Select Committee on Animals In Scientific Procedures Report


CHAPTER 9: PUBLIC INFORMATION

9.1  We consider that the availability to the public of regularly updated, good quality information on what animal experiments are done and why, is vital to create an atmosphere in which the issue of animal experimentation can be discussed productively.

9.2  In 2000, the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Lords published Science and Society, a report on the relationship between scientists and the public.[200] This report concluded that there was a "crisis of trust" between scientists and the public. It also noted that there had been "a cultural change in the attitude of most British scientists, in favour of public outreach activities".[201]

9.3  This "crisis of trust" is particularly apparent in the debate surrounding the use of animals in scientific procedures. Some of the reasons for this are applicable over a variety of scientific fields: people are more questioning of authority; some Government departments and institutions still operate under a culture of secrecy, although others are now becoming much more open; some scientific issues have in the past been framed so as to exclude consideration of moral, social and ethical issues.[202]

9.4  Other reasons are particular to the debate concerning animal experiments. It has long been a cliché that the English care more for their pets than they do for their children — England has a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but only a National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The UK, and particularly England, is an increasingly urban society where animals are encountered only as pets. Most people are divorced from the process of food production, and have virtually no contact with farm animals. This is particularly true of children, some of whom have little idea of the origins of their food.[203]

9.5  By contrast, in France we were told that the public is much less concerned with animal experiments. This enables scientists and regulators to engage better with activists. The Veterinary Inspectors not only had an open and constructive dialogue with animal welfare groups, but welcomed contributions from such organisations.[204] We encourage the Home Office and Inspectorate to involve responsible animal welfare groups in their work in a similar way.

9.6  In the UK the public has too little good quality information on all aspects of animal experimentation. Sentimental and sometimes misleading information is disseminated by some anti-vivisection groups. Too little information is given to the public from other sources. Many of those who use animals are reluctant to admit to doing so, and over the past year we have noted that reports in the press of new drugs rarely mention that animals have been used in their development. The long-term answer to this problem of lack of information is better education. This is more difficult as there has also been a decline in the use of living organisms, including animals, in schools in England over the last 20 years.[205]

9.7  Better education in this area requires more than the provision of information and appropriate practical work. Students, especially those in higher education, should be encouraged to think about ethical issues, including the use of animals in science. Such teaching might parallel the way in which medical students now undertake courses on medical ethics. Some courses already consider ethical questions, and we consider that examples of good practice in this area should be encouraged.[206]

9.8  One reason for the lack of good quality information from different sources is that those who use animals are reluctant to speak up and explain what they do and why they do it. As Professor Blakemore said:

    "The problem is fear, and with very good reason. People are very scared to put their heads above the parapet because of the threats of intimidation and violence." (Q. 966) [207]

    The activity of violent animal rights campaigners is detrimental to animal welfare. It stifles debate and prevents constructive communication between scientists and moderate animal welfare groups. We consider that progress on the Three Rs can be made more effectively if there is good communication between all those involved in the debate on animal experiments.

9.9  To overcome this problem, it is important for animal welfare groups to disassociate themselves from the intimidatory activities of the minority. It is also important for research scientists to make efforts to reach out to the wider public. The Government have already taken a lead on this. They have spoken publicly in support of animal experimentation in academia and industry, and have taken steps to counteract threats by animal extremists. We note that the ABPI, for example, are now satisfied that the issue is being addressed by Government.[208]

9.10  The threat of intimidation is not, however, the only obstacle to providing better information to the public. The benefits of animal procedures are not always immediately apparent, and many scientists are poor communicators. The Inspectorate have noted that some scientists "seemed reluctant to accept that the ERP would require a scientifically sound, clear and sustainable justification for the work they wished to undertake".[209] This attitude is not productive. We consider that scientists should take a more active role in explaining their work to the public, and should be encouraged to think about their work in a wider context. We endorse, with particular reference to animal experiments, the conclusion on page 6 of Science and Society, that

    "communication training offered to research students should be broadened to include an awareness of the social context of their research and its applications".

    Professor Rothwell told us that there was already a module for science graduates in public communication at the University of Manchester (Q. 706). We consider that this is an excellent initiative which should be adopted by other universities.

  

SECTION 24

9.11  Section 24 of the 1986 Act, sometimes called the "confidentiality clause", has been criticised by a number of witnesses.[210] It states:

    "A person is guilty of an offence if otherwise than for the purpose of discharging his functions under this Act he discloses any information which has been obtained by him in the exercise of those functions and which he knows or has reasonable grounds for believing to have been given in confidence."[211]

9.12  We note that Section 24 of the Act is already under review by the Home Office. Angela Eagle MP, who was the Home Office Minister when she gave evidence on November 13th 2001, had hoped that the results of this review would have been announced long before this summer (Q. 560). The results of the review have not yet been made public.

9.13  We consider the current levels of secrecy surrounding animal experiments to be excessive. Difficulties in obtaining information do not only apply to the public: the APC has had trouble obtaining some documents; we, too, were only allowed to see five project licences after they had been anonymised.

9.14  From the evidence we have received, we consider that there should be a presumption in favour of information being publicly available. The lack of information on animal procedures is cited by animal rights and animal welfare groups as being unreasonable, as it prevents them from challenging any decisions made by the Home Office. Secrecy also contributes to public disquiet with animal experiments, as scientists and others are not seen to be held accountable.

9.15  The debate currently centres around what information should be released and made public. We consider that this approaches the question from the wrong direction. There should be a presumption in favour of complete openness, and consideration should then be given as to what information should remain confidential. This would be in line with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

9.16  We recognise that the personal details of researchers need to be kept confidential for reasons of safety. No witnesses demanded that these should be made public. The NAVS, for example, specifically said that this information was "not necessary".[212] Similarly, we consider that information should not be made public which would compromise intellectual property rights or commercial confidentiality.

9.17  We consider that the debate surrounding animal experiments has been stifled for too long, and with damaging results, by the overly restrictive nature of the Act. We consider that the justification should have to be made, by the scientific community, for each class of information which it considers should remain confidential. This may well result in much of the information that is currently confidential remaining confidential. As a point of principle, however, we consider that the "burden of proof" should be reversed.

9.18  We recommend that Section 24 should be repealed. Specific justification should then be made for each class of information that needs to be kept confidential, such as the identity of researchers and matters of commercial confidentiality and intellectual property.

  

A NEW DISCUSSION FORUM

9.19  Towards the end of our Inquiry, we held a one day conference in the House of Lords to discuss some of the key issues arising from the evidence we had heard.[213] A number of delegates said that they considered this a highly worthwhile occasion, and we too believe that this conference was successful. Agreement was not, of course, reached on every point, but there was a surprising degree of consensus across a range of issues relating to animal experiments. Even those groups who did not usually participate in such discussions attended this conference, as they said that they were willing to participate in a forum where they did not have to accept, a priori, that they agreed to the continuation of animal experiments. We consider that such fora are a constructive way to continue the debate — much more constructive than trading one-sided articles in the press.

9.20  Some individuals in industry and academia have made a concerted effort to hold open debates on the need for animal experiments. One forum, the Boyd Group, has made considerable efforts to include all aspects of the debate in its work, and over the past ten years has produced a number of consensus papers which have sought to move the debate forward.[214] Some anti-vivisection groups have, however, refused to participate in discussions. The Boyd Group seems to have done much good work and still has a role in exploring contentious areas. But participants cannot be coerced into constructive debate, and we consider that a new forum is also needed.

9.21  We note that the APC already holds high-level talks which include scientists who are in favour of animal experiments as well as scientists who are against them. We strongly encourage this. We further consider that there should be regular discussion meetings involving all sides of the debate, hosted by the Inspectorate. These meetings should address topics, such as the use of mouse models in cystic fibrosis, or psychological research using primates, where the deliberations could influence future cost/benefit assessments. Meetings could also discuss where effort to develop new methods on the Three Rs should be focused. Such meetings would provide a forum in which the serious scientific work carried out by some animal rights and animal welfare organisations could be discussed.

9.22  We recommend that the Inspectorate should convene a regular forum to discuss specific scientific and welfare issues related to the use of animals in experiments.

  

PRODUCT LABELLING

9.23  Only a few witnesses brought up the issue of product labelling.[215] There was little enthusiasm for using labelling to inform the public better, even if appropriate labelling could be agreed.

9.24  We note that the labelling of pharmaceuticals is governed by EU legislation, and would probably require more effort to change than is warranted by the debatable benefits which would result.[216] It is also unlikely that a form of words would ever be agreed which would not create more confusion that it dispelled.

9.25  With regard to the labelling of other products, there was again very little enthusiasm for changing any of the regulations. We note that the labelling of some cosmetics products is not always clear, as many of the individual ingredients will have been tested on animals at some stage, even if the finished cosmetic product has not been so tested. New EU regulations are in any case likely to supersede any recommendation we might make.[217] We did not pursue this issue further.

  

STATISTICS OF SCIENTIFIC PROCEDURES ON LIVING ANIMALS, GREAT BRITAIN[218]

9.26  The statistics published by the Home Office contain a great deal of information, but seem to be prepared for statisticians, rather than for the general reader. They are consequently difficult to interpret.

9.27  We recognise that, in recent years, the Home Office has provided increasingly comprehensive introductory notes. These go some way towards summarising key points for the lay reader and certainly represent an improvement in the provision of information to the public.

9.28  In oral evidence, the Home Office and Inspectorate acknowledged that the presentation of the Statistics needed to be improved, and said that they were actively addressing the problem. They also noted, however, that an invitation contained in the 2000 Statistics for users to suggest improvements has so far failed to elicit a single response, although this may be a reflection on their poor public outreach (Q. 1938).

9.29  We recommend that a formal consultation on the Statistics is carried out with a view to making them easier to interpret.

9.30  The problem, however, goes beyond presentation. We agree with the RSPCA, who stated:

    "The information contained within the statistics appears to be detailed but is actually of limited use…one cannot ascertain what was actually done to animals (i.e. which procedures), how much suffering was caused and for what purpose."[219]

    Currently, the only information on levels of suffering contained in the annual Statistics is contained in Annex B. This information is limited to giving the number of licences in force in each severity band on a particular date.

Table: Project licences in force on 31/12/2000
(Extract from the Statistics: Great Britain 2000, p. 96)


Severity Band
Number
%

Mild
1,330
39.37
Moderate
1,842
54.53
Substantial
68
2.01
Unclassified
138
4.09

Total
3,378
100

9.31  Each project licence can encompass from one to several hundred animals. The number of licences in each severity band do not therefore give any reliable information as to the actual number of animals which may suffer. There is also no information about the purposes for which the licences are granted at the various severity bands.

9.32  We agree with the Reverend Professor Michael Banner, the chairman of the APC, who when asked about information on assessment of pain and suffering in the Statistics, said:

    "It is astonishing to me…to find that rather crucial bit of information buried in an appendix to regular statistics. I think there would be considerable merit if it could be done in ensuring that the degrees of pain and the number of animals involved in each of those categories is brought more to the fore." (Q. 51)

9.33  The Chief Inspector said that the only way meaningful information could be gathered would be retrospectively (Q. 89). While he was in principle in favour of providing statistics on suffering, in practice, he was concerned that no accurate and cost-effective system could be devised, and that any statistics produced were likely to be misleading (Qs 1944-47). This is the philosophy of despair.

9.34  From the licences we have seen, we consider that the current system of assessing pain and suffering is already highly misleading. Licences are allocated into one of three severity bands, based on the experience of suffering of the "average" animal. We consider that if a procedure involves 20% of animals in mild severity, 70% in moderate severity and 10% in substantial severity, then this should be recorded.

9.35  The Inspectorate itself could not possibly assess the suffering experienced by the 2.6 million individual animals used each year in Great Britain. Any assessment of suffering would therefore have to be made by local staff (for example, the Named Veterinary Surgeon or Named Animal Care and Welfare Officer) and audited by the Inspectorate. This system would thus be largely based on trust.

9.36  The availability of information as to levels of suffering and purpose of each project is crucial to the public understanding of animal procedures. Such information would enable the public to make informed judgements about the justification of animal research. Moreover, information would highlight where there was greatest suffering, and hence where the need to develop replacements, reductions and refinements was greatest.

9.37  Scoring systems are already in use for some animals in some establishments.[220] We recognise that no system will be perfect, but consider that the current situation, where little real information on suffering is made available, cannot be allowed to continue.

9.38  We recommend that serious efforts should be made to provide better statistics on animal suffering. The Home Office Inspectorate should develop or approve a "scoring system" for animal suffering which could be operated by Named Animal Care and Welfare Officers and Named Veterinary Surgeons and used to provide data for the Statistics.

9.39  We acknowledge that the prospect of assessing every animal in every procedure is a daunting one, both in terms of expense and bureaucracy. We therefore suggest that a pilot system is developed to monitor the actual suffering experienced by all animals covered by a range of project licences in each of the three severity bands.


200   Third Report, Session 1999-2000, HL Paper 38. This is available from The Stationery Office or from the parliamentary web-site www.parliament.uk  Back

201   Science and Society, p. 6. Back

202   Science and Society, p. 5. Back

203   Huntingdon Life Sciences (Q. 335). Back

204   See note of the visit to France in Appendix 3. Back

205   The Wellcome Trust (Q. 1434) and the Royal Society (Q. 1077). See also the Third Report of Session 2001-02 of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Science Education from 14 to 19 (HC 508), which discusses resources for practical science. There is now a wide range of educationally valuable activities which can be undertaken with animals in primary and secondary schools and in colleges and universities without causing any animal suffering, and we encourage such activities (see, for example, Reiss, M. J., ed. Living Biology in Schools, Institute of Biology, London, 1996). Back

206   Professor Rothwell (Qs. 703-04). Back

207   See also Lord Winston (Q. 1855); the Medical Research Council (p. 220); the Laboratory Animals Science Association (pp. 209-10); the Laboratory Animals Veterinary Association (p. 212); and many others. Back

208   Q. 987. Other bodies have been less robust than Government. We note the pusillanimity of a number of financial institutions who have adopted a narrow and short-term view in failing to stand up to this form of violent intimidation (Q. 1510). Such behaviour is not new. Following the Gordon riots in London in 1780, Samuel Johnson commented on the "cowardice of a commercial place" (Peter Ackroyd, London: the Biography (London, 2000), p. 490). Things appear not to have changed greatly since. Back

209   The Review of the ERP, p. 11. Back

210   NAVS (p. 236); BUAV (pp. 85-86); Naturewatch (p. 245); and the RSPCA (p. 300) among others. Back

211   Sub-section (2) goes on to state the penalties for such an offence. Back

212   See the memorandum printed with their oral evidence, under "Freedom of Information". Back

213   The report of the conference is included at Appendix 4. Back

214   The most recent of these, "The Use of Non-Human Primates in Research and Testing", is available at: www.boyd-group.demon.co.uk Back

215   Lord Winston (Q. 1856) and Seriously Ill for Medical Research consider that all medicines should be labelled "tested on animals" (p. 320). Back

216   Department of Health (p. 175). Back

217   The European Parliament recently approved an amendment to the Cosmetics Directive which would ban the testing of cosmetics on animals in Europe by 2004. Back

218   As mentioned above, these statistics, published by the Home Office, apply only to Great Britain. Statistics for Northern Ireland are collected and published along very similar lines by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Back

219   RSPCA (pp. 297-98). Back

220   Professor Combes, FRAME (Q. 491). Back


 
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