Home Office document reveals disturbing scale of research programme on pregnant animals

Posted on the 25th February 2014

Animal Aid has obtained an official document revealing that the pregnant sheep experiment recently featured on our Victims of Charity website – and which was financially supported by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) – was part of a vast research programme that was scheduled to use up to 4,805 pregnant animals, including 3,750 rats and mice, 850 sheep, 125 pigs and 80 ponies.

The disturbing scale of the suffering is described in a document submitted to the Home Office (HO) by one of the researchers. It was disclosed to Animal Aid by the HO in response to a formal request for background information relating to the sheep experiment we first highlighted in January. The thousands of pregnant animals were to provide ‘the majority of the offspring’ who would also be used in the research and whose numbers could reach up to 7,900 (500 sheep, 300 pigs, 100 horses, 3,500 rats and 3,500 mice). While some of the equines could be re-homed, the document states that farmed animals not used for tissue collection ‘may be sent to market or slaughter’.

Says Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler: 

‘Quite apart from the horrific scale of the programme and its apparent disregard for the value of animals’ lives, it is particularly disturbing to imagine the suffering of individuals subjected first to vivisection and then to the horrors of the “livestock” market and slaughterhouse. Furthermore, we cannot envisage how these traumatic and lethal experiments can advance medical progress, given the fundamental differences between species that prevent the results of animal experiments from being reliably translated to humans. Animal Aid calls on the BHF to reassure the public that no further financial assistance will be given to this programme, whether through money awarded to key members of the research team, or to the laboratory.’

Pressure on the BHF is certain to increase with Animal Aid’s recent discovery that it provided grant support for at least three additional experiments1 on pregnant sheep (all of which involved a researcher who has received more than £1 million from the organisation). The experiments again included invasive surgery on heavily pregnant sheep and their unborn lambs in order to insert recording devices. In one of the experiments, following surgery, the foetuses were subjected to ‘well-established’ suffocation protocols2. A reference cited in the paper indicates that this involved a polythene bag being placed over the mothers’ heads and a gas with a low concentration of oxygen being pumped in. In another of the three experiments3, the unborn lambs were deprived of oxygen via repeated compression of the umbilical cord. One of them died as a result of cardiovascular collapse.

Many of the BHF’s supporters would no doubt be horrified to learn that their generous donations could have been used to support such shocking cruelty. The high-profile heart charity would be well advised to reassure the public that no further financial support will be given to research of this kind.


  1. The three papers are:
    • A.S. Thakor, E.A. Herrera, M. Serón-Ferré, D.A. Giussani (2010) Melatonin and vitamin C increase umbilical blood flow via nitric oxide-dependent mechanisms. Journal of Pineal Research. 49:399-406
    • D.A. Giussani, A.J.W. Fletcher, D.S. Gardner (2011) Sex differences in the ovine fetal cortisol response to stress. Pediatric Research. Vol. 69, No. 2, 2011
    • J.B. Derks, M.A. Oudijk, H.L. Torrance et al. (2010). Allopurinol reduces oxidiative stress in the ovine fetal cardiovascular system after repeated episodes of ischemia-reperfusion. Pediatric Research. Vol. 68, No. 5, 2010
  2. The experiment is Sex differences in the ovine fetal cortisol response to stress and the papers referenced (also supported by the BHF) are:
    • D.S. Gardner, A.L. Fowden, D.A. Giussani (2002) Adverse intrauterine conditions diminish the fetal defense against acute hypoxia by increasing nitric oxide activity. Circulation. 106:2278-2283
    • D.A. Giussani, D.S. Gardner, D.T. Cox et al. (2001) Purinergic contribution to circulatory, metabolic, and adrenergic responses to acute hypoxemia in fetal sheep. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 280:R678-R685
  3. J.B. Derks, M.A. Oudijk, H.L. Torrance et al. (2010). Allopurinol reduces oxidiative stress in the ovine fetal cardiovascular system after repeated episodes of ischemia reperfusion. Pediatric Research. Vol. 68, No. 5, 2010

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