Posted: 2 March 2011. Updated: 25 March 2014
World Day for Laboratory Animals – April 24th – is about commemorating the suffering of animals in laboratories. Animals are burnt, blinded, scalded, poisoned, mutilated, starved and products are forced down their throats through tubes, so that the products we use every day can be called “safe”. These are things we use in our food (additives), on our bodies (cosmetics, toiletries), in our home (cleaners, laundry etc.), in our cars, our gardens – paint, garden fertilizers and the medicines we take; everything has been tested on animals.
The week of activity surrounding World Day for Laboratory Animals is known as Lab Animal Week. The NAVS founded World Day for Laboratory Animals in 1979; the date is the birthday of a past President, Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, a great champion of animals. World Lab Animal Day is now commemorated on every continent and has been a focal point that has moved the issue forward, educating the public and legislators about animal tests and the alternatives, for almost 35 years.
Every year, an estimated 100 million animals suffer and die in laboratories all over the world, in experiments that can never be trusted. This is because the fundamental flaw of animal research is that each species responds differently to substances, making animal tests unreliable as a way to predict effects in humans. And many of these tests can be replaced by the advanced scientific alternatives that are available now.
Two of the key reasons that animals continue to be used in testing are (a) government inertia – animal tests became the standard ‘checklist’ for regulators without any scrutiny over their value, and (b) secrecy – because the public is not allowed to know what is done in our name and with our money, questioning animal testing meets a wall of government and industry silence.
The waste of life and research money is horrendous, too. For each recorded use of an animal, a further two to three animals have been killed after a miserable short life, simply because they are surplus to requirements. We can change this.
Advanced non-animal methods are steadily replacing animal use because they are more reliable, produce quicker results and are more effective – they are relevant to humans and not based on the bodies of other species. Cosmetic animal tests have been replaced by such methods, and some particularly cruel animal tests like the LD50 poisoning tests (where animals were force fed a product until 50% died), the ascites method of antibody production, and others, have been replaced.
However, there is much more to be done. This is where we can make a difference. Addressing the secrecy is the next action we need to take – let’s dispense with the cloak of secrecy surrounding animal tests. Companies conducting the tests and governments requiring them as part of their ‘check list’ of tests before a product reaches the market do not want you to know what is done in your name. Let’s end the secrecy.
This summer, the Government is consulting on secrecy and possible removal or amendment of this clause – make sure your voice is heard!
Make the point to your MP that the Freedom of Information Act 2000 already contains all the provisions necessary to protect anybody’s personal identity and details and it also protects commercially sensitive and intellectual material.
If the UK decides to retain its blanket secrecy on animal experiments, it will be flying in the face of the whole thrust of the new European Directive on animal experiments, 2010/63/EU, which adopts transparency and public accountability as one of its fundamental objectives.
S.24 of ASPA states, “A person is guilty of an offence if otherwise than for the purpose of discharging his functions under this Act he discloses any information which has been obtained by him in the exercise of those functions and which he knows or has reasonable grounds for believing to have been given in confidence.”
Thus, although animal experiments are conducted by public bodies such as universities, which are subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), Section 24 of the ASPA takes precedence, barring the release of any information.
During our campaign against secrecy on animal experiments in the late 1990s, NAVS noticed that the Home Office had taken the provision a step further, widening its scope. S.24 had been used to pursue a policy of blanket confidentiality on the licensing process for at least ten years. All Home Office application forms had been annotated to indicate that everything on the form would be treated as confidential.
We discussed this with Home Office officials and sought clarification from the Home Secretary. Our request for a change of policy was refused, so we took the case to the High Court in 1998, seeking a Judicial Review of the Government’s policy. We argued that in fact, S.24 of the ASPA did not authorise the Home Secretary to apply a blanket confidentiality policy across all information from laboratories, and that discretion must be used. Successive Home Secretaries had overstepped their authority.
The High Court agreed and granted our Judicial Review, directing the Home Secretary to change the Government’s policy. The Government agreed to a change of policy – not just a change of wording on the forms.
However, Home Office officials immediately wrote to all licensees and applicants to advise that should they require any informationon their application to remain confidential, all they needed to do, was to write that request on their form.
This was a step forward in the battle against secrecy, but to date, we remain in the position that a person can request that their form is treated as confidential and receive that benefit, without any opportunity for outside review (as would be the case if the FOIA applied). NAVS worked hard in the eight years of development of the new European Directive on the use of animals in scientific procedures, 2010/63/EU, to ensure that the principles of freedom of information and public accountability were adopted in the directive. Once these principles were adopted across the EU, the UK Government would have greater difficulty in denying public access to information on animal experiments and greater accountability and transparency of the decision making process.
The current Government consultation on S.24 is the result of the provisions of the new EU Directive being transposed into UK law – our best opportunity since 1986 to get this changed.
The animals cannot speak for themselves – they need your voice.
From the NAVS and the millions of animals who have no voice without us, thank you for supporting Lab Animal Week!