The Labour Party has published its Manifesto on Animal Welfare, which amongst other things, outlines its position on the use of animals in scientific research, and its plan to phase out animal research.
Prof Jan Schnupp, formerly of Oxford University, now Professor of Neuroscience at City University of Hong Kong, said:
“Labour’s manifesto on animal welfare is a profoundly ignorant attempt to lure voters by styling themselves as defenders of cuddly bunnies while causing severe and irreparable damage to the once pre-eminent British biomedical research community.
“I shall address the manifesto promises as they relate to animals in research one by one.
46. Review the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and commit to ending within an achievable timeframe, the permitting of ‘severe’ suffering as defined in UK legislation, with a long-term objective to phase out animal testing entirely.
“Animals license applications classed as “severe” are extremely rare and even more difficult to get approved. The only cases where such licenses stand a chance of being approved is if the research they cover has a realistic chance of preventing even more severe suffering in humans. This proposal is therefore, quite literally, profoundly inhumane. It also paints a misleading picture by failing to acknowledge that the vast majority of animal license applications have “moderate” ratings, for the simple reason that, thanks to the great achievements of medical science which has led to enormously powerful and effective tools to facilitate the monitoring of the condition of animals and to prevent and alleviate suffering. The idea that there is widespread “severe” suffering among UK lab animals is a pernicious myth, a straw man built up by irresponsible politicians.”
47. Commit to a stringent review of defined areas in regulatory testing, with the aim of immediately identifying and eliminating avoidable tests.
“Biomedical scientists already have plenty of powerful incentives to avoid avoidable tests. Tests on animals are laborious, costly, and difficult. The “stringent review” proposed here will add yet another tedious and fruitless bureaucratic burden in order to address a problem that only exists in the minds of the unthinking, the ill-informed, or those who have hidden agendas. Surely, if it was otherwise, Labour would have been able to illustrate the need for this proposal by citing numerous clear cases of avoidable testing. They have failed to name a single one. Any effective approach to animal welfare should be evidence based. The evidence Labour have presented ranks at the level of the evidence for Iran’s “weapons of mass destruction”. We are looking at shameful political manoeuvring in its purest form.”
48. Make animal testing project licenses open and transparent. This would be undertaken in such a way as to ensure addresses and names of individuals were not exposed and intellectual property, confidentiality etc. was also protected.
“There have been more than enough cases of innocent and hard-working British biomedical scientists falling victims to attacks by “animal rights” terrorists. It is naive in the extreme to think this material could not be de-anonymized if made public, and that it will be abused. I wonder whether Labour leaders would be prepared to pledge their personal fortunes to compensate any innocent biomedical research professionals who suffer harm if this type of information is abused. If they aren’t then we know what to think of this proposal.”
49. Commit to a ban on the export and import of animals for use in research unless with specific Home Office consent where there would otherwise be greater welfare detriment.
“This is a profoundly ignorant proposal which would effectively kill off a large chunk of UK biomedical research. In the current post-genomic age, essential biomedical research relies on the frequent international exchange of small numbers of transgenic mice. There are many thousands of transgenic mouse strains, new ones are created all the time, no single institution can afford to keep them all. If you need a particular strain, you order them from an international accredited breeder or an overseas colleague, and the mice are flown in in considerable comfort on air-conditioned planes. Work on such transgenic animals can in most be performed with little to no discomfort to the animals and has led to breakthroughs which are set to eliminate really nasty human diseases, Huntington’s disease being a prominent example. Banning this harmless but essential exchange of small animals for scientific purposes would have a catastrophic impact on UK science while generating no substantive welfare benefits of any kind. It is a colossally stupid thing to do.”
50. Contribute to the development and validation of sound, scientific, viable non-animal research methods and technologies and encourage research in the field.
“Well, this 5th point I can’t take issue with, but if the quality of the “contribution” that Labour is proposing to make to this effort is of an intellectual quality on a par with the “contributions” made by the other 4 points then I am not holding my breath.
“In summary: Labour’s manifesto as it pertains to the regulation of animal research is a truly terrible piece of work, disingenuous, ill-informed, ineffective, and profoundly damaging. It is unlikely to improve the life of even a single mouse but risks taking the UK back to the middle ages.”
Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research, said:
“Labour consulted on these proposals last summer and it seems as though the party has ignored the responses of the scientific, veterinary and medical research sector: animal research remains a small but essential part of discovering and developing new treatments for humans and for animals. Our submission to the consultation can be seen here: http://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/resources/document-library/
“Practically every medicine and vaccine we have available to us and our pets has been developed using animal research. With the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (the NC3Rs) the UK already leads the world, and invests millions of pounds, in working to find alternatives to using animals, but it is generally accepted that it will be a very, very long time before we are able to phase out the use of animals altogether. Legally, every potential new medicine must be tested using animals before it can be given to human volunteers, and opinion polling shows that the majority of the British public can accept the use of animals in medical and veterinary research.”
Prof Schnupp: “I am a biomedical scientist who has conducted research, including on animals, for almost 30 years. My decision to give up a professorship at Oxford and move abroad was in part motivated by the fact that, during my tenure in the UK, the regulatory regime around animal work became increasingly insane. I am now able to conduct work on prosthetic technologies which aim to improve the lives of profoundly deaf children which I would no longer be able to pursue in the UK because the bureaucratic hurdles created through previous “initiatives” such as this have become prohibitive. Everyone who would like to give the UK a fighting chance to remain at the forefront of modern biomedical research, and who would like to see a better future for millions of patients, has a profound interest in fighting against this misguided manifesto tooth and nail. Indeed, we should campaign instead that the UK ASPA 1986 be replaced by a utilitarian, evidence based regulatory framework that produces the most effective and cost-efficient improvements in animal welfare achievable. The current UK system is not fit for purpose. It is designed in large extent to produce a huge amount of paperwork that can be used to deflect responsibility from politicians and senior management. What it should be doing, but fails to do, is trying to achieve the largest possible achievable increase in animal welfare given the constraints. Note that none of the regulatory initiatives have ever actually tried to measure the quality of life of animals in research, and to demonstrate that the regulations introduced are effective in improving their quality of life. The new Labour manifesto takes this madness a great deal further, and risks doing irreparable damage to UK science while doing very little for the animals it claims it wishes to protect. The sad truth is of course that it isn’t trying to protect animals at all, but to mobilise Britain’s many dog and cat lovers to vote for them by painting scientists bogeymen. My message to Britain’s animal lovers I would like to say this: scientists love animals too, animals are wonderful, and next time you take your beloved companion to the vet, spare a thought for all the wonderful science that has made it possible to alleviate so much suffering. And don’t be taken in by sinister politicians angling for your vote with ignorant, half-baked policies aimed at leading you astray through disingenuous emotional appeals.”