Select Committee on Animals In Scientific Procedures Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1120-1132)



  1120. Is that disadvantage in genetic modification, if it is more carefully targeted and more specific, less hit and miss?
  (Dr Clark) That time is coming. It is certainly much more targeted than, for example, ten years ago, although it is much slower for improvement in farm species because of the generation time. If one looks at the science of genetic manipulation of mice, it is miraculous almost how the knowledge has advanced in the last ten years. It is perhaps not so remarkable in farm species. Although we have a term called gene targeting, it is far from truly targeted as yet. Even though in theory we have the human genome and genomes of other species are being coded, we are still a long way from really understanding the next bit, which is the genomics and what they do in protein manufacture and so on. We keep coming back to these issues of consequences.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

  1121. You mentioned the inability to know precisely what is going to happen when you do gene transfer and cloning, but that work must be done; otherwise we would not get anywhere. If we waited until we knew precisely, we would not know where our mistakes are. It has to be done but, to my mind, very carefully and with due attention to what the problems are. One hears about the Bellesville Pig but that is a learning process. These were pigs that had growth hormones put into them and they ended up with arthritis, which was a disaster situation but it was a learning process. It was 15 years ago.
  (Dr Clark) The North Americans produced the Bellesville pig. You are absolutely right and this is why I said earlier please do not think that I am anti-science. I am not. I am a scientist and I am very much in favour of all the scientific developments, but as we have already discussed we do not know what the downstream consequences of those developments will be. I support the current legislation in that it does control and it uses the risk benefit approach in order to measure what is an appropriate risk against what is the potential benefit. As we see in agriculture, then we have this problem of the controllers. At the moment, the Home Office is taking a very firm stance in terms of releasing animals from the protection of the Act. It is requiring at least two generations of breeding of a genetically manipulated animal and its offspring before it will say that that animal is showing no evidence of welfare problems and therefore we will release it from the protection of the Act. In a sense, we have a built in structure that might be adequate and as time goes by we will be able to measure whether two generations is enough, but that is only going to come for genetically engineered animals and they are the smaller number at the moment. More of a problem is going to be some of the technologies and the targeted selective breeding.


  1122. How can one determine whether different species of farm animals suffer to the same or to different extents?
  (Dr Clark) I think it is almost certain, if anything is certain in life, that different species do suffer differently in that they express their suffering differently. A great deal of work is being done at the moment, looking at farm species, to try to understand how they express their suffering. For example, MAFF as it then was, now DEFRA, sponsored quite a major report out of the University of Edinburgh and Scottish Agricultural Colleges looking at the way in which sheep express pain and distress. One of the opening remarks in that report is to point out how differently a sheep expresses distress that with its rather stoic response to a threat around it, as opposed to a pig which will respond in a totally different manner. We really have to have a better understanding of how different species respond, but that is not to say that the sheep and the pig, although they respond differently, are not equally distressed by the same stimulus.

  1123. Equally within humans you get stoics.
  (Dr Clark) Absolutely so. I am sure there are probably more stoical and less stoical sheep as well. There are techniques. I am not an expert on this; I am sure behaviourists could give you much more advice, but you can look at how much an animal will pay to avoid a certain stimulus. In other words, you ask it questions that it will respond to in a behavioural sense. Many of those are the sorts of experiments that FAWC would like to encourage and see take place but, at the same time, they tend to be inhibited by some of the bureaucracy that surrounds having to go through the whole process of project licensing and so on and any minor changes to project licences that are needed have to go through the same bureaucratic process.

Baroness Warnock

  1124. Is part of the difference in the behaviour of animals not so much when they are experiencing pain but when they have experienced pain again? Is it something to do with their memory?
  (Dr Clark) I am not sure I am expert enough to respond to that. There are some great experts on cognition.

  1125. One of the criteria of suffering must be to what lengths they will go to avoid it.
  (Dr Clark) Yes. There is a behavioural process called conditioned avoidance whereby you condition the animal to avoid a particular stimulus because it does not like it and then you measure how much it will pay. How much will it not feed, avoid water or whatever it is that you are trying to explore. I am sure you are right. Animals definitely learn from experience.

  1126. Some must be brighter than others.
  (Dr Clark) Yes.

Lord Taverne

  1127. Can you say anything about the relationship between pain and intelligence? Are there indications that horses would experience more pain than chickens or is that a field one just does not know about?
  (Dr Clark) I would not like to say the field is not known about. I am sure there is work that has been done in that area. I find myself feeling quite uncomfortable about giving special treatment to one species against another.

Lord Taverne: Worms versus primates?


  1128. I have been definitively assured by our scientific adviser that horses do not score any higher than chickens on intelligence.
  (Dr Clark) If one looks at mammals and birds, I am not sure that I would want to differentiate between the different species too greatly. If you go outside the mammals and birds area, then yes, you might. Then you start to say do you give the same treatment to the parasites inside the dog's stomach as to the dog itself. That gets very ethical.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

  1129. Presumably we can make comparisons between pain associated with farming in a regular way and pain associated with scientific procedures. The comment has often been made that some farming practices are more painful than many scientific procedures. Would you say that it is not a rule of thumb, because it is not a guideline rule for the Home Office? They would never ask that question.
  (Dr Clark) I doubt if they would use that as a measure because that almost might say that, because of one evil, you can justify another one, if I understand your question correctly. Tackling the pain that farm animals are exposed to is something which FAWC is very concerned about. Our mode of producing information is to produce reports particularly on different species. We might, for example, produce a report on a species where as part of that investigation we will look at the mutilations that are exacted upon that species as part of normal farming. Beak trimming in chickens might be one example but also maintaining chickens at very low light levels might be considered to be a welfare detriment to them. There are still things that are done in mainstream agriculture that are not ideal welfare and yet have to be accepted as mutilations or environmental adjustments which—-

  1130. You are aiming to improve welfare on both?
  (Dr Clark) Yes.

  1131. You do not want to get into a mechanistic comparison?
  (Dr Clark) I do not think you should measure one against the other because the causes and the reasons for the two decisions to do certain things are different. In agriculture, it is probably going to come down to an economic justification and we always get the argument: what is the point of doing something that is just going to drive all this animal agriculture overseas where it can be done under less control. In research, it is a slightly different set of measures that are taken in that cost benefit analysis.


  1132. The final question is a Christmas cracker conundrum. Does the domestication of an animal mean that we have particular duties to it or that we have a right to cause it more suffering?
  (Dr Clark) I consulted my ethicist on FAWC and I asked widely about the view on this because it is a Christmas cracker conundrum. The view I got was very much that of course domestication inevitably leads to change and we do not always understand what the nature of that change is. Sometimes it is so gradual that we might even forget that that change has occurred and we need to be aware of that at all times. However, the overall view is that there is no moral justification in domestication for imposing suffering. I do not think I could go with that and certainly nobody on my council was able to put forward any argument that gives us that moral justification. What we do need to do is to better clarify and unify what our relationships with animals are as a whole and that is not just farm animals but research animals, zoo animals and companion animals. That is a much bigger game than I would expect your Committee wants to take on this afternoon. Nevertheless, I think there is a need for us to do that, for society to do that, but certainly not to adopt any dominance over a particular species that justifies us imposing suffering on them.

Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for coming to see us. We are most grateful to you for your assistance.


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