Select Committee on Animals In Scientific Procedures Report


3.1  The reason why animals are used in scientific procedures is to collect data deemed to be valuable. The data are intended to benefit human beings, sometimes through the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake, but more often because the knowledge gained will lead to medical or other benefits. In some cases the data are intended to benefit either the individual animals themselves or, more usually, other animals (veterinary research).

3.2  It is true that better quality data on human beings could be obtained were the information gathered by using human subjects. However, animals are used because the majority of people consider that humans are entitled to use animals in ways which would not be acceptable if applied to humans.[42]

3.3  Some people believe, in addition, that animals may be used because they suffer less than humans would, if subject to the same procedures. This belief is partly verifiable. Some animals, certainly mammals and birds, have similar pain receptors and central nervous pathways to humans, and may therefore have much the same capacity to feel physical pain as humans do.[43] But the capacity to feel pain is not the same as the capacity to experience suffering or distress, and this is less easy to measure.[44] It is extremely difficult to conclude with confidence how much suffering or distress is caused by an animal's experience of pain, its memory of or anticipation of pain, or by the fact of its confinement in a laboratory. As Professor Marian Dawkins noted, "recognition of physical health is relatively easy, the recognition of psychological health is more difficult" (Q. 1793). Researchers need to take a balanced view, but ensure that this view is fully informed by ongoing developments in the understanding of animal cognition and suffering.[45]



3.4  The Home Office place animal research into seven different categories in their annual Statistics, according to the primary purpose of the procedure.[46] In discussions between the Committee and witnesses, however, there was a general understanding of three types of research, though these categories do not cover all possible aspects of animal research and are not themselves clear cut.[47]

3.5  One, research carried out for the sake of extending pure knowledge, or fundamental research, can often be justified under section 5(3) of the Act as "advancement of knowledge in biological or behavioural sciences". Objectors to the use of animals in such research sometimes maintain that it has little or no practical purpose. However, although such research might have no immediate application to medicine, it often yields up considerable, if not wholly foreseen, benefits through the conduct of good science in a particular research field. For example, much of the work conducted in the 1940s by Sir Andrew Huxley and Sir Alan Hodgkin on squid axons eventually proved an essential underpinning for advances in the treatment of patients with neurological disorders. Thus the distinction between pure and applied research is not clear cut.[48] The Royal Society argued that "virtually all research that is carried out on animals under the Act is directed towards some form of human welfare" (Q. 1010).

3.6  Two, applied research — research directed towards specific applications (except assessment of toxicity, discussed below). This includes, but is not limited to, research involving "the prevention…or the diagnosis or treatment of disease, ill-health or abnormality, or their effects, in man, animals or plants".[49] Applied research also includes the use of animals in the manufacture and testing of vaccines and the "pharming" of animals — animals which might be used to create pharmaceutical products in their milk.

3.7  Three, toxicological testing — research used to assess the toxicity of compounds for the protection of man, animals or the environment. This is mostly required by law, both in the UK and in other jurisdictions. This research includes the testing of ingredients and product testing on: pharmaceuticals;[50] industrial and agricultural chemicals;[51] and a few household products.[52] The testing of finished-product cosmetics or of ingredients intended primarily for cosmetics is no longer permitted in the UK.[53]

3.8  Other approved uses of animals are for education and training, forensic inquiries, direct diagnosis, and the breeding of animals for experimental or other scientific use.[54]

3.9  Around four fifths of animal procedures in the UK are carried out as part of applied research or research for pure knowledge. This research takes place primarily in universities and pharmaceutical companies.

3.10  Toxicological testing, which comprises less than a fifth of all animal procedures, involves establishing acceptable levels of safety of new compounds. These compounds include medical drugs, industrial chemicals, fertilisers and a few household products. Such research is usually carried out by contract research organisations on behalf of large chemical and pharmaceutical companies. Much of this research, including the safety testing of new industrial chemicals and new drugs, is required by law.[55]



3.11  Most animal procedures take place in laboratories. Some experimental procedures also take place on farm animals — horses, donkeys, pigs, goats, sheep, cattle and deer — which are kept in agricultural housing. Approximately 32,000 farm animals were used in the UK in 2000, comprising 1.2% of the total number of animals used. The majority of these were sheep (16,078 animals), pigs (8,326) and cattle (6,801).

3.12  During the course of our inquiry, we heard from a number of people involved with research on farm animals.[56] We also visited the Scottish Agricultural College, the Moredun and Roslin Institutes near Edinburgh, and the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in the United States.[57]

3.13  Dr Judy MacArthur Clark, the Chairwoman of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, said that the Act worked "reasonably well for farm animals" (Q. 1090) but that problems arose from exactly what the Act did and did not cover. This point was also made during our visit to Scotland, when we were told that a given procedure would not fall under the Act if it were considered a part of normal animal husbandry, but that the same procedure would fall under the Act if it were considered experimental. The resulting paperwork acts as a disincentive for veterinarians to engage in nutritional or behavioural research, even though such research could produce welfare benefits and involves virtually no pain or distress. Dr MacArthur Clark agreed that this was an example of bureaucracy working against animal welfare (Qs 1093-94). Experimental animals are also required by the Act to have larger accommodation than animals used in commercial farming. This causes problems for those who wish to carry out research on animals housed under commercial farming conditions (Q. 1109).

3.14  We received forthright written and oral evidence from Professor W. R. Allen of the Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Equine Fertility Unit. Professor Allen said that the Home Office regulations were drawn up with laboratory animals in mind. Under the Act, for example, an animal may not be given more than one general anaesthetic without special permission from the Secretary of State.[58] Professor Allen said that this provision meant that, without special permission, the least painful method of embryo transfer in horses — via a ventral midline laparotomy incision performed under general anaesthesia — could be performed only once. However, he was permitted to transfer embryos up to four times a year using a far more painful surgical procedure which required only local anaesthetic.[59] This was another example where the Act and its implementation actually worked to the detriment of animal welfare.

3.15  The Royal Veterinary College expressed concern about regulations governing anaesthesia (Q. 1747), and minor anomalies in accommodation sizes (Q. 1759). Other witnesses said in written evidence that the Act was not always appropriate for experimental farm animals: taking a blood sample is a routine part of farm animal husbandry, but is counted as a procedure under the Act if carried out for experimental purposes.[60]

3.16  It is right that the Act should apply to experimental procedures on both farm animals and laboratory animals, but it appears that not enough consideration is given to differences between the two. We are concerned that the Act, which is framed for laboratory animals, may operate to the detriment of animal welfare in experimental farm animals.

3.17  We recommend that the Animal Procedures Committee should invite submissions from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the Farm Animal Welfare Council and others to establish the appropriate application of the 1986 Act or the modification of its regulations for experimental farm animals.



3.18  The MOD has stated that all their animal procedures comply fully with the 1986 Act.[61] They further state that they conduct no research to develop new offensive weapons that involves the use of animals, and that the majority of animals used at Dstl Porton (the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down) are employed in the development of new vaccines, treatments or medical procedures.[62] Much of this work, including the development of surgical techniques and the creation of new vaccines, has potential benefits for civilians (Q. 1584).

3.19  The MOD claim to have made significant progress in the implementation of the Three Rs in defence research. Replacement methods include in vitro testing (tests carried out "in glass" rather than in living animals), and physical and computer modelling. Refinement methods include telemetric techniques, which are less intrusive and reduce animal stress.[63] From what the MOD has said, it might be that other branches of Government could learn from them in the implementation of the Three Rs.

3.20  In addition to full compliance with the Act, there is also an independent committee, the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (AWAC), which oversees defence research. The 6th Annual Report of the AWAC, which covers the period 31st October to 28th February 2002, is now available on the Ministry of Defence website.[64] The AWAC also oversees the very few animal experiments which are still carried out at QinetiQ, the recently privatised part of the old Defence Evaluation and Research Agency.

3.21  With regard to openness, the Minister estimated that about 90% of the animal research carried out by the MOD is eventually published in the public domain (Q. 1603). We note that the MOD does not have an external lay member on its ERP, although members of the AWAC do have a standing invitation to attend meetings.[65]

3.22  It is notable that very few of our witnesses raised defence research as a matter of particular concern, although it has been the subject of a number of Parliamentary Questions in the House of Commons. We did not make a detailed investigation into this subject, but in both written and oral evidence we were told that defence research is subject to the same strict controls as all other animal research. Indeed, the MOD should be commended for being rather more proactive than many research establishments in their search for reductions, refinements and replacements to animal procedures.

3.23  We do, however, have concerns with the training of military surgeons. Currently, UK military surgeons participate in exercises in Denmark to practise battlefield surgical techniques on terminally anaesthetised pigs. The Minister said:

"I think this is of such importance…there is absolutely no doubt that [this training] would save soldiers' lives." (Q. 1596)

The Minister said that a formal application for this training to be carried out in the UK was never made (Q. 1596), but gave the impression that it was easier for the MOD to contract out this training to another country, rather than pursue permission in the UK.

3.24  Given the importance of this research to the armed forces, we would hope that were such an application ever made to the Home Office, it would be approved. We are encouraged by the recent memorandum by Lord Sainsbury (June 2002) which indicated that an application might be considered, and policy reviewed, if it had support from the MOD and the Royal Colleges.[66]



3.25  The example of the MOD sending surgeons to train in Denmark raises a point of principle. We have no objection per se to procedures involving animals being carried out abroad under well-regulated jurisdictions such as Denmark, especially as any collaboration is likely to reduce the overall number of animals used. But we would question why the MOD, or any Government body, would wish to carry out animal procedures abroad if such procedures would not be permitted in the UK.

3.26  We recommend that Government funded research or training using animals abroad should be consistent with the requirements of the 1986 Act.

42   See Chapter 2: Ethics. Back

43   For example, the BUAV (Qs 413 and 416). Back

44   Q. 1830. See also Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior and David Morton, eds, Pain, its nature and management in man and animals, Royal Society of Medicine, London, 2000. Back

45   See also editorial in Nature, 416, 28 March 2002, p. 351. Back

46   Further details on the definition of these categories can be found in the Statistics, pp. 5-6. Back

47   For example, the distinction between "fundamental" research and "toxicology" made by Dr Langley (Q. 459), and the difference between "fundamental" research and "applied" research disputed by the Research Defence Society and the Association of Medical Research Charities (Q. 871). Back

48   Systematic surveys conclude that fundamental research does sometimes lead to technological advances, including advances in medicine, but that the extent of this is hard to quantify with any validity (Faulkner, W, 'Conceptualizing Knowledge used in Innovation: a second look at the science-technology distinction and industrial innovation', Science, Technology and Human Values 19 (1994), 425-58). Back

49   The 1986 Act, Section 5(3)(a). Back

50   See Toxicological research in Chapter 4. Back

51   See in particular our comments on the EU Chemicals White Paper in paras 4.41-4.45. Back

52   Lord Sainsbury (Q. 1687). The Boyd Group is working on a paper on this topic. Back

53   Statistics, p. 19. The European Parliament has recently approved an amendment to the Cosmetics Directive (76/768/EEC), the effect of which will be to ban the testing of cosmetics on animals in Europe by 2004. Back

54   We consider issues raised by the breeding of genetically modified animals in Chapter 8. Back

55   In 2000, there were 455,000 toxicology or safety procedures, 84% of which were required by legislation or other regulations (Statistics, p. 19). Back

56   See oral evidence from: Farm Animal Welfare Council and Professor W. Allen, 5th February 2002; Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, 8th May 2002. Back

57   See Annex 3. Back

58   Section 14(2). Back

59   University of Cambridge, Professor Allen (pp. 345-46). Back

60   Horserace Betting Levy Board (Veterinary Advisory Committee) (p. 185); we were also told this during our visit to Scotland (Annex 3). Back

61   MOD (p. 124). Back

62   MOD (p. 125). Back

63   The MOD list 'alternative' methodologies in use at Dstl Porton Down (p. 126). Back

64 Back

65   MOD supplementary memorandum to their oral evidence. Back

66   DTI supplementary memorandum to their oral evidence. Back

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