lab finally opened.

Speaking of Research owes its existence to Pro-Test. As the original spokesman for Pro-Test, I spent six months in the US, supported by Americans for Medical Progress, whereupon I founded Speaking of Research. As an organisation we have supported subsequent Pro-Test movements all over the world.

We supported the founding of Pro-Test for Science and helped it organise its first rally in Los Angeles after Prof Jentsch’s car was firebombed. We supported Pro-Test Italia in its first major rally in Milan. The successes of these rallies owed much to the actions of one sixteen year old boy.

Pro-Test march snakes along Westwood

Pro-Test for Science rally marches to support medical research

David Jentsch, the founder of Pro-Test for Science wrote:

“The resolve, determination and commitment to scientific research demonstrated by Laurie and the UK Pro-test 10 years ago during their confrontations with animals rights groups brought hope and inspiration to those of us in Southern California who were the targets of extremist activities. Without the example of UK Pro-test and its leaders, it’s hard to imagine how Pro-test for Science, or its in a passionate, informed and successful campaign to advocate for our scientific community, could have come to be.”

Pro-Test helped drive openness in the UK, and a fightback against extremism abroad. Every person who marched on the 25th February 2006 should be proud of the part they played.

And Laurie? He followed his dream. Studies Physiology at the University of Oxford and is now studying for a DPhil in Functional Neurosurgery at the university – even (sometimes) working in the very lab he helped to build!

Tom Holder

Over 200 institutions publish online animal research position statements

It’s a good start but there’s plenty more still to be done, and it is being done. Yesterday the University of Edinburgh launched their excellent new animal research resource  http://www.ed.ac.uk/research/animal-research, too late to be included on our list this time around, but definitely worthy of full marks!

Over 200 research institutions now have clear policy statements or public facing web pages to explain the institution’s position on animal research according to Speaking of Research. In 2015, Speaking of Research began logging the policy statements of research institutions in Europe, North America and Australia.

Edinburgh_AnimalResearch

These web statements have been graded from 0 to 4, based on the level of information an institution provides about its animal studies. This information includes the level of detail of an institution’s research, its welfare procedures and the use of case studies, images and videos. To date, only 10 research institutions have received full marks, two in Germany, and four in each of the UK and US.

The list has been a joint effort by the research community, with scientists and members of the public submitting web statements they find – from their own institution or others – through a form on the Speaking of Research website.

Speaking of Research Director, Tom Holder, said:

There is a strong push worldwide towards openness in animal research. Speaking of Research encourage the scientific community to ensure their own institution has a clear and public statement on the importance of animals in medical and veterinary research, and to submit such statements to our website.”

The US has become increasingly open about its animal use in the past decade. Many more institutions are publicising details of the types of research going on, and the reason why on their website.

Paula Clifford, Executive Director of Americans for Medical Progress, said:

Openness about how medicine is advanced, especially information on the vital role of research animals and the care they receive, gives citizens truthful information and the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision to support of the scientists who work every day to improve the quality of life for both people and animals.”

Prof Dan Uhlrich, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Policy, said:

Our work is important enough to merit public funding, so it’s important we make an effort to show people how and why animal research is conducted at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.  We’re gratified to be acknowledged for that effort and pleased to see partners and colleagues making the same commitment.”

While many institutions have received zero or one tick, they are still doing much better than those institutions which do not discuss their animal research in a statement on their website at all. We congratulate each and every institution that puts up any statement which clearly explains why they conduct animal studies.

Those institutions with full marks are:

 

Open Letter to the Australian Senate regarding a proposed bill to ban the import of primates

The following letter has been sent to the Committee Secretary of the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications regarding the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Prohibition of Live Imports of Primates for Research) Bill 2015. This proposed bill would ban the Australian research community from importing primates for use in biomedical research. The following is a segment of the proposed amendment:

Australian Bill

We encourage the scientific community to leave comments of support for our letter in the comment section below.

Dear Committee Secretary,

Nonhuman primate research has played an important role in many medical breakthroughs, from the polio vaccine to the development of life support systems for premature babies.

Studies with nonhuman primates are a small fraction of basic, behavioural, and biomedical research; however, they are critical to scientific research that seeks to address health issues of grave concern to the public. Nonhuman primate research includes studies relevant to understanding, preventing, and treating a range of diseases including, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, anaemia and a multitude of mental health conditions.

Thanks to research on primates:

  • Polio has been eradicated from Australia, saving tens of thousands of children from crippling disability
  • Thousands of Australians have had Deep Brain Stimulation to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s
  • Over 20,000 HIV positive Australians can live a relatively normal life thanks to the development of antiretrovirals
  • Australian children can be vaccinated against Hepatitis B, diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella

Measures to constrain nonhuman primate research in Australia puts future medical breakthroughs in jeopardy.

Australian law already bans the use of wild caught nonhuman primates for research (as does the EU). Such laws should continue to be actively enforced to uphold animal welfare standards, but importantly, should not be expanded to prevent important nonhuman primate research being conducted.

Preventing researchers from importing nonhuman primates could prevent scientists from responding to public health issues or new areas of biomedical research in Australia and beyond. The domestic supply of nonhuman primates may be able to provide for most of the needs of the scientific community, but also risks constraining it. Any future Australian research would be limited to species of monkeys currently bred in Australia’s three breeding colonies, effectively restricting the animal models available to the biomedical community.

Research conducted with nonhuman primates is strictly regulated. All research must be approved by Animal Ethics Committees, who apply the 3 Rs framework to ensure that animal studies are Replaced wherever there is a non-animal alternative, Refined to ensure animal suffering is minimised, and Reduced to ensure that as few animals are used as is necessary to produce scientifically viable results. Animal welfare remains a high priority for the scientific community – with animal care personnel and veterinary staff providing round-the-clock care for their wards.

Yours faithfully,

Speaking of Research

Inês Albuquerque
Jeremy Bailoo, Ph.D
Prof Mark G Baxter
Prof Allyson Bennett
Paul Browne, Ph.D
James Champion
Paula Clifford
Amanda M. Dettmer, Ph.D
Prof Doris Doudet
Jazzminn Hembree RLATG
Tom Holder
Prof J. David Jentsch
Juan Carlos Marvizon, Ph.D
Kimberley Phillips Ph.D
Prof Dario Ringach
Simon R Schultz, DPhil

Background Briefing on Animal Research in Germany

Speaking of Research have now added a fourth background briefing on animal research to our list. We now have a German background briefing – in both English and German – to add to our briefings on the US, UK and Canada. We hope this briefing will offer journalists, politicians and the public a short, handy overview of the key facts. Our two-page summary provides information including the number of animals used for research purposes, the laws and regulations surrounding animal research, and some key questions people have.

Download our background briefing on animal research in Germany [or in German]

As with our previous briefings, we encourage those working in universities, pharmaceuticals, and other research institutions, to help share this document when contacting or responding to journalists about research stories relating to their institution. By attaching this background briefing to proactive stories, or reactive statements, it can help ensure that your research is understood within the context of the wider research environment.

We would like to thank Pro-Test Deutschland – particularly Renee Hartig, Florian Dehmelt and Jennifer Smuda – for their help in gathering information on the German legislation, and for translating the German-language version of the document.

The latest version of all our briefings can be found on both the Multimedia resources page, and in the menu system under Facts->Animal Research Briefings.

See a sample of the briefing below:

Briefing note on animal research in Germany

We permit anyone to redistribute this briefing providing it remain unchanged, and in whole, with credit to Speaking of Research.

We would also like to thank the Science Media Centre (in the UK), who’s “Briefing Notes on the Use of Animals in Research” provided the inspiration for our own.

Speaking of Research

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5 Minutes with an Animal Care Facility Coordinator

Richard Marble, an Animal Care Facility Coordinator at Ferris State University, is a dedicated and experienced Animal Technologist who takes his responsibility of caring for the animals in his care seriously.  Following a guest post (It’s All About the Animals) in which Richard wrote giving insight into what is it like being an animal facility manager, he agreed to do an interview with Speaking of Research member, Jazzminn Hembree.

Richard opened up about his responsibilities in caring for animal welfare, and how he oversees all activities taking place within the facility as he seeks to improve animal welfare.  Many improvements have occurred during his time in the field, such as changes in housing and environmental enrichment. Richard explains

Research is like an enigma. Even those of us in the field do not like utilizing animals for research, but until such time as they are no longer necessary- the passionate people in this field are going to go out of their way to give them the best life they can.

Watch the video as he discusses:

  • How he is responsible for Animal Welfare?
  • What improvements he has seen in animal welfare over the past 15 years?
  • How he factors the 3R’s (Reduce, Refine, Replace) into his daily activities?
  • How he thinks animal welfare will improve in the future?

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

Pro-Test Deutschland: Standing up for science in Germany!

Today we welcome the launch a brand new science advocacy organization, and a new member of the Speaking of Research Family, Pro-Test Deutschland!

Pro-Test_Deutschland_image

Pro-Test Deutschland is a grassroots science organization founded by 18 young scientists and supporters of medical progress in the German university town of Tübingen.

The need for such a grassroots campaign in Germany has never been greater, as over the past few years the rhetoric of animal rights activists in Germany has been getting steadily more extreme. This culminated last month with the announcement by Professor Nikos Logothetis, a leading neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, that he would be ending his research with non-human primates. His decision followed a series of false allegations by animal rights activists, and a campaign of vilification and intimidation against him, his family and his colleagues.

A lot can change in a month. Within days of Prof. Logothetis announcement over 4,000 scientists in Germany and beyond had signed a motion in solidarity with him and his colleagues, and the Max Planck Society issued a strong statement of support. The events in Tübingen spurred the wider European scientific community to take a strong public stance on the necessity of animal research, and its intervention played an important role in yesterday’s decision by the European Commission to reject the Stop Vivisection Initiative.

The launch of Pro-Test Deutschland comes at a critical time for science in Germany, and indeed in the EU as a whole, and we look forward to working with our new friends to support animal research that is so crucial to advancing science and medicine.

Below is the text of a press release that Pro-Test Deutschland issued yesterday to announce their launch. They have also issued an invitation letter to anyone who would like to get involved with details on how to get in touch.

Press Release June 3rd, 2015

Pro-Test Germany, a supplier of reliable information and advocate for animal testing in research

Tübingen, June 3, 2015

Pro-Test Germany is an initiative intended to lend a voice to science. Its primary goal is to educate the public on scientific, ethical, legal, social and psychological aspects of animal research. In addition, Pro-Test Germany will provide reliable information to help those better understand the role of animals in research and the benefits to society.

Today the European Commission decided that the 2 010/63/EU directive for the protection of research animals will not be affected by zealous antivivisectionists. This is good news for animal welfare. And it is good news for our society as a whole, as this decision issues a clear vote for science and research in the EU.

The often one sided campaign led by animal research opponents has recently left a huge impression on Tübingen, Germany. For one instance, the renowned neuroscientist Nikos Logothetis had decided to withdraw from his primate research to escape ongoing threats and harassment. Until now there has been very little public support for this research, especially from the scientific community, even Logothetis lamented a lack of support in his decision letter.

A powerful voice in the public debate is largely absent. Where have the scientists been during these one sided discussions? Scientists, whom are the most familiar with this research, are largely afraid to speak out because of the potential hostility or because they may not be understood or able to convey a message that the public understands. Not all scientists are adept at speaking out about their research; however, Pro-Test Deutschland aims to educate and provide a secure platform for scientists to speak and the community to get involved.

The view that animal testing in research is not only ethical but also necessary may be widespread, but it is rarely openly professed. For many people outside of science, it is also often difficult to obtain reliable information, such as reports on the outcomes of animal research and their public benefit. This fundamental problem has been acknowledged by young scientists in Tübingen. So by now, it is time to release Pro-Test Germany, an advocacy group for animal research and a voice lent to science. The founders of Pro-Test Germany believe that animal testing in research is ethically and scientifically necessary. All the while supporting a broad societal discussion based on information and literature that ranges through all sides of the story. Thus, to promote an informed and fair debate, Pro-Test Germany will provide a point of contact for all those who want to learn about the role of animals in science.

Pro-Test Germany is initially aimed at building a website that collects data, facts and personal testimonies concerning animal research and its final outcomes. The homepage at http://www.protestgermany.org is going live tonight on June 3, 2015. Additionally, a social media campaign has already begun on Facebook and Twitter. In due course, further activities will also be tackled, such as informational events, lecture series, open letters, rallies etc. The objective is to push Pro-Test Deutschland as far past the Swabian university city limits as possible.

Website: www.pro-test-deutschland.de
FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/protestdeutschland
Twitter: @ProTestDE

Pro-Test Deutschland_logo