National Anti-vivisection Society

 

National Antivisection Society

Review represents once in a generation chance to help end animal experiments in the UK

Posted: 24 October 2013. Updated: 28 October 2013

What is happening, when and why?

Until now, animal experiments and information on them have been covered in the UK by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act (or ASPA) 1986, containing the notorious Section 24 which places a blanket ban on regulators releasing any information from animal experimentation laboratories. This has prevented public debate and wider scientific scrutiny of animal research despite the existence of laws in the UK since 2000 guaranteeing freedom of information. Section 24 of ASPA has until now been used to scupper many requests for information on animal experiments made under the Freedom of Information Act, and this is sometimes resulted in expensive legal hearings.

However, now that an EU directive on the use of animals for scientific purposes (2010/63/EU), which calls for greater openness, has revised ASPA, and after years of delay in taking action on this secrecy clause, the government may finally have to move on the issue. Therefore it will hold a public consultation in the coming months to decide whether it will amend ASPA and scrap Section 24, or to keep it in some form, thus going against the spirit of the EU Directive.

Once the results of the public consultation are assessed, officials will advise the Home Office minister of recommended action, who will present this to Parliament or relevant committees, quite possibly without a full Parliamentary debate on the decision.

What do we want and how can this benefit laboratory animals?

We want to scrap Section 24 and lift the lid on the blanket ban on information on animal experiments which has been firmly shut for almost 140 years. It is this lack of accountability which has, for example, allowed 2012 to witness the highest number of animal experiments since 1986, when ASPA was introduced, totalling over 4 million and an increase of 8% from 2011. This despite the Coalition Government’s undertaking to cut the number. This ban also prevents anybody from finding out if experiments are justified, if alternative methods exist, or have already been replicated. If Section 24 is removed, apart from having access to detailed information on experiments after they occur, most importantly we would be able to oppose experiments before they happen. We would have access to Project Licence Applications, essential for any animal experiment and currently rubber-stamped by the Home Office, and could stop proposed experiments before they begin. Reasons for stopping these experiments could include research which is duplicated, where alternatives exist, or where the application to humans would be irrelevant or even harmful. The advantages for protection of laboratory animals can hardly be stressed enough, especially considering that this is quite possibly the only opportunity for many years to come to increase accountability and openness in research on animals. In addition, alternatives like computer modelling would be boosted by the need to provide justification for animal experiments, which already exists in theory, but which in practice is impossible to verify, given Section 24. It is hard to imagine if the industry were open to scrutiny that 4 million animals would have been experimented on last year.

Besides the welfare arguments, it is simply inadmissible for one of more than 90 countries with legally-protected freedom of information, that this information ban remains in the UK, especially in a government-regulated industry where there is no independent oversight or review possible.

Lord Taylor, Minister from the Home Office, which oversees animal research, as recently as 16th July said in a Ministerial Statement: “The requirements of Section 24 are now out of step with our policy on openness and transparency and with the approach taken in other legislation, such as the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The solution we develop must improve the overall transparency surrounding research using animals, to create an environment which fosters informed debate leading to greater public trust, and also must protect personal identities and intellectual property".

What are the arguments and justifications of the vivisectors to justify Section 24?

The animal research industry says that it already provides necessary information on experiments and uses the same argument to justify Section 24, when their concerns have already protected since 2000, under the Freedom of Information Act, and would continue to be if the secrecy clause were banned.

The only public information the industry provides at present when they apply for a licence to use animals are non technical summaries lacking the scientific detail needed to examine alternatives, only after a licence has already been granted. The majority of experiments are only publicly reported long after the animals have been used.

The industry has always cited the same concerns over possible personal identification or in protecting their intellectual property. However, since the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act in 2000, these precise concerns have been legally protected, so Section 24 is completely unnecessary.

Other sectors of government, including sensitive areas such as defence, are open to the possibility of accountability, for example central and local government, the NHS and the police.

Why your help is essential and how you can help

There are two main reasons why we need the help of supporters like you to scrap Section 24: Because there is a public consultation, meaning your voice needs to be heard and taken on board, and because the extremely well-connected and resourced animal research industry will fight against more openness and accountability. We need you to write to your MP now about the need to scrap Section 24, and can provide you with templates for this letter, or to request a meeting with your MP to express your concern, which we can also attend with you. Once the public consultation is launched, and when we know the format and content of this, we will provide you with postcards to complete and send to the Home Office with the answers needed to help end the suffering of laboratory animals in the UK.

As this campaign is of such great importance for animal welfare, yet not the most straightforward to communicate, here are some phrases which sum up the importance of scrapping Section 24, not only for those who care about animals, but for anyone who believes in the principles of democracy:

Now is the last chance in a generation to stop secret and unnecessary animal suffering

  • Last year, 4 million animals in the UK were experimented on, the highest in 20 years, with no questions asked or allowed. This, despite flying in the face of government promises to cut animal experiments.
  • All we are asking for is that animal experiments are, like any other industry, able to be held accountable
  • Scrapping Section 24 is about principles – You don’t need to be against animal experiments to support the principles of accountability and transparency.
  • Section 24 is undemocratic and contradicts the UK’s right to freedom of information. The UK stands alone among many countries that offer this protection, denying it in one, non-security-related, instance.
  • While the government discloses all kinds of sensitive information on its activities, even if not immediately, animal experiment details remain forever secret.
  • As all other government-monitored activities are open to scrutiny, it is non-sensical that animal experiments are exempted.

Take action

  • Find out how you can support our campaign to end secret suffering in UK laboratories here

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