MPS URGE INQUIRY INTO HUNTINGDON XENOTRANSPLANTATION
Extract from The
Guardian, 11 November 2003, by Polly Curtis
A COMMITTEE OF MPs is considering an investigation of the Home
Office's animal research watchdog after it defended its decision
to allow experiments involving the transplantation of genetically
modified piglets' hearts into the necks of wild baboons to be classed
The xenotransplantation experiments were carried out before 2000
by private company Imutran at the Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratories
in Cambridge. But details became public only after a legal battle
between the company and animal rights group Uncaged Campaigns, to
whom documents had been leaked. These documents, published in April,
showed a quarter of the baboons died from "technical failures";
others were left with wounds weeping fluid and several died on the
journey to Britain.
The documents said: "The Home Office will attempt to get the
kidney transplants classified as 'moderate', ensuring that it is
easier for Imutran to receive a licence and ignoring the 'severe'
nature of these programmes."
MPs on the home affairs committee wrote to Aspi, the Home Office's
animal (scientific procedures) inspectorate in June, demanding to
know how the experiments were classed as "moderate". The
Home Office has now responded, denying the experiments were wrongly
classified or that animals experienced "severe" suffering.
"It is not disputed that animal suffering occurred. But we
do not believe that any animal experienced severe, unrelieved pain
or distress," it wrote.
Dan Lyons of Uncaged Campaigns says: "They still don't admit
that there was a death under a moderate procedure. This was severe
suffering from major surgery, with a violent rejection to a transplant
under experimental concoctions of drugs. The Home Office wants to
paint these as routine operations. They weren't."
Some 143 MPs have signed an early-day motion in the Commons calling
for a full independent inquiry. Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat spokesman
on animal welfare, who brought the motion, said: "It should
look at categories of experiments, the number of inspectors and
how independent the Home Office is. People who work for the inspectorate
tend to have a background in the industry. They have an inside knowledge,
which is helpful, but [it] also means that they might have personal
contacts or sympathy."
John Denham, chair of the home affairs committee, said it was awaiting
a response from Uncaged Campaigns to the Home Office's submissions
before making a decision to investigate.
A Home Office spokesperson said that "after a thorough investigation"
into the complaints, "we haven't seen any evidence to justify
a further independent judicial inquiry".