Updated: May 12, 2014.
Animal advocates have long criticized the secrecy that surrounds animal experimentation in the UK, but things could change if the government acts to lift a confidentiality rule that keeps the public from learning about what happens to lab animals behind closed doors.
As it stands now, the Home Office cannot release information about animal research because of Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which is otherwise known as the secrecy clause. Even though some information is released, such as the total number of experiments conducted and non-technical summaries of experiments, it comes out after the fact and most information about animal research is exempt from freedom of information legislation.
Following years of lobbying to scrap Section 24, the government has launched a review and public consultation on repealing it that could open animal experiments to both public and scientific scrutiny. The move was prompted by the passage of Directive 2010/63/EU, which calls for promoting openness and transparency in animal research.
Those who support repealing Section 24 believe the secrecy surrounding vivisection is stifling public debate about animal testing, that it goes against the spirit of freedom of information laws and that far more transparency is needed.
The effort to repeal Section 24 has received widespread support from the scientific community, animal advocacy organizations, including the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), the public and has also gotten some celebrity endorsements along the way. According to NAVS, it’s also being supported by the House of Lords Select Committee, the Animal Procedures Committee and 43 MPs who have signed an Early Day Motion calling for Section 24 to be repealed.
“We welcome news that the Government is reviewing Section 24, the ‘secrecy clause’ that shrouds animal experiments from public and scientific scrutiny. The NAVS is calling for the repeal of this clause and for the Freedom of Information Act to be used to protect sensitive information as it was intended to do. We urge people to help bring an end to the secret suffering of animals in laboratories and respond to the public consultation,” said NAVS Chief Executive Jan Creamer.
Granting access to information and project license applications could help prevent duplicate tests and help with the identification of available alternatives, which would ensure the government is sticking to its three Rs policy of replacement, reduction and refinement in animal experiments. It would also give people the opportunity to question the necessity and justification of tests before project licenses are approved.
Despite repeated promises from the government that it will reduce the number of animals used in research, millions continue to be used in experiments. In 2012, the number of procedures carried out reached a 25 year high.
Undercover investigations, including the ones conducted at Imperial College London and MSD Animal Health that exposed the horrors these animals are left to face highlight the urgent need for more openness. When the BUAV exposed cruelty to puppies, their mothers and other animals at MSD Animal Health, the Sunday Express reported that not a single project license for experiments on cats and dogs had been refused by the Home Office in 2012.
It’s clearly time for the government to stop shielding the industry from accountability and instead support the public’s right to know about what’s happening to the millions of animals who are used in experiments every year in the name of science.
As NAVS notes, this could be the only opportunity for years to lift the veil of secrecy that surrounds animal experimentation in the UK, making public input critical.
You can speak up for animals by adding your voice to those calling for more transparency by responding to the Home Office’s request for comments in support of repealing Section 24 here.
Please also sign and share the petition asking the Home Office to immediately repeal Section 24.
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