Time to install CCTV cameras in animal research labs

Posted on the 17th May 2013

In the light of yet more evidence of incompetence, cruelty and regulatory breakdown suffered by animals in UK laboratories, Animal Aid is stepping up its campaign to have CCTV installed in establishments that conduct animal experiments.

In April, the BUAV published an undercover investigation based on months of secret filming at Imperial College, London. With technicians often playing loud music as rats and mice were experimented on, some of the staff exhibited shocking levels of incompetence and ignorance about the experiments to which they had been assigned.

The BUAV exposé comes two months after the publication of Animal Aid’s own landmark report, which charts the true nature and scale of the cruelty inherent in the breeding and killing every year of millions of genetically modified mice. Science Corrupted, as well as drawing on numerous scientific papers, cites undercover reports and first-hand testimony from the last two decades. It describes widespread flouting of welfare laws, staff inadequacies leading to poor animal care, faulty equipment being used for killing animals and the drawn-out deaths by gassing of thousands of ‘surplus’ animals.

It is clear from such evidence that the current regulatory system is deficient. The Home Office employs just 21 full-time inspectors to assess and police around 3.8 million experiments per year. Whereas negligent and wantonly cruel behaviour would never be acted out in front of Home Office Inspectors, CCTV cameras can help deter such behaviour, or capture evidence of it where it does occur.

Animal Aid has had several recent discussions with top officials at the Home Office (HO) concerning the use of CCTV in research labs. In May last year, together with the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), we submitted to the head of the HO unit that authorises and regulates experiments a dossier called An Outline Proposal for the Introduction of CCTV in Animal Research Establishments (link to pdf). Follow-up discussions continue. 1

An appropriate starting point for the trial introduction of cameras, we believe, would be Imperial College, London, given BUAV’s Licensed to Kill exposé.

This investigation revealed many truly shocking examples of brutality towards laboratory mice and rats, as well as apparent breaches of licence conditions. As one researcher was cutting open an under-anaesthetised rat with scissors to withdraw blood and remove his organs, the rat lifted his head at least twice. In response, the researcher declared: ‘Oh, I hate it when he does that.’

Animal Aid has written to Lord Taylor of Holbeach, the Minister responsible for animal experiments, urging him to ensure that any licence renewals relating to Imperial College include the condition that CCTV must be installed to monitor staff activities.

Despite official rhetoric to the contrary, obsessive secrecy still characterises the conduct of animal experiments in Britain. Project licences are not published, and members of the public are neither allowed access to laboratories nor able to volunteer to serve on the Ethical Review Bodies, which sanction procedures locally. The Home Office inspectorate is woefully understaffed, and relies in large part on experimenters reporting their own crimes.

Since publishing Science Corrupted, Animal Aid has continued to investigate GM mice breeding and experiments at several British universities.2 Many are conducting long-running ‘themed’ research in which, for instance, mice have nerves in their legs severed, tied or crushed, leaving them hypersensitive to pain. Elsewhere, animals end up riddled with tumours, suffering internal bleeding and fatal bladder blockages. At a third centre, mice with extreme, deliberately induced heart damage were forced to endure a punishing ‘swimming’ regime.

Major charities such as Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation fund a significant proportion of this activity.3 And while the published papers seen by Animal Aid are deeply disturbing, the information made public inevitably represents only a fragment of the true level of animal suffering and exploitation.

Given this background, claims by animal experimenters that they are scrupulous in their adherence to the highest animal welfare standards lack all credibility. Independently monitored CCTV will not deal with the fundamental problem of animal experimentation – that it is morally and scientifically unsupportable. But it can help address some of the worst excesses.

Action

Please contact Home Office Minister, Lord Taylor, and urge him to begin the installation of CCTV cameras in animal research laboratories. He should start with Imperial College, London and go on to premises identified by the Home Office itself as being of higher risk, either because of the nature of the research carried out, or because they have been guilty of a licence infringement.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office), House of Lords, London, SW1A 0PW

Notes

  1. The proposals are given added weight when recent developments in the slaughterhouse industry are considered. Every major supermarket company now insists that its slaughterhouse suppliers install CCTV – a scheme backed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). This development follows a long-running Animal Aid investigation of nine randomly selected slaughterhouses, using fixed hidden cameras. In eight of the nine, we recorded clear evidence of breaches of the welfare laws. Animals were shown being kicked, slapped, stamped on, picked up by fleeces and ears and thrown into stunning pens. We recorded animals being incompetently stunned and going to the knife while still conscious. Others were beaten, tormented, punched and burned with cigarettes. None of these offences had been detected by the FSA-appointed vets, who are permanently on-site at every slaughterhouse. A measure of transparency and accountability of the sort provided by the installation of CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses could produce equivalent benefits for animals in laboratories.
  2. Three of the universities investigated were BristolCardiff and Manchester.
  3. Read Animal Aid’s report Victims of Charity.

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