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11 Mar 1998 : Column 526

Animal Testing

1.29 pm

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): I welcome the fact that we are having the first debate this Session on the important matter of animal experimentation, which is of considerable importance to many people in this country and to many hon. Members from all parties. I hope that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, during the debate.

I have given notice to the Minister's office of one or two of the points that I intend to raise. I hope that he will find that helpful, and that it will mean that the debate is fuller than it might otherwise have been.

In the United Kingdom, 2.7 million Home Office-approved animal experiments are carried out each year. These are

according to the "Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals". In addition, the Ministry of Defence conducts around 11,000 experiments a year, a figure which has almost trebled since 1992, when the present right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) was Minister of State.

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea): I intervene to clarify for the record that it was after I had left the Ministry of Defence that the number of experiments trebled. As the hon. Gentleman put it, it might have sounded as though they increased during my period of tenure. While I was there, I did my level best to keep them to an absolute minimum.

Mr. Baker: I am grateful for that clarification. I was going to make the point that the number of experiments has risen--unduly, in my view--since the right hon. Gentleman left his post.

Can we as a human race feel comfortable that we are using animals in this way to such an extent; that we place them in unfamiliar surroundings and often subject them to painful and gruesome experiments? I intend to show that the experimentation carried out in this country is excessive, the results are unreliable, and that alternatives exist that have yet to be fully and properly exploited.

I welcome the Government's decision to end the testing of cosmetics products, but, in reality, it has made virtually no difference to the numbers, stopping only about 800 procedures out of 2.7 million. What is more, cosmetic ingredient testing has not been banned, and it accounts for most cosmetic testing on animals. Almost 2,000 cosmetic ingredient tests took place in 1996. A supplementary note from the Home Office, published in November last year, talked about cosmetic ingredient testing. I would welcome clarification from the Minister about whether the Government have reached a conclusion on that matter.

As all cosmetic products can be classified as vanity products, do the Government agree that a comprehensive ban on all cosmetic ingredient testing is essential?

Will the Government set a target to reduce the number of animal experiments that will be carried out during the lifetime of this Parliament, and give an absolute guarantee that fewer experiments will be carried out each year at the

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end of it than at present? That commitment is terribly important, and I hope that the Minister will respond to it when he replies.

At a fundamental level, animal experimentation rests on a view of reality that sees living beings, in alltheir individuality and unpredictability, as a set of interchangeable and predictable machine parts. It examines one aspect of the body in isolation from the huge range of influences, both environmental and subjective, that affect it. It ignores the whole picture and focuses on a small detail.

That strictly limiting and short-sighted viewpoint seeks to justify the extrapolation of data from one species of animal to another. I question the very basis of the value of animal experimentation in certain circumstances. There are plenty of examples to show that the logic is fundamentally flawed. All animals are different. It is patently obvious that a mouse does not resemble a human; neither does a rat or a rabbit, yet all those animals are used in experiments, in the claim that they will benefit humans.

The fact is that all animals, including humans, react differently to different substances. They metabolise substances in different ways. They can tolerate different levels of any given substance. They obtain and need vitamins in different ways. They have different life cycles. They have different digestive and circulatory systems. Most important, all species suffer from different diseases. So how can we be sure that the experiments are reliable?

I give the Minister examples of where these experiments are unreliable: lemon juice kills cats; parsley kills parrots; penicillin kills guinea pigs; strychnine is harmless to monkeys, as is arsenic to sheep; insulin causes malfunctions in chickens, rabbits and mice; aspirin causes birth defects in monkeys; and thalidomide is safe to guinea pigs. The list is substantial and clearly demonstrates that we are foolish to rely on the reliability of animal experiments. What will the Minister do to tackle the uncertainty of the results of animal testing?

I deal now with some of the animal experiments that take place, and will look at the matter from not a human-centred but an animal-centred point of view. One of the common procedures is the LD50 test. Animals are dosed with various quantities of a substance to find out how much is needed to kill half the animals in a particular batch. The test is crude and unscientific, and causes immense suffering to animals, yet such tests have risen dramatically in recent years, to almost 200,000 in 1996.

The Government said in November that they would press for the LD50 test to be used only when "absolutely necessary". What does absolutely necessary mean? What steps is the Minister taking to eliminate that test? Why can he not simply ban it? When is it necessary? I am not convinced that it is at all necessary. The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 requires animal suffering to be weighed against the benefit of the research before a licence is made. I suggest that, on that basis alone, the LD50 test should be banned.

Another common and particularly painful experiment is the Draize test, which is used to measure irritation. As the Minister will know, rabbits are often chosen for eye studies because they cannot blink. How appalling that animals that cannot blink are used to measure irritation in the eye. Guinea pigs are used for skin experiments. Other

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tests are simply beyond belief. One has to ask what on earth is the motivation behind them. Rats are forced to breathe smoke bomb fumes to investigate the effects on the lung to see whether oxygen treatment is beneficial. It is beyond belief that such tests continue.

Animals suffer not only during the tests but before and after. I draw the Minister's attention to early-day motion 802, which I tabled, with other hon. Members who are present today, to draw attention to the fact that primates have been transported to this country from Indonesia and other places, with journeys lasting up to 58 hours, in small wooden crates in aeroplane holds. The animals suffer considerably before they even arrive in a laboratory. That early-day motion has been supported by 61 hon. Members from all parts of the House.

So what great human endeavour justifies the imposition of this suffering? Forty-nine per cent. of experiments are carried out for commercial gain, not for health purposes but to produce a washing-up liquid that is more competitive, or a "new improved" scourer, or a shoe polish that cleans more effectively. The other main source is university work, which accounts for a further 29 per cent. A great deal of university work is, of course, funded by commercial concerns. In other words, animals are being made to suffer purely to improve the financial profitability of private companies. That is totally unethical.

Furthermore, the drug industry's involvement cannot be overstated. The structure and context of medical research are such that its fundamental priority is to satisfy the pharmaceutical industry's thirst for profit, which is now the largest in the world. That is the motivation. It seems that, as far as the drugs companies are concerned, a pound of flesh equals a pound of profit.

Large numbers of experiments on animals, many of which are repetitive, are carried out to test weapons--experiments such as firing a bullet into the skull of a monkey or blasting body armour worn by a pig. I have already mentioned the near trebling of the number of experiments by the Ministry of Defence at Porton Down.

Here is another question for the Minister. Will the Government honour their pre-election pledge to forbid the use of animals in the developing and testing of weapons? I hope that he heard that question. It is most important, and it is a matter of ethics.

As I have said, we as a human race are foolish to trust the reliability of medical experiments on animals. I also want to draw attention to the fact that many of the experiments are geared towards the elite end of the market, designed to perfect expensive operations such as organ transplants, from which most of the world's population will never benefit.

Such experiments are for the benefit of a small minority, and do nothing for the basic human health of most people, either in this country or in the rest of the world. While we are busy experimenting and perfecting organ transplants, millions of people lack clean water, basic shelter and food. Perhaps we should devote more of our resources to those purposes.

The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 has been subject to some review, but I am still concerned about the work load of the inspectors. In 1996, there were only 17 inspectors whose work load included monitoring 14,870 licence holders, granting 2,202 new licences,

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assessing progress in 3,869 projects, assessing and approving 667 new projects and inspecting 300 establishments covering 2.7 million experiments.

It seems to me that we need a new super breed of inspector to carry out all those functions. If the 1986 Act, flawed as it is, is to work properly, we need to appoint more inspectors and ensure that they are given the proper resources.

To be fair, I must admit that the Government have recognised the problem. I believe that something is being put back into the budget.

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