Examination of Witness (Questions 1140-1159)
PROFESSOR W R ALLEN
TUESDAY 5 FEBRUARY 2002
1140. And someone who also knows that you are competent to do that kind of research.
(Professor Allen) Exactly. If I put on my list of manipulative procedures that I wish to be personally licensed for that I can take a blood sample, I want someone to test that I can take that blood sample, because if I cannot I should not be able to do it.
1141. Are you envisaging a project licence that would be a simple paragraph?
(Professor Allen) Not a paragraph but I think two pages would be plenty for the average research group, such as my own, dealing with five scientists working on a common theme.
1142. Some of the Inspectorate have suggested to us that part of the fault lies with the scientists who go into far more detail than the licence requires. If they drew up the applications properly, it would not be so complicated.
(Professor Allen) I rise in high dudgeon at that suggestion, I am afraid, because I have had my licence revised and revised. It has gone back two or three times for more detail as demanded by our particular inspector. It seems to us, on the research side of the equation, that very often we are expected to write this great amount of detail in order to teach the Home Office inspector what we are about and he is not competent to know.
Baroness Eccles of Moulton
1143. We are charged with seeing whether the 1986 Act is working properly but up until now we have been looking at research in laboratory animals pretty well exclusively. It has been particularly interesting this afternoon because we have been discussing farm animals which is a completely different subject because it is to do with what is going to happen to subsequent generations. Now we are looking at horses, which is different again. We are not going to eat them; they are not being used to progress science for other reasons like pharmaceutical toxicity etc., so I suppose we could start from the question why are you wanting to carry out scientific experiments on horses at all and find out whether that can fit into the existing Act at all or whether it needs a completely different set of rules providing that it is sticking to the basic premise of not causing suffering.
(Professor Allen) I agree. We do not need any more rules. We just need adaptation and flexibility in the existing rules, much more than we have at present. The horse is a companion animal, an emotive species in public terms, more so than it need be. In Europe and other parts of the world, it is regarded as a farm animal and is eaten. It is farmed to be worked. Britain is a little peculiar in that respect. Coming back to the reason for us to do research, I can give you an example. In Thoroughbred mares, there is about a 12 per cent pregnancy loss rate overall from conception to birth of the foal. When you are paying very large sums of money to have a particularly valuable mare covered by an even more valuable stallion and you lose that money when the pregnancy is lost, obviously there is a desire amongst owners of Thoroughbreds to try and find out what is causing the loss and do something about it. Hence we work on that sort of problem and that is my remit. To give you an example, one of the major causes of infertility in mares 20 years ago was a failure to cycle during the breeding season. The mare would just stop cycling and appear to be disinterested in everything going on around her. We discovered this is due to abnormal persistence of a structure in her ovaries known as the corpus luteum. Then pharmaceutical research led to the development of a hormone known as prostaglandin which can be used to very easily get rid of the persisting corpus luteum and hence allow the mare to come back into oestrus and be covered. That increased fertility in the Thoroughbred by about 15 per cent in as little as five years. That sort of research is very desirable and I think very valuable for the Thoroughbred and it spreads much further than that into orthopaedic problems in the competing horse, the eventer and show jumper, respiratory problems, those sorts of things, all of which need researching for the specific job that the horse is expected to do. It is an unusual thing to make a horse jump round Badminton. It is a very unusual thing to expect a horse to do, but that is what people want.
1144. Are there any procedures to which horses have been or are subjected which you consider unacceptable? And, internationally, how do standards of research and welfare compare with those in the UK?
(Professor Allen) In answer to the first part of the question, I do not think there are many but there are one or two procedures that bother me, although I would argue they are perhaps necessary; respiratory research is one of them. In crude terms horses can suffer from asthma. They become allergic to the dust and the allergens that are in their boxes. We put horses in boxes whereas God, evolution, whatever you believe in, designed them to be running round on windy steppes and having fresh air going into their nostrils. We put them in boxes to keep them warm and keep them fit but that then gives them respiratory problems. In order to study that problem sometimes they are made to have asthmatic attacks. I am very concerned about that sort of thing but I can understand the need for the research to be done. That is just an example. I do not think there are many examples like that, but what examples there are are very well controlled and well managed.
(Professor Allen) In terms of the world situation I would say we stand up well. We look after our animals, both farm and particularly our research animals better than perhaps other countries like America and Canada. Their research is well controlled and well governed, they are controlled just like we are, but in the way they handle and manage animals between experiments, I think we beat them hands down. They can be pretty rough and tough. Can I come back to a point that Dr MacArthur Clark made, and that is the over-prescription of what facilities must be given to experimental animals. That is particularly the case with the horse. The Home Office have ruled that a box for an experimental horse should be 14 by 14.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton
(Professor Allen) 14 feet by 14 feet. That is a very big room. The average traditional box for a very valuable Thoroughbred stallion or mare is 12 by 12. Our standard box (because we do not keep them in very long) is ten by ten. To put a small pony in a 14 by 14 box, and one that is difficult to catch, is quite ridiculous. So the wrong sort of people have been creating these hard and fast rules. Whereas we can keep our present facilities, if we were to build new facilities, by law we must produce boxes of 14 by 14 to keep the horses in, and that is foolish.
1147. Following up what you say that the wrong people are making regulations, you complain in your written evidence about the quality of the Inspectorate. We have had very varied evidence on this. Some people are working very well with the Inspectorate. Do you think you have been unlucky or is this a widespread feeling amongst your colleagues?
(Professor Allen) It is a very widespread feeling amongst my scientific colleagues, the ones that I know. If I can enlarge on my personal feelings (and I am not particularly against our own Home Office Inspector) I think there is a feeling of scorn for Inspectors by other members of the veterinary profession who happen to be doing research like me, in thatand I do not think you can get away from itit is generally regarded as a sinecure for a vet to take on a job like that. It is a nine to five, highly-paid sinecure and the people who tend to do it are people who fail in either practice or particularly in research. They cannot hack it, in crude terms, so they move off into that type of field. Therefore, they do not get the respect from us that might be forthcoming. My suggestion, as it used to be before the new Act, is that Inspectors should be retired practising vets, 50 and 60-year-old men and women who have had a life-time of experience and who would do this almost as a part-time job. When they came round they knew what they were talking about and they garnered respect from the likes of us. If I were to be accosted and questioned by that sort of individual, I would smarten up and stand up and be accountable.
1148. In the cost-benefit analysis used to determine whether a piece of scientific research involving the use of animals should be permitted, what do you understand by "cost" and what do you understand by "benefit"?
(Professor Allen) I am probably wrong but my personal understanding is that cost is any pain, suffering or discomfort that that animal or group of animals must be subjected to in order to find the answer to the question and does that answer justify that degree of pain and suffering? I am as simplistic as that about it and I would hold to that position. I think that has got to be left to the conscience of the individual, particularly in the case of the veterinary surgeon, or the Inspectorate to determine what is excessive pain or excessive distress. It is not as cumbersome as people tend to make out. The best people to answer these questions are farmers in terms of farm livestock and horse men in terms of horses. They work with and understand these animals and they can tell you what is undue suffering and pain. I would just bring up a point that was brought up previously with Judy MacArthur Clark as to the different types of pain expressed by different species. I can give you some examples in the horse. When a horse has stomach ache or colic, it expresses that very, very severely. They do not like stomach pain and they will go down and roll and thrash about inside their box. They are very distressed by any sort of stomach ache, even a very minor stomach ache. Yet they can have a broken leg or pus in the foot and they will just stand still and suffer and never show that they have got that pain. That pain must be intense but it is a different type of pain in that animal. Whereas a cow can have all sorts of dreadful things going on in its abdomen such as peritonitis, resulting from wire tracking out from its abomasum, causing all sorts of damage, a cow will stand there dull and mute and will not express anything at all. So there are marked differences between species which are well-understood and well-known by veterinary surgeons and, I would claim, farmers as well. It is not the bogeyman that it is thought to be.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton
1149. You have expressed yourself strongly both on paper and here with what seems to be the implication about the political or social considerations that brought the Act to bear and which perhaps some inspectors are following (bearing in mind there is a world out there that is very worried about animal experiments, and people try to put it in a certain way) and the civil servants and Home Office are trying to respond to that kind of pressure or situation. So, if I may say so, you express some impatience with this, but do you not think there might be some way in which your community was able to explain what you do that would enable the Government or the bureaucracy to meet its objectives of assuaging this concerned community and at the same time be more efficient in your world? There has got to be an effective compromise. If I may say so, just remonstrating is not going to solve this problem.
(Professor Allen) I fully agree and what I would like personally to see happen is for the senior Home Office representatives that create and draw up the legislation and actually make the rules to come to establishments like mine or other research establishment using large animals and look and talk to these people as to what might be the best and most sensible thing to do. That certainly has not happened in the past.
1150. That is a fair point.
(Professor Allen) It is clear that the present Act was drawn up on the basis of small animals. The anaesthetic rule is a perfectly reasonable one to have if it relates to a mouse or a rat because it is a very severe thing to anaesthetise a rat, but the rule is not reasonable when applied to a horse.
1151. Is that the Act or the rules made under it or the application of the rules by the Home Office? You mention, for example, this illogicality, illustrating it with the ventral midline transfer, where only one method can be carried out on any particular mare. Is that a matter for the Act or the application of the Act through the rules made under it? The general evidence we have got is that the Act works well but there is a lot of complaint about the way in which it is administered.
(Professor Allen) It is a combination of the two. The Act actually says "thou shalt only have one general anaesthetic" and because you do a midline laparotomy under general anaesthetic that operation rules then rules that animal out.
1152. That is part of the Act
(Professor Allen) Yes, and the rigidity of it and the stupidity of the inspector and this lack of experience and lack of someone who knows what he is talking about means that I am empowered to do no fewer than four flank laparotomies on the same horse in a year and that is a nasty, messy, much more painful operation than is the midline laparotomy, as I have tried to point out. That is cutting through the side of the horse where all the muscles are. If you do it under local anaesthetic the actual surgery is not so bad because you heavily sedate the animal and use a lot of local anaesthetic, but you have to sew it up and then when the animal moves afterwards it is pulling on all the muscles. Any man who has had an abdominal operation or woman who has had a caesarian section will tell you how painful that can be. It is a combination. The Act is badly written in certain things but it is implemented very forcibly by our Home Office Inspector. Can I make another point here which is about the teaching of students which is important and which I am engaged in, and it was alluded to previously. The Act becomes very oppressive because if I have a horse that I am examining for a clinical reason because it is showing signs of illness (for example I might do a rectal examination to see if it has any obstruction in its intestinal tract) then I can have a student with me and I can let that student follow me in to the rectum and also palpate the intestines because it is for a clinical purpose. But if I use my experimental mares to teach those students, we are not allowed to let the students touch them. It is utterly illogical and ridiculous but we have great troubles on this and with taking blood samples and all the other different procedures that students have to learn. As far as Cambridge is concerned, we have the perfect group of animals for them to train onhence I have a Chair so that our facilities to can be made available to the Cambridge Veterinary School. But when they cannot use them because it is outside the strict wording of the Act it becomes ludicrous. We have got too much of that going on.
1153. Leaving aside the superb quality of your own ethical review committee, do you think generally that ERCs could play a greater role in assessing cost-benefit or approving minor modifications? If they were the people you would approach to give you permission to make modifications to your procedures or to assess the benefit when you were looking at doing a particular procedure, do you think that keeping the process local rather than having to go to the Inspectorate would be a useful idea?
(Professor Allen) That would be a much, much better way of doing things. I would be very much in favour of that, provided of course that one has the right people on one's ethical review committee. I have a perfect Chairman, I am very lucky, but as well on there I have three scientists in different equine-related fields, and two sensible lay people that can be taught and can understand what we are doing and make me justify why we want to do an experiment. I am happy to do that. I am happy to discuss things orally at a meeting rather than slavishly have to fill in sheets and sheets of paper.
1154. Are your lay people really lay in the layman sense in that they are people not directly connected with this or are they scientists in other fields?
(Professor Allen) One is a local solicitor and the other is a lady owner of a studfarm; two genuinely lay people.
Chairman: That is very interesting.
1155. I understood from your written evidence that as things are you regard the ethical review people as pretty redundant because they just duplicate what is already done elsewhere. Is that right?
(Professor Allen) In a way, yes. We have to have ethical review committee meetings and they (very kindly because they are doing it on a voluntary basis) ponder and review and discuss and come up with a decision, but that decision is meaningless because it has all got to go to the Home Office anyway.
1156. Exactly. So Lord Lucas's suggestion would be to put to them some of the work at present done by the Home Office to allow amendments and whatever else so that the review body would have a much more useful purpose. Is that right?
(Professor Allen) That is absolutely so, yes, I would agree with that. It would be more sensible to let the local ethical review committee be gathered together more quickly and they can give us straight answers there and then without it all having to be written and posted off to the Home Office.
1157. It does seem a lot easier to define what constitutes a lay person when you are dealing with horses than when you are dealing with laboratory animals. It is very easy in Newmarket to find people who are not scientists but who are very knowledgeable about horses.
(Professor Allen) That is true.
Chairman: Auctioneers and bookies!
1158. The impression you have given in the paper is that you think the whole of the ethical review process is a colossal waste of time. Are you saying it is but it need not be and that if it is properly administered it might be helpful?
(Professor Allen) I have given the wrong impression. It is not a colossal waste of time. It is an unnecessary duplication if everything they do has to go off to the Home Office. I would much prefer to deal with my ethical review committee
1159. You do not object to them as such?
(Professor Allen)and discuss things with them and have their approval or disapproval and have to argue my case with them, than ever I would with a Home Office Inspector for whom, I have to admit, I cannot have much respect. Can I give you an example: recently we wished to try and clone horses. We discussed it with the ethical review committee, I have the right scientist to do the work and the committee approved it. It then went off to the Home Office and because the horse is an emotive speciesagain it is political, not in any way scientificthey have presented us at the present time from transferring cloned embryos that we might produce back into a mare to try and get a pregnancy. We are stymied and blocked in that respect.