Select Committee on Animals In Scientific Procedures Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1100-1119)



Lord Taverne

  1100. I understand what I was asking about mastitis caused by breeding cows that produce milk faster and the chickens that have weak legs which means they get lame does not have anything to do with genetic modification?
  (Dr Clark) No; it is selection. We should differentiate between normal breeding selection and genetic modification. If I can do this without muddying the water, there is one in between which you need to be aware of, which is a new technology that allows science to accelerate the selection process. It is called Maker Assisted Breeding. We referenced it in our documentation to you. This is allowing you to identify marker genes and target those genes in your selection process. Instead of having to go through the process of breeding generation after generation, you can now target where the genes are and specifically make those matings. You can see in farm animals that is going to have an enormous impact, because the generation gap that has slowed things up previously is going away.

Baroness Warnock

  1101. Therefore, would it be possible to say for how long the monitoring of the consequences of any procedure would have to go on? Presumably, you would not have to wait for generation after generation to see what was going to happen to these animals. Could one set up a genetic databank listing what happened to the animals that would be ongoing so that at some stage you would be able to say that no adverse consequences had come from this?
  (Dr Clark) You would be able to reach a point at which you were fairly confident that any adverse consequences would have appeared. The time that that would take would vary between different technologies, I would imagine, so one could expect that in some cases it may be a matter of weeks but, in the majority, it is going to be perhaps two to three years of monitoring and gradual relaxation of controls as one becomes more confident. However, I drew the analogy earlier about pharmaceuticals and the permission that takes place. That is a very stringent set of tests that have to be done, whether they are veterinary or human pharmaceuticals. In that environment, you never let go totally. You still have the yellow card system or something of that nature. I can see that this sort of system would tend to raise people's awareness about thinking of the consequences as well as specifically targeting identified technologies. We should never say that we are 100 per cent confident, because there is never no risk at all, is there?

Lord Lucas

  1102. How does the border line work between what is an experiment on an animal and what is just an ordinary husbandry procedure?
  (Dr Clark) You would have to ask the Home Office.

  1103. If you were to decide that cutting pigs' tails off made them grow faster and you did it as an experiment, you would be in trouble. If you did it as a farmer, you could do it without any difficulty.
  (Dr Clark) Absolutely. I am not an expert on ASPA but I have worked under it quite extensively. It does exclude, in its very early clauses, practices that are standard veterinary and animal husbandry practices. Something like docking tails on pigs would be considered to fall into that category and therefore not be an experimental procedure. To fall within the Act, it has to be something which can be expected to cause pain, distress and lasting harm. Thus far, I do not think a long term selective breeding programme has been confirmed to be potentially causing pain, distress and lasting harm. What we are saying here is that it does have the potential to cause that but at the moment it would not fall within the Act, as I understand it, but please be guided by the Home Office.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

  1104. The case we heard about of mild experiments on a farm in Edinburgh would not cause any significant pain or distress at all. There would just happen to be scientific activity, taking samples from the animal, even if it is collecting faeces from lots of cows, which is apparently deemed to be an experiment and that was certainly not pain. This rubric you say only has to do with pain, so perhaps I am misunderstanding something.
  (Dr Clark) Sometimes the Home Office chooses to include things within the Act because there is a nutritional change in the animals and they are not quite sure what the effect will be. I do not know the details of the experiments you saw.

  1105. That is a most extreme example of the Act in operation, something as mild and routine as that, causing considerable bureaucratic problems.
  (Dr Clark) On the face of it, I am very sympathetic with the point you make.


  1106. How do the conditions in which farm animals kept for agriculture differ from farm animals kept for research?
  (Dr Clark) Quite remarkably in that the standards of housing for animals kept for research are much more generous and more compassionate to the animal than those within commercial agriculture. There are many reasons for that. I think the Home Office takes the view that an animal in research might be subjected to stress, distress, lasting harm and so on and therefore deserves a better environment. I think it is also public perception as well. On the other side in agriculture, there is a very strong, commercial impediment that makes it difficult to be able to provide those sorts of standards. In a way, the fact that that change occurs from perhaps a more generously housed environment into commercial agriculture when these procedures are taken through to commercial practice is emphasising the sorts of reasons why there might be problems emerging in the commercial agricultural environment which would not appear in the more hospitable environment of the research laboratory, if I can put it that way.

  1107. What does not particularly disturb the animal in a generously housed pen might have all sorts of terrible side effects when they are put in the equivalent of the London underground in the rush hour?
  (Dr Clark) Yes, where they are competing for space, food and a lot of other things within what can be called a commercially viable environment.

  1108. They might start eating each other?
  (Dr Clark) Possibly, yes.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

  1109. I agree with you about the conditions but I have heard it said that they are too generous for some of the reasons that you mention and too generous for the people handling the animals. The space around the animal is such that animal handlers are used to having a much more enclosed area, so it could be dangerous to the animal technicians.
  (Dr Clark) I am sure that could be the case. From a FAWC perspective, I would not want to go out on a limb on that particular platform. There is certainly data with mice that shows that if you crowd mice into an area there is less aggression than if you give them a lot of space. The argument for that is because, once the mouse gets a big enough space around it to create a defendable area, it will then fight to defend it. If you keep them all huddled up together, they do not fight so much. One thing that we have come across—and this has been reported to me by scientists; we have welfare research scientists on FAWC as well—is that sometimes they have problems when they want to carry out research under commercial conditions but within a designated establishment. They have problems getting permission to be allowed to stock the animals under commercial conditions because it is going against the Home Office code of practice. That seems a bit of a counter argument that maybe should be addressed at some point.


  1110. Who decides the guidelines on the care and welfare of farm animals used in scientific procedures? Are the guidelines appropriate? Are they enforced?
  (Dr Clark) FAWC does not play a role in drawing up the guidelines, apart from a courtesy role. Normally, because of the liaison that we have, the Home Office would consult with us in terms of saying, `These are the regulations. These are the codes that we are planning to put in place', and perhaps invite comment. The codes for the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act are drawn up, as far as I am aware, by the Home Office Inspectorate with the Animal Procedures Committee advising and, I would guess, finally approving them.

  1111. Are they appropriate?
  (Dr Clark) We have just covered part of that question. I am sure they are appropriate in some circumstances. I would be loath to quote chapter and verse of where they are inappropriate because as FAWC we do not have that much detailed experience of them. The experience I have of the Act would imply that they are policed quite effectively. The Home Office Inspectorate is pretty effective in its frequency of visits to establishments and the endeavours it makes to ensure that the standards are maintained.

Baroness Eccles of Moulton

  1112. This is not absolutely in line with the questioning but it occurred to me when I was reading the evidence. In a number of places in your evidence, you refer to the fact—at item 12 on page 6—that if it was possible to breed poultry with a salmonella resistant characteristic this could possibly develop into less good husbandry. When you are doing a cost benefit analysis, I wondered whether that is a valid point: that you do not improve the characteristic of the animal concerned because it could lead to people failing to maintain standards of good care.
  (Dr Clark) I think that is a very pertinent point. The same applies if you breed mastitis resistant cattle. What you are really doing is encouraging two ills that could occur as a consequence of that. One is that poor husbandry may be hidden by the fact that the animals will not develop mastitis even though the care and husbandry of them is not good. It may allow the farmer to house his animals more densely together. Certainly with the salmonella resistance, our concern was that that would open the doorway to higher stocking densities simply because disease control would not be seen as an important factor that would restrict those. It touches on one of your later questions which is also very interesting, about whether it is appropriate to breed animals for insentience; whether one should effectively choose genetic traits that will allow animals to survive, or apparently survive, the conditions under which we expect to house them. Our concern there is that we do not really understand enough about animals' feelings and their expression of feelings. You might, for example, decide to breed a chicken that does not peck other chickens. You may say that chicken is a better chicken for us to keep within these husbandry systems because it does not peck the other birds within the system. What we do not know is whether the bird's expression of feeling has changed but its feelings are still the same. The feelings that cause it to wish to peck are still there; it just expresses them in a different way. In our evidence, we use the example of the dog that you leave all day, isolated in the house and it does not wreck the house, versus the one that does. Do we know that one or other is happier or is it expressing what might be the same feelings but in a different way? We have to be very cautious when we do things that have an impact on what animals' behaviour is. We have to be very cautious to make sure that we are addressing something that truly is for the good of the animals as opposed to just covering up expressions.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

  1113. One of the things raised is farm animals used in scientific procedures. Whereas many doctors dealing with patients study their patients and write articles in the BMJ and so on, I have no idea what is the proportion of farmers who farm scientifically. Is the bureaucracy such that, whereas a doctor can write studies and articles and so on, any farmer who collects faeces and writes it in a notebook is immediately doing a scientific procedure and it would have to go through a procedure for that? First of all, how many do it and does the procedure inhibit scientific farming in the United Kingdom?
  (Dr Clark) My estimate would be that there are not many farmers who take a scientific approach to farming in the way that you are describing and that a doctor, as a clinician, might choose to do in collecting clinical evidence from patients. The analogy might be the veterinarian who services the farmer. The farmer and the vet might often put together an exploratory project that they want to explore about the population that the farmer is farming. There has been a lot of debate within the veterinary profession to try to draw a line between clinical veterinary medicine and what we class as an experimental procedure. If a vet wanted to take a blood sample in order to monitor the performance of a herd, that is fine. That would be a clinical process. If the vet was wanting to take a blood sample because perhaps they had adjusted the diet of the herd to see what the impact of making that dietary adjustment might be, you are starting to get a bit closer to the boundary as to what is the purpose of taking the blood sample. It is quite a fine line.

  1114. Do you think that in some sense British farming is not as scientific as it should be because of these rules?
  (Dr Clark) No. I do not think that is where the impact is. It is more on people like the animal behaviourists who want to carry out valid studies which are not going to have a great impact on the welfare of the animals subjected to those studies but nevertheless have to go through all the bureaucracy.


  1115. Would you approve of conventional breeding or genetic modification being used to breed farm animals less capable of suffering?
  (Dr Clark) That is something we have touched on. The answer from FAWC would be no, we do not, because we do not believe that we adequately understand what the consequences of that are at this point for the animal.

Baroness Nicol

  1116. Would it be right to say that if we did that we are likely to reduce the feeling of duty of care that most people would have in the care of animals which might spill over into the ones that have not been genetically modified?
  (Dr Clark) Yes. That is a broader issue and a very valid point.


  1117. Are new technologies of cloning, embryo transfer and genetic engineering raising new issues about the welfare of farm animals compared to old methods of selective breeding?
  (Dr Clark) We should not think that the old methods of selective breeding do not cause any problems. There are some very clear problematic consequences of selective breeding and they are becoming increasingly disturbing now because of the marker assisted breeding that I referred to earlier. The new technologies of cloning, embryo transferring and genetic engineering do raise new issues because they, yet again, have an accelerating impact. The power is there for us to do things much more rapidly and in due course I guess science is going to be able to do things in a much more targeted fashion. The drawback at the moment is we are still learning which is the right target and how to hit it. We are not as good, for example in genetic engineering, at determining ahead of time what will be the consequence of the gene that we might insert, where it might appear or how it might express itself. Genetic engineering also opens up the opportunity to insert genes from different species and we do not really understand what the impact of that might be.

  1118. It goes to the crux of much of public concern that the rate of acceleration in scientific novation is one thing but the lag in us looking at legislatively and ethically is getting greater.
  (Dr Clark) Yes. I am not wanting to be a die hard, anti-science or anything like that. I am very much in favour of a lot of the modern science and technology. It will open major opportunities for humankind and animal kind. My concern is the galloping forward without due care and attention to the consequences of that. I class myself as a scientist and I know that we do not yet fully understand the consequences of many of the actions that will result from these sorts of studies.

Lord Taverne

  1119. That is equally true of conventional, selective breeding and the new genetic modification, is it not?
  (Dr Clark) Yes.


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