Ministers split over animal cruelty scandal
Health Ministers call for prosecutions embarrasses Home Office
Newly-appointed Junior Health Minister Dr Steven Ladyman MP has
broken ranks with the Home Office over the handling of controversial
experiments involving the transplantation of genetically-modified
piglet hearts into the necks of wild-caught baboons. In correspondence
with a constituent, the Thanet South MP called the Home Office's
'average' severity categorisation of the experiments "ridiculous"
and expressed disbelief that such experiments could be allowed in
The experiments came to light following a huge leak of confidential
documents from biotech company Imutran (a Novartis subsidiary) in
2000. The animal protection group that received the documents, Uncaged
Campaigns, recently achieved a ground-breaking legal victory, on
public interest grounds, after a two-and-a-half year legal battle
with the drug corporation to publish the leaked documents. Uncaged
Campaigns and co-Defendant Dan Lyons argued that the experiments,
which took place at Huntingdon Life Sciences, broke laws against
extreme suffering and showed that the Home Office had actively helped
the company avoid regulations against cruelty.
The neck-heart transplant procedures caused tremendous suffering
with one animal, for example, being observed holding the transplant,
which was swollen, red and seeping yellow fluid for several days
before the primate was sacrificed. In a second experiment, all three
of the primates, who had been specially captured from the wild in
Africa for the research, were killed on the vivisection table because
the scientists had misjudged the feasibility of the procedure -
the piglet hearts turned out to be too large to fit into the baboons'
Uncaged first submitted the report and documents to the Home Office
in September 2000, calling for an independent inquiry into the Home
Office's conduct. Jack Straw, Home Secretary at the time, sidestepped
evidence of the department's failure and set up an internal inquiry
instead. The resulting Home Office report, published during the
legal battle, did not even mention the neck transplant experiments.
Dr Ladyman's comments will intensify the pressure on the Government
to establish an independent probe into the experiments which have
been branded a 'blind alley' by scientific advisors to the Government.
76 MPs from all parties have signed a recent Commons Motion (EDM
1340) calling for an inquiry.
Dan Lyons, director of the campaign group, comments:
"Dr Ladyman is an ex-drug industry worker and
normally a staunch defender of animal research, so his criticism
is especially telling. The unique documentation that we have won
the right to publish shows clearly that the Home Office is deeply
biased and dishonest in its enforcement of animal welfare laws,
with horrific consequences. The public expects strict regulation,
but the reality is a 'rubber stamping' system designed to help companies
get round the law and avoid prosecution for the most outrageous
acts of cruelty."
Notes for editors
Uncaged's victory was reported on in The
Observer, 20 April 2003.
Copies of Dr Ladyman's correspondence are available on request.
To access documents relating to the suffering caused by neck
heart transplant procedures, which took place at Huntingdon
Life Sciences of Imutran, see the clinical signs for experiment
For evidence of the failures in the vivisection procedures
due to size mismatch see document ND10.2,
despite assurances to the contrary (see documents ND6.8
Uncaged Campaigns, 10 July 2003