This spring, an undercover investigation at Imperial College London exposed horrific cruelty to lab animals and has led to harsh criticism and proposed changes for the school following an independent inquiry.
The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) released graphic footage taken at Imperial documenting a myriad of problems ranging from the cruelty of the experiments themselves to the complete and utter disregard for animal suffering by researchers and a lack of knowledge on their part regarding project licenses and regulations governing animal use and care.
Animals were shown moving during surgery after being improperly anesthetized (intentionally and unintentionally), left to suffer in obvious pain for days and killed by disturbing methods that ranged from gassing and breaking their necks to beheading them.
The college defended its researchers at the time and announced that it would be commissioning an independent investigation. Although Professor Steve Brown, the head of the committee that was put together to dig into the issues, was questioned by animal advocates over a conflict of interest for supporting animal research, the BUAV called the final report a “devastating indictment” against the school.
The committee stressed that it wasn’t investigating allegations of cruelty made by the BUAV and was instead focusing on general issues at Imperial. Still, it found a host of problems that point to the need for sweeping change, not just at Imperial, but in animal research in general.
Michelle Thew, BUAV Chief Executive, stated:
‘The BUAV investigation has raised significant and far reaching questions about animal research in the UK. The system overseeing animal experiments in the UK is broken and needs a drastic review, both to end abuse of the permitted licences and to implement the promised reduction in the number of experiments carried out. There are a number of questions that remain unanswered. Who, for example, is to be held accountable for the suffering and distress that has been caused to the thousands of animals in the care of Imperial College? We await the outcome of the separate Home Office inquiry but expect strong action to now be taken against Imperial College for its failings. The public demands no less.”
The BUAV also noted that if problems of this proportion can be found at one of the world’s top universities, then it is inevitable that similar issues are ongoing at facilities around the country.
“A lot of recommendations will have resonance across the country – though whether they should be enshrined under the Animals Act is [something] for a further discussion – [which] should happen,” Brown told Times Higher Education.
The committee found a lack of “adequate operational, leadership, management, training, supervisory and ethical review systems,” and called the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body, which is responsible for ensuring the welfare of animals used in experiments, “not fit for purpose” and in need of “wholesale reform.”
The committee also made 33 recommendations for improvements, including increasing staffing and greater independent overview of animal welfare after hours and on weekends. Imperial announced it will “quickly move to implement” the recommendations and that it plans on having a comprehensive plan in response to the report in place by the end of January 2014.
Now organizations including the BUAV and the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) are calling for more rigorous monitoring of labs and a reduction of animal testing, in addition to calling on the government to repeal Section 24 of the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act which prevents regulators from releasing details of what happens to animals during experiments and allows the current system to operate under a ‘blanket of secrecy.’
According to NAVS, despite a directive promoting openness and transparency in animal research, the public has been denied access to information on animal experiments for nearly 140 years.
“Due to blanket secrecy laws, it is only possible for the public to see the shocking reality of life for animals inside laboratories through undercover investigations. At a time when animal experiments have reached the highest number in decades, we cannot continue the current regime of secrecy which keeps animals suffering behind closed doors,” said NAVS Chief Executive, Jan Creamer.
The Home Office is also carrying out a separate investigation into the BUAV’s allegations and reportedly intends to prosecute anyone found to have violated regulations, but the results aren’t due out until later this year.
Please sign and share the petition asking the UK government to stop hiding cruelty to animals in labs behind closed doors by repealing Section 24.
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