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Animal experimentation: Crueler than we thought

Victoria Martindale
animal testing 300x223 Animal experimentation: Crueler than we thought

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The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has exposed the appalling plight of animals in medical research through an undercover investigation at Imperial College London.

The BUAV must have known the incensed backlash this would whip up. Whenever the animal cruelty involved in medical research is exposed the debate is all about delivering health advancement. Researchers come over all indignant and highly defensive, adamant that this cruelty is saving lives, preventing fatal diseases and pushing the frontiers of medicine beyond the imaginable.

Yes, animal research is evil, but it’s a necessary evil they insist. The video released by BUAV comes with a warning of graphic imagery. For even the very least faint-hearted, it is almost impossible to watch without wincing.

But animal experimentation is inherently cruel, inflicting immense suffering, pain and distress upon millions of young, healthy and even pregnant and lactating animals. “But it’s given us the polio vaccine, hasn’t it?” we plead with ourselves earnestly. And we all know a diabetic and asthmatic sufferer, don’t we, whose lives have been transformed thanks to the treatments developed on animals which purportedly we wouldn’t otherwise have. Understandably, we do the utmost to convince ourselves that the doctrines meted out by the researchers are thoroughly justified; at least it makes watching videos like these a little easier.

If the cruel reality of animal research is not spine chilling enough, this evidence shows that animal research is even crueler than we had imagined. Incompetence, bad practice, neglect and inadequacies run amok in this piece of footage. Live animals writhe in agony without pain relief; researchers lack understanding of their responsibilities while cavalierly dissecting away as limbs twitch and creatures frantically struggle in futile attempts to dodge death by guillotine. And a blaring radio drowns out their screams.

Imperial College have announced an independent investigation into these poor practices to be led by Professor Steve Brown, director of the Medical Research Council’s mammalian genetics unit. However, the BUAV have claimed such an inquiry to be a “whitewash”: “Not only is Professor Brown a well-known and strong supporter of animal research, heading the Medical Research Council unit which manipulates mice to predispose them to develop all manner of diseases, but the MRC actually funds animal research at the Imperial College.

A few months ago, as she habitually does every now and then as suits, Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone trotted out the official venerable mantra: “This government expects and requires the highest standards in animal research in the UK.”. And as for Imperial College London, ranked the eighth leading university in the world, its website boasts it provides “world class research… in science and medicine”. Professor Margaret Dallman, Principal of the Faculty of Natural Sciences contends, “Thanks to public scrutiny, the UK has some of the highest welfare standards in animal research in the world.”

And yet, this institution operates within a sector that oversees some of the tightest secrecy levels and imposes a blanket ban on the disclosure of any information. Imperial is just the same as all other public research institutions that deny exactly that: public scrutiny and open scientific debate.

On this occasion when public access was achieved, albeit without their blessing, maintaining those highest standards has failed spectacularly. It seems that every time there is an inkling of openness into what goes on behind the closed doors of research institutions, the cruel truth and alleged unscientific nature of what is practiced emerges.

What has been indisputably revealed here is animal cruelty of the most unimaginably horrific kind. All the while medical research continues to be conducted under the ersatz auspices of the UK’s acclaimed highest standards of animal welfare the public is being duped.

But animal cruelty is not necessarily good science. Whether there is a relationship between world class research and the gruesome methods employed depends entirely on the regulatory framework in which it operates. It makes you wonder when experiments are flatly refused on ethical grounds in other EU states but are welcomed with open arms here by our research institutions..

However, if, as we are led to believe, the UK upholds the highest welfare standards in animal research, then we would at least expect science to deliver in conformity with statutory regulations and any degree of public transparency should allow us to see this for ourselves. Yet researchers at public institutions like the Imperial continue to fight so fervently to conceal what goes on inside.

The public has been kept in the dark for far too long and pledges of openness and scrutiny amount to nothing less than a sham. You would think the simplest way to remedy this outrageous scandal and regain public trust would be to remove the secrecy clause on animal research and ensure true transparency and accountability here after. This is what the public deserves and this is what our Government keeps promising.

Science demands a level of openness. Animal cruelty requires accountability too.  As you next reach for the tablets or inhale the puffer ask yourself why an industry that claims it wants to save our lives and has nothing to hide demands a level of secrecy greater than any other.

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  • Cardinal Fang

    If animal testing can never produce result applicable to humans, because they are so different, why then are many of the medicines used to treat animals also used to treat identical conditions in humans?

    To take a close to home example – one of my much loved moggies is on phenobarbital for epilepsy. It’s also the most widely used anticonvulsant in the world for people. You also have similar joint usage for many painkillers, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics – the list goes on and on. If animals were that different to humans, why all this commonality?

    Yes there will always be some differences. Not all drugs have the same effect on all animals (aspirin for example is toxic in cats). This doesn’t mean that all animal tests are useless, just that extreme care and thought must be taken before any tests occur – and why multiple species of animals are used.

    And as for that old canard of “better alternatives”. There are some techniques that can be used instead of SOME animal tests (e.g. cell cultures, computer modelling etc) and by law they have to be used, even if they’re more expensive. But at present there is simply no technology available that can mimic multicellular systems artificially. Do we stop all medical research until that happens (in perhaps 20 years time), and halt all research in to therapies and cures for cancer, HIV, malaria etc in the mean time? Or do we accept that the use of animals in medical research has limitations, but that until we have a genuine alternative, it is sadly the best we have, and both human and animal welfare has benefited immeasurably because of it?

  • Cardinal Fang

    @Truly V Scrumptious said “Humans are their own worst enemy and most bring on their own symptoms through bad lifestyle choices, why the hell should animals pay the price for humans inability to look after their own bodies?”

    And what about those whose conditions aren’t? There are many cancers for example that don’t have any known environmental causes – and some of those affect children (e.g. leukaemia, neuroblastoma). Should they suffer to save the life of a few mice?

  • http://twitter.com/tomholder Tom Holder

    It’s a known fact?! And every researcher and professor (with decades of university experience) involved in biomedical research just seems to have missed this fact?!! I somewhat think it is you who has been misled.

    Why is buying new animals in a university’s, with limited funding, best interest? Given that most animals are studied after being euthanised (samples taken and analysed) it is not something that is done for funding.

    And the UK doesn’t use chimps in research and hasn’t since the 1980s

  • dave cheale

    no Tom, funding is obtained under a promise to benefit humans, which never gets proved? then animals are used , which ends up understanding how mice work with with in an experiment, that is nothing to do with humans, animal breeders want to keep their business going, and every researcher and professor are for career building, like yourself, If you are the type of person to care about a human then you will also care about a animals, If you care about health when you would care about ending using a different species to benefit humans, PS dont reply with information dating back years, give me now,

  • Chris Magee

    In your world, research funders like charities fund scientists to run a more expensive, less effective model because what? They want support breeders? It is illegal to use an animal if there is an alternative. Illegal. And has been since 1986. If your position was correct, which it isn’t, you’d be able to prove it and end experimentation tomorrow. As it is, around half of “experiments” are the birth of a genetically modified mouse. Low sentience, naturally short lifespans to observe intergenerational effects. I’d love to see you pop down to Great Ormond st Hospital and announce to the kids it wasn’t worth breeding a mouse to research their condition.

    You also gravely misunderstand science talking about “recent examples”. The work of Yamanaka reversing stem cells was based on the work of John Gurdon, cloning frogs 40 years ago. The won a joint Nobel Prize last year. Science takes time.

  • Chris Magee

    As a type 1 diabetic, I have to say this is the most offensive and ignorant comment I’ve read in a while. If you believe that there is no genetic basis to disease, you are deluded and seriously under-educated. “Side-effects” are well known to the doctor when they prescribe medicines and, since you clearly haven’t the faintest what you’re talking about, explained to the patient. Piriton will make you drowsy, but will stop your hayfever for a bit. Your choice. In the event, most serious “side-effects” are actually overdoses as the patient doesn’t follow instructions.

  • Chris Magee

    So I can’t take my cat to the vet. Great.

  • Chris Magee

    So what about the Home Office investigation? The internal one at Imperial doesn’t seem to be the most important, and will have a slightly different focus – how to improve systems rather than how to punish crimes. I would say every undercover investigation publicised by the animal protest industry has shown horrible abuses – nice clean labs and competent staff don’t generate millions in revenue. Is that why 7 months undercover produced only 4 minutes of footage? Nevertheless, the tape does appear to show a crime, and if a crime has been committed, the researchers should be prosecuted, simple as. The crimes do appear however in amongst some standard veterinary practice that looks grim as surgery tends to. I find it hard to watch open heart surgery as well as rats being decapitated, but I understand that both are necessary, unlike eating meat for instance. If there was an alternative, the experiment would be illegal.

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