Long and tortuous goodbye to Stud Muffin No 1

September 22, 2006

Cats and Rentokil have it easy. Biomedical researchers, however, suffer greatly when they have to kill mice in the lab

As a biomedical researcher I am afflicted with a serious problem. It's a transgenic mouse that has been engineered with the ability to wreck my career. I would like to kill it, but the multiple sheets of paper I would have to fill in, the computer records I would need to input and the bizarre procedures I would be required to follow might take me several hours. I just don't have the time. This devious creature has entered into a conspiracy with the British state, and it has nearly as many rights as me.

In the past five years there has been an explosion of nit-picking legislation intended to provide a paper trail so that some faceless bureaucrat can microscopically follow every stage of every transgenic mouse's life. This bureaucracy wastes time and taxpayers' money, creates paranoia and can result in a sinister kind of predatory wildlife called a Home Office inspector hanging around your workplace. Nobody appears to be able to stand up to this regulatory excess. I suspect that by making animal experimentation as long-winded and tortuous as possible, the hope is to make it difficult to do any real work.

The day I see a mouse pay National Insurance Contributions I might delude myself that it is a sentient creature. But it is not. No research has ever demonstrated that rodents think and experience suffering in a manner that even closely resembles the human condition. People who convince themselves otherwise generally have something missing from their lives - worrying about the non-existent consciousness of mice is probably the nearest thing to a meaningful relationship that they have.

The bottom line is that mice are vermin. Nobody really cares what happens to them - even the "vegan" cat living with the animal-rights nutcase down the road eats 200 a year. They make small, furry and delicious entrees for every predator on the planet. In one study, Britain's domestic cats were thought to account for more than 300 million a year. I am surprised the Home Office hasn't tried to regulate that - it's an opportunity to collect an extra 900 million sheets of paper and they could prosecute the odd moggy for filling out the forms wrong.

If you switched on the kitchen light at 2am and found one scurrying across the floor, you would simply call Rentokil to administer an exotic-flavoured warfarin overdose. But if the mouse is a cute white colour, doesn't steal your cornflakes, is used to find cures for human diseases and lives in a university, then any attempt to kill it involves so much time-wasting drivel.

Mice attract two types of unsavoury creatures to your laboratory - animal-rights lunatics and the far more fanatically unbalanced Home Office inspector. The former simply has a balanced aura and an infantile ideology to maintain. The latter is a humourless bureaucratic equivalent of Hezbollah with a £60,000 salary and a mortgage to defend. Whenever a Home Office inspector turns up, everything in the workplace grinds to a halt. Experiments get cancelled and all sorts of lunacy occurs. In the last place I worked, a researcher was reprimanded for using secret codes on a cage label. Her crime was to write the symbol (. This Masonic symbol stood for Rachel. Another was admonished for calling a mouse "Stud Muffin No 1" (he produced lots of kids). The Home Office inspector was appalled, though it may have done wonders for the mouse's ego.

Still, there is hope. Someone has devised a way of inserting a luminescent gene into mice. They are genius. If I had my way, the gene would be inserted into every mouse on the planet so that the next time you walked into the kitchen at 2am, you wouldn't need to switch on the light. The mice could just be sitting there in the moonlight innocently fluorescing at each other. And that would make them far easier to kill.

The author would like to remain anonymous. The last time he killed a mouse in his kitchen he used a £2 trap from B&Q. When he killed a mouse at university he filled in three sheets of paper and one Excel file, and needed a training certificate, a named day-to-day care officer and a special white suit.

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