Select Committee on Animals In Scientific Procedures Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 382-399)




  382. Good afternoon to you and thank you very much for coming to see us. Ms Thew, would you like to introduce yourself and your colleagues.


  (Ms Thew) Thank you. I am Michelle Thew and I am Chief Executive of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV). On my left is David Thomas who is our legal consultant/solicitor and on my right is Dr Gill Langley, who is our scientific consultant.

  383. Thank you very much. If I may begin by saying would you please bring the Committee up-to-date with regard to your legal action against the Government as I understand there is some stop press news.
  (Ms Thew) There is indeed. The case, as you may be aware, was due to be heard yesterday but the Government has conceded in full on both counts in the case and has agreed to pay the BUAV's costs. I will hand over to David Thomas to outline what the result of that was.
  (Mr Thomas) My Lord Chairman, the Government has conceded the two important points of principle on alternatives, having in each case argued the opposite for a number of years. First, the Government now accepts that where there is a suitable alternative it cannot license the animal equivalent irrespective of whether other regulators through the European Union, the OECD or any other regulators, believe that the animal equivalent is still necessary, so in other words alternatives do not have to wait until international regulators catch up with the view that the British Government has taken of the science—and that process can take a very long time, over ten years in some cases. The second important point of principle which has been conceded is that immediately the Government accepts that there is an alternative that is available then the animal tests must cease even if the project licence allowing the animal experiments to take place has still got a number of years to run and, again, until last week the Government had been arguing that its own administrative convenience and the convenience of licence holders could be put before the interests of laboratory animals. This success comes hard on the heels of another concession which the Government made a couple of years ago, under threat this time of a judicial review by the BUAV, that the Lethal Dose 50 (which is a particularly invasive poisoning test) for most purposes could not be licensed. If I may just add, in our submission we make the point that we believe that the Home Office has been misinterpreting the law in a number of other respects as well. Clearly we are not going to resolve that issue here but we do believe that this underscores the need to have much greater transparency and therefore accountability in this area than there has been hitherto. Perhaps that is an area we will come back to later this afternoon.

  Chairman: I am sure aspects of that will be drawn upon in the course of the questioning.

Lord Taverne

  384. Can I just ask on this one, a lot of these old licences have now been withdrawn. Have you any idea what the effect of this is going to be? I understand that in fact hardly any mice were being used under the old licences. Do you have any idea whether any mice have been saved and, if so, what number of mice have been saved?
  (Mr Thomas) It is very difficult to give any precise details, partly because the licensing system is operated in such secrecy. The point of the case was two-fold; first of all, in relation to the particular tests which were highlighted, but in addition, and probably more importantly, to establish the general principle that where there are alternatives and where the British Government accepts that there are alternatives which can give the equivalent scientific information then at that point the animal equivalent simply cannot be licensed.

  385. That is a general principle that has been widely accepted already; if there are alternatives you do not use live animals. What I was really asking was is there any practical result from this particular ruling? Are you aware that a lot of mice have been saved or not?
  (Mr Thomas) That principle had not been accepted by the Government until last week because their line, in correspondence with the BUAV before the proceedings, was two-fold; first of all, that until international regulators catch up with the view that there is an alternative then the question of stopping the animal experiments does not arise and, secondly, that even where it is clear that the alternative is there and that the animal experiment should in principle stop, where there are on-going licences—and licences are granted for up to five years—then the Government has the discretion not to call in licences and it can take into account factors such as its own convenience and the convenience of the licence holder. That position has now changed and the Government accepted on that point that as soon as an alternative is available then that animal experiment must come to an end.
  (Dr Langley) If I could add a point of fact, my Lord Chairman. If your Committee member is seeking statistics then we can say that even after the BUAV's threat to take Government to judicial review a little while ago, on the LD50 test the 1999 statistics show that 91,000 animals were being used in the LD50 test and we expect this number to decrease very markedly in the year 2000;[1] and in the case of using animals for the production of monoclonal anti-bodies, which is an example cited in this particular case, the 1999 statistics demonstrate the use of nearly 3,000 mice in that procedure.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

  386. In your BUAV web site of April 2001 talking about alternatives and refinements you make the statement that, "The main reason appears to be that it is often simply ignored"—that is the alternative—"and animal researchers are reluctant to find alternatives, despite frequent requirements to do so, as they view animal tests as traditional and inexpensive." I would put to you that animal experimenters are in fact continually looking for alternatives and refinements in their work and it is not the case that they ignore these alternatives. How would you respond to that statement, that indeed they are looking for these, they are not simply sticking with animals because they are traditional and less expensive?
  (Dr Langley) If I may respond to that question, I think I can illustrate our view on the willingness and the motivation of scientists to find alternatives by explaining that the Government's own Medical Research Council has refused until the last year to provide any funding specifically for the development of alternatives in medical research despite many years, and to my knowledge more than 25 years, of campaigning and requesting that the Government's Research Council should ring-fence some funding for alternatives. It comes down to funding to a large extent. Scientists cannot seek alternatives without a grant to do so.

  387. I would agree with that but there is a difference between doing your normal experimental investigation and specifically looking for alternatives. There are certain situations, such as the LD50 test, where you have looked for alternatives, but not much experimental work where you are looking for alternatives, the whole time. There is nothing where you can say, "I am going to look for an alternative to this procedure." It comes when you set up the procedure.
  (Dr Langley) My Lord, I would hope that would be the case because, as we know, the 1986 Act requires that a project licence should not be awarded if there is an alternative but unfortunately even though there are scientists who are willing to look for alternatives that others have developed that may be relevant to their work, they would find it very difficult to do so because there is no scientifically available database of replacement alternatives for animal experiments and it is very difficult indeed to sift through the literature in the mainstream science journal databases looking for key words to do with replacement of animals. So even when the information is available it is very, very difficult for scientific ethical review processes and even for the Home Office to identify.


  388. Dr Langley, am I right in saying that the MRC have not ring-fenced funding but have expressed their willingness to fund projects, but as of two months ago had received no formal applications? That is what we are told by the MRC.
  (Dr Langley) You have been luckier than me, my Lord. I contacted them two months ago and asked for a report on how things are going but they have not responded to my letter. So perhaps you have greater influence with them than I do.

  Chairman: We will ask them if there is any stop press news.

Earl of Onslow

  389. The LD50 test, I believe, and perhaps you will confirm, was stopped two years ago so the influence of your legal force today or recently seems to have had very little to do with it. Those of us who live on farms who see mice carted of in cats' mouths find it rather odd that a large sum of money can be extracted from taxpayers to pay legal costs to save 3,000 mice. It is either 3,000 mice or you do not know what it is, it is one or the other. It strikes me as quite an expensive, mildly funny arrangement.
  (Ms Thew) If I can just respond to that. I think there are a couple of issues we need to raise here. Firstly, it is not correct that the LD50 was stopped in this country before our judicial review. It was only after the threat of proceedings that the Government actually took action to stop that. I think the issue of costs is interesting because had the Government simply taken the action we requested, which was to implement the law correctly in the beginning, the need for costs would not have arisen. I think that is a question more suitably addressed to the Government. In terms of the issue about the numbers of mice saved, it is not just about this particular procedure and this particular time. What it is about is establishing a principle that the Government itself says that it follows, which is where there is an alternative it must be used. That is not just about a procedure today, it is about thousands of procedures in the future and that is why it is important, particularly because the Government regularly says that it does implement the law. Where there is a loophole where the Government is not implementing the law, it is our responsibility to correct them on that.

  390. You said earlier that you were not quite sure about the number of mice, you now say that this is going to involve thousands of procedures in the future. How many thousands?
  (Ms Thew) What we have done is establish the principle—

  391. You said that you were stopping thousands of experiments in the future. How many thousands? 1,000? 100,000? Five million? How many is it? What is your estimate?
  (Ms Thew) If you look at the two particular examples that we took the judicial review on, there are approximately 3,000 mice, for example, that were used in the particular monoclonal procedure we are talking about and there were many thousands more that were used for the guinea pig assays that we were talking about. When I say thousands will be saved into the future we are talking about regulatory toxicity and as alternatives become available there are many thousands of animals used in various regulatory toxicity procedures, as alternatives become available we will not have to wait three, five or ten years for those to go through the international regulatory system and therefore those animals' lives will be saved because—

  392. So you have no idea what the number is?
  (Ms Thew) No, I do not think it is correct to say I have no idea.


  393. Could we therefore go to perhaps what is a crunch question; do you consider that animals have rights?
  (Ms Thew) Yes I do. I do consider that animals have rights personally but I do not think it is the issue at stake when we are talking about animal experiments. When we are talking about animal experiments the issue at stake is whether we as humans have a right to deliberately inflict pain and suffering on an animal not for its benefit. That is really the issue. It is about our relationship with animals and what we as a society permit in terms of the rights we have as humans.

  394. Do either of your colleagues want to expand on that?
  (Mr Thomas) If I may speak personally rather than simply as a lawyer for animals, the crux is the fact that animal experiments involve suffering and the key in terms of moral issues is to be consistent. I am a human rights' lawyer as well as an animal rights' lawyer and both areas of law, it seems to me, are about protecting the weak from exploitation by the strong and really animal rights and human rights are just shorthand for that principle. Ultimately I do not think that the issue is whether one thinks that animals have rights in the metaphysical or philosophical sense. Moreover, if one believes that animals do not have rights, which is clearly neither provable or non-provable, then that does not lead on to the conclusion that therefore it is alright to inflict pain and suffering on them when it is not for their own benefit and clearly when they have not consented to it.

Baroness Nicol

  395. You are conceding, I think, for the time being, at any rate, that experiments will continue. You have produced a very helpful and, from my point of view, a very sensible list of improvements that could be achieved within the limits of the present legislation. I think you know the ones I am referring to, it is in "What needs to change". Can you put these particular improvements in any kind of order? Which of them would you put at the top of the list? Can you also say whether or not you have managed to achieve any of them so far?
  (Ms Thew) Could I respond by saying that we as an organisation obviously want all experiments to stop. I do not think it is true to say that we have conceded that some experiments should continue. What we have done is recognise that it is unlikely that all experimentation will stop tomorrow, but we have put in our evidence where we would like to see attention directed immediately. We have not put them in any particular order of priority, what we have done is address some of those areas where there is the most amount of suffering or if the necessity for the experiment is clearly redundant or where there are areas, for example, where even under the current legislation we are pushing for better protection for animals, such as cats, dogs and primates. Some of them naturally follow on from other areas already stated as government policy: for example we already have a ban on cosmetic testing in the United Kingdom; we are logically extending that to a ban on household products. We have a ban on the use of great apes in the United Kingdom; we see no reason, morally or practically, not to extend that to all primates. We have looked at those areas of legislation where there has already been some progress and we are asking your Lordships to address those particular areas as being the logical next step. As an organisation we wish to see an end to it.

  Chairman: The acoustics are quite awful, if you could raise your voice a little it would be helpful.

Lord Taverne

  396. Can I pursue the philosophical basis: you say you are against the deliberate infliction of pain by humans on a sentient being in your paper; how far does that extend? What do you mean by a sentient being? How much of the animal kingdom do you cover? Does it extend to mosquitos?
  (Ms Thew) It is an interesting question that has already been put, how far does this line extend? For the purposes of what we are talking about around vivisection there is a very clear definition of what an animal is, those are the animals that we are talking about when we talk about animal experiments.

  397. It is the animals on which experiments are being carried out?
  (Ms Thew) For the purpose of this debate.

  398. Do you think it is wrong to kill these animals?
  (Ms Thew) Yes, we do.

  399. Does it mean you are vegetarians?
  (Ms Thew) Personally I am, but that is not the issue at stake.

1   In 1999 the total number of animals used in the LD50 test was 91,330 (see Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals, Great Britain, 1999, Table 12); in 2000 this figure fell to 74,513 (Statistics 2000, Table 12). Back

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