British researchers are going to the United States to carry out animal experiments to avoid delays caused by public sensitivity and official bureaucracy.
Clive Page, of King's College London's Sackler Institute of Pulmonary Pharmacology, said he had sent researchers to America four times in the past three years because it was quicker and cheaper than applying for a licence to do the work in Britain.
Giving evidence to the House of Lords select committee session on animals in scientific procedures, he said his research into the causes of the lung disease emphysema was being hindered by disapproval of exposing animals to tobacco smoke. Applications to the Home Office for a licence to carry out such work would be returned unapproved.
He said that centralised bureaucracy in licensing procedures made international collaboration difficult. If his group wanted to bring over senior scientists from abroad, they had to wait for a licence and find a training programme, which may not be offered in all universities. "It's embarrassing," Professor Page said. "The spontaneity of research disappears."
Mark Matfield, director of the Research Defence Society, called for the Home Office to accept more flexible research plans. "The licence requires a high level of detail which sets the research in stone," he said. "But it's hard to know how the project will develop."
Dr Matfield added that delays in granting licences often led to experiments being carried out elsewhere and to the animals being killed in vain.
* The RDS launched a pamphlet this week explaining why animals need to be used for research. It featured testimonies ranging from a woman who had received treatments tested on animals to those from researchers.
Dr Matfield said: "No one wants to experiment on animals. What we want to do is medical research. The simple fact is that the only way to do some of that research is to study animals."