Examination of Witness (Questions 1133-1139)
PROFESSOR W R ALLEN
TUESDAY 5 FEBRUARY 2002
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: Before we start with Professor Allen, I wish to declare an interest as Chairman of the Ethical Review Panel of his Equine Fertility Unit and hence, though I will sit here at the table, I will make no comment during the discussion.
1133. Thank you for coming to see us, Professor Allen, and for giving us the benefit of your experience. If I were to summarise your written evidence to us, would I be doing too much violence to it if I suggested, as far as horses are concerned, the law is an ass?
(Professor Allen) Well said.
1134. Would you like to introduce yourself?
(Professor Allen) I am a Professor in Cambridge University. I have a personal chair in equine reproduction. I am also honorary director of a small, specialised veterinary research group known as the Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Equine Fertility Unit based in Newmarket. Our remit is to do basic and applied research on aspects of fertility and infertility in horses, with emphasis on the mare and the Thoroughbred breed.
1135. How suitable are the present laws and regulations governing the use of animals in scientific procedures for large animals such as horses? What changes could usefully be made which would not compromise animal welfare?
(Professor Allen) Speaking frankly, I would repeat your assertion that the law which relates to animals like horses is an ass. The horse must be regarded as a companion animal compared to farm animals. I personally regard, in a general sense, the project licence that is required to be far too oppressive, too bureaucratic and terribly time wasting to produce. It is pages and pages of close typing that takes hundreds of hours to write. Once it is written, it is then almost immovable. One is expected to describe the experiments that one intends to do over a five year period in minute detail, even down to the number of blood samples you may take from an animal in a day. It is impossible to do it accurately but, once having done it, and trying to avoid clashes in the future, you are stuck in a rut. If you want to change and take, instead of five blood samples in a day, ten, you have to reapply, firstly through your ethical review committee and then back to the Home Office for approval. That process now takes four to six months. There are certain things that have been written into the Act, sensibly perhaps for the use of rodents and laboratory animals, that just do not work with horses. The classic example is anaesthesia. Nowadays, general anaesthesia in a horse is a relatively simple, straightforward process. They slide into sleep very easily. They are easily maintained under gaseous mixtures and they come around again very quickly and easily, much more so than used to happen 30 years ago. To be restricted to doing one anaesthetic on one experimental horse, the value of which is generally around £2,000 to £3,000, and not be able to use it again for any scientific procedure whatever, not even take a blood sample, is obviously stupid. With our own herd, we have around 90 horses and most of those animals are with us for at least eight to ten years. Like companion animals, we know them all by name. We look after them specifically; we have feelings for them. To have to throw one aside simply because of a rule like that is nonsense.
1136. What changes can usefully be made which would not compromise animal welfare?
(Professor Allen) My personal opinion is that we need the individuals doing the research to be competent to do the various manipulative procedures that they are going to use. The present situation does not allow for that. The teaching modules are close to absurd. They are regarded as a joke by everyone. Yet, if I want to operate on a horse, I should be known to be able to do that manipulation competently. As a veterinary surgeon, perhaps I might claim that I was taught to do so but if I was a non-veterinary surgeon, I would want to be examined or tested to make sure I could operate on a horse successfully. These tests are not in place at the present time. My argument would be to reduce the size and detail of the project licence but upgrade the manipulative procedures that we are licensed to undertake on our personal licence. These should be taught by people who know how to teach them and licensees should be examined on them.
1137. Would you suggest that it would be much more sensible to work more closely with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and for those people who were shown to be qualified to do their own training of the people who were going to work with them? You made the point in your evidence that the module training is a waste of time, but a qualified vet could train his own staff. Would you agree with that?
(Professor Allen) Yes. I would argue that the people who do that training should indeed be qualified and experienced vets.
1138. Your qualification as a vet, which is ultimately the responsibility of the Royal College, would be what would entitle you to train your own staff?
(Professor Allen) Yes, it would. In my area of expertise, I would be competent and confident to train people in various manipulative procedures in horses, but I would be the world's worst to try and teach them to do something like that with a cat or a dog, although I am officially qualified to do so. We need specialisation for the type of research being undertaken. If it is horses, that person must be able to show competence in handling horses, whether or not he or she is a vet. It must be kept in mind that many experimenters are not veterinary surgeons and they should be proven to be competent in what they are doing.
1139. One respect in which you have a slight difficulty is that you suggest that the regulations for scientific procedures and the bureaucracy only apply to large animals. We have heard similar complaints from people using mice and rodents. How could we reform the project licence? We have to have project licences because that is in the Act and most people are satisfied with the Act. Apart from general requirementswe want simpler licencesare there any particular ways you can suggest whereby this whole personal licence procedure may be infinitely simplified so that people do not have to keep going back, do not have to wait six months for an amendment, do not have to waste animals and prejudice the welfare of animals because of bureaucracy?
(Professor Allen) Initially, the description of the project licence need not be anything like as detailed as it is at present. It needs to be in general terms. I, for example, might wish to do embryo transfer on horses to create a particular type of pregnancy to study its effect on the placenta. I might, if I was an orthopaedic surgeon, want to investigate the effects of doing something to the bone or the foot of a horse in very round terms. Having said that, then I would want that project licence to be examined by someone who is competent to know the wisdom of that research in the horse.