Leading science journal highlights 'sham' of UK animal testing
Letter in 'Nature' bolsters campaign for public inquiry
The campaign for a public inquiry into controversial pig-to-primate
transplant experiments is gathering further momentum this week.
Following lengthy discussions and document inspections between 'Nature'
and anti-vivisection group 'Uncaged', the prestigious science journal
has decided to publish a letter from the group complaining of serious
malpractice on the part of Government animal research Inspectors.
Last year, Uncaged and their Campaigns Director Dan Lyons won a
historic legal victory over drug firm Novartis to overturn a gagging
injunction that had banned the publication of leaked confidential
documents. (2) The campaigners'
success followed an arduous two-and-a-half year struggle and was
based on the public interest in revealing evidence of Government
bias and systematic failure to enforce animal research laws.
The unique papers, contained in leaks from Novartis subsidiary
Imutran and the Home Office, contained details of experiments involving
the transplantation of genetically-engineered piglet organs into
the necks, abdomens and chests of monkeys and baboons. The transplant
procedures were followed up with massive doses of immunosuppressant
drug cocktails. Every single animal died either from surgical complications,
drug toxicity, infection or organ rejection. The documents reveal
how primates were allowed to become severely ill and die in direct
breach of legal limits on animal suffering. Additionally, researchers
made the following observations of primates in experiments assessed
as merely of 'moderate' severity:
- "very distressed and having difficulty breathing... animal
- "uncoordinated limb spasms",
- "suffered a stroke",
- "retching and salivating",
- "abdomen swollen and appears fluid filled. Salivating.
Very laboured breathing. Extreme difficulty trying to walk",
- "large volume of bloody mucoid faeces",
- "Collapsed on cage floor, appears weak and unable to get
up, breathing shallow and rapid, salivating, heavy lidded eyes,
body and limb tremors."
The issue is particularly sensitive because the research took place
at the controversial Huntingdon Life Sciences testing centre, whose
staff were partially responsible for infringements. Monkeys were
illegally re-used at the establishment, and another primate was
given a quadruple overdose. The incidents represent breaches of
Huntingdon's licence to perform animal experiments, yet the Home
Office has ignored pleas for an inquiry.
Confidential meeting minutes expose evidence of collusion between
Home Office Inspectors and Imutran executives to underestimate the
severity of experiments, making them easier to licence and avoiding
scrutiny from the Government's advisory committee on animal experiments.
Another internal report refers to an Inspector's comments about
"rubber-stamping" applications for experiments.
At the heart of the animal testing regulatory system is a cost/benefit
assessment of research proposals. Yet, Imutran were allowed to continue
sacrificing some five hundred higher primates over a period of six
years, despite the fact that they failed to achieve even their first
objective in their licence applications. Scientific advisors to
the government later branded the research as leading up a "blind
alley". Imutran were finally closed down by Novartis in 2000,
a week after Uncaged first exposed their organ swap experiments.
Lyons' letter in Nature points out that despite the overwhelmimg
evidence of wrongdoing, and the support from over 150 MPs for a
motion calling for an independent inquiry (3),
the Home Office has blocked all attempts at independent scrutiny.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman is currently considering two investigations
following complaints from Uncaged over how the Home Office assessed
and reviewed the Imutran research.
Dan Lyons accuses the Home Office of "blatant
hypocrisy" for supporting and defending illegal cruelty while
attacking a small number of illegal protests from animal rights
"In our opinion, in a democratic society the
rule of law must apply to everyone. Uncaged campaigns in a totally
peaceful manner, but the Government provokes illegal protest with
its callous and cavalier attitude to animal research regulations
by undermining people's faith in due process. The publication of
this letter in a respected journal such as Nature shows that our
case is credible, to say the least. We urge the Government to stop
spinning and stonewalling and instead set up an independent judicial
inquiry into this obvious misconduct which has led to such horrific
here to read the letter.
- D. Lyons, 'The animal-care regulatory system is
a sham', Nature, Vol 430 No 6998: 399.
- Published at www.xenodiaries.org.
- 153 MPs signed EDM 1340 in session 02/03. So far in session
03/04, 131 MPs have signed identical EDM 685.
Uncaged Campaigns, 26 July 2004