Animal research: will secrecy end?

May 8, 2014

What an extraordinarily one-sided piece (“Nothing to be ashamed of”, Features, 1 May).

In a lengthy article, there is not a single quote from an animal welfare organisation. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection’s exposé of Imperial College London is disparagingly dismissed as a “sting” (in fact, it was a nine-month undercover investigation, with hundreds of hours of footage: no one has disputed the damning findings).

The culture of animal research has indeed been one of secrecy. Newcastle University recently spent an astonishing £250,000 resisting a Freedom of Information request by the BUAV about neuroscience research on macaques (the university lost). Understanding Animal Research, supported by other universities and the big research funders, subsequently sought to persuade the Justice Select Committee that universities should have a veto over disclosure of the information they hold.

If animal researchers have belatedly come to the transparency table, we welcome them. But what do they mean by transparency? Reassuring statements on websites, PR visits by selected journalists shown selected animals, articles and abstracts stripped of information about what the animals actually experience have historically been the staple (at best).

The writer of the piece says that the BBC, extraordinarily, offered a laboratory full editorial control of footage; and that researchers are willing to discuss animal research in the abstract, but not, it seems, particular experiments. Note that Dominic Wells of the Royal Veterinary College says, chillingly, that the amount of transparency will require monitoring. All this is not true openness, but propaganda.

Successive surveys show what the public wants: full information about what is done to animals and why, and with what results, with names and genuinely confidential information excised. Participants in the recent Ipsos Mori in-depth study – shown footage of several BUAV undercover investigations – supported CCTV and a right to challenge experiments before they go ahead. There is widespread concern not only about wrongdoing but about the terrible toll of suffering to which animals are legally subjected, the often unreliable nature of the science and the fact that available alternatives are often not used (the BUAV has countless examples).

As the government consults on sweeping away the pernicious secrecy law governing animal experiments, we will see whether animal researchers really are on board. Universities should be places of open, healthy debate, not self-perpetuating cabals of elitism and furtiveness.

Michelle Thew
Chief executive
British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV)

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