Allergan, a Botox producer in Ireland, have developed a non-animal alternative to the horrific and unreliable LD50 test on mice that is applied to each batch of Botox. Great news?!
For the LD50 test, groups of mice are injected with different doses of Botulinum toxin into the abdomen. Many of the mice suffer from paralysis, impaired vision and respiratory distress. After up to three or four days of suffering, if left, they die of suffocation. Undercover investigations by the BUAV reveal that, in practice, attempts by staff to intervene and kill the mice before they died this agonising death often fail, with many more mice dying from the effects of the toxin instead of being killed before that happens.
I’ve been providing policy advice to the Irish Anti-Vivisection Society, and we’ve discovered that, sadly, Allergan have not yet shared their humane testing technology, so other companies like Ipsen and Merz are still doing the LD50 test, as reported by the Irish Examiner on 5 September 2012. It seems like Allergan would rather force their competitors to spend money developing their own non-animal test, rather than share their technology.
Legislation says that animal tests must be replaced by non-animal alternatives where ‘reasonably and practically available’. In practice, this non-animal alternative is available in these terms to Ipsen and Merz, they just need to take action with Allergan’s cooperation. The public are given the impression that the animal testing industry and government bust a gut to save animals from unnecessary testing and that if alternatives are available they will be used instead of animals. This episode will shock the public when they see how commercial greed is allowed to take precedence and obstruct the sharing of lifesaving technologies (which also happen to be much better tests in terms of improving the safety of these products for humans), especially when a large proportion of these unnecessary animal tests are for cosmetic Botulinum products.
The Irish Government have been very complacent on this – though that seems to be standard practice for national governments generally. It is their legal and moral duty to bring Allergan and the other companies together to spare thousands of animals from unnecessary abuse.
I was very surprised to see a session at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on 10 October given over to naked, one-sided propaganda from a pharmaceutical industry-funded lobby group devoted to promoting painful and lethal experiments on animals – Understanding Animal Research.
For example, the synopsis implies that research has been moving away from animal experiments, when in fact a million more are being conducted every year in the UK compared to a decade ago. Moreover, their claim that animal research is boosting animal welfare – when it specifically involves the infliction of procedures that are likely to cause ‘pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm’ – is Orwellian doublespeak.
Indeed, it would appear that UAR have a deliberate policy of trying to conceal any pain and suffering involved in animal experiments. At a recent conference, a UAR spokesperson was candid enough to admit that when he gave school talks for UAR he didn’t bring up the central issue of the adverse effects endured by animals. This is important because polling data indicates that most people weigh up animal suffering against perceived potential benefits when deciding whether a particular animal experiment is acceptable. So evading the issue of animal suffering fundamentally distorts public understanding of animal research. Just like UAR’s vague spin about being reluctant to perform animal experiments (when their mission appears to be to defend animal experimentation in general as an institutionalised practice, come what may), the title of the organisation expresses an aspiration which, in my view, is diametrically opposed to their true intentions, particular in terms of their denial of the pain they inflict on animals. It seems like a tactic copied from the tobacco and fossil fuel industries in response to lung cancer and climate change respectively.
(I should say, I would love to be proved wrong and UAR start behaving in a more constructive and open manner, but I’m expecting any response to be snide and arrogant.)
It is unacceptable that no attempt has been made to encourage an informed, balanced debate on this issue of significant public interest. It’s a sad fact of life that any powerful lobby group, no matter how Machiavellian or unethical they are, will find it easy to gain a platform. But you would think that an event with pretensions to intellectual credibility would at least try to achieve balance? I’m not sure whether anyone is responsible for curating this festival or is it a case of who ever can afford to buy a slot can say what the hell they want?
But, then again, the related ‘Science’ Festival is sponsored by Pfizer, who have just had to pay out $60 million following bribery charges. In 2009, Pfizer had to pay out $2.3billion for mis-selling drugs. The whistleblower who exposed the fraud said: ‘At Pfizer, I was expected to increase profits at all costs, even when sales meant endangering lives.’ Yet law-abiding animal protection groups are the ones treated as pariahs while Pfizer’s PR budget seems to have a magical whitewashing effect for the festival organisers – or maybe they just aren’t bothered?
Just reading a fascinating paper by Dr Katy Wilkinson (Newcastle University) and colleagues on the politics of the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001. It shows how the National Farmers Union (NFU) largely dictated the Government response – led by the infamous Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) – to the FMD outbreak. Among other demands, the NFU called for countryside footpaths be closed, despite there being evidence from previous FMD events showing the walking public had no role in spreading the disease. I get the sense this deflected attention and blame from the farming industry. As a result, other sectors of the rural economy were unnecessarily decimated: between 2001–2005 it caused estimated £355 million loss to farming, compared with a staggering £2.1 billion loss to tourism.
The NFU vigorously opposed vaccination in favour of the mass slaughter of animals, the vast majority of which were not infected. This stance seems to have been motivated partly by financial considerations – it would be quicker to resume exports to Europe if culling was used. But there also seems to be a kneejerk reaction to simply kill animals whenever a problem arises.
I’m reading this on the day the Government has signalled a return to the bad old days of MAFF with an extremely farmer-centric rural policy which, as history tells us (remember BSE as well?), could have catastrophic consequences for other parts of the rural economy, animal welfare and public health. The FMD fiasco has chilling echoes of the current NFU/Govt determination to slaughter badgers in the face of contrary scientific evidence.
However, there is one passage in the paper which very succinctly expresses the massive political problems faced by animal protection groups, which I think we must take heed of. Indeed, it reflects the thinking behind the formation of our new think tank and policy research organisation, the IASJ.
“The tactics employed by the NFU over the previous two decades in responding to the pressure from environmental groups critical of intensive agricultural practices demonstrate such anticipation and reaction. As Smith suggests, the NFU has capitalized on the poor resource base of many environmental groups which subsequently renders them unable to concentrate their efforts on a single issue for a long period of time; as a result, farmers need only resist pressure for a finite period of time before the pressure group and media spotlights turn elsewhere (1990a, p. 193).”
Wilkinson K. et al, (2010) ‘Beyond Policy Networks: Policy Framing and the Politics of Expertise in the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease Crisis’. Public Administration Vol 88 pp331-345.
Smith, M.J. (1990a). The Politics of Agricultural Support in Britain: The Development of the Agricultural Policy Community. Aldershot: Dartmouth.
I’ve finally managed to wring a journal article out of my PhD thesis on the evolution of UK animal research policy. It is published in the latest edition of the journal ‘Society & Animals’, whose focus is self-explanatory.
The article is actually based on a paper I gave at the inspirational Minding Animals Conference which took place in Newcastle, Australia in July 2009, and for which I was honoured to be presented with the Best Conference Paper prize by Professor Peter Singer. You can download a copy of the article from here.
In a nutshell, the article provides shocking insights into the true level of suffering inflicted on animal in laboratories, as well as the connivance of researchers and the Home Office in evading the law and covering up wrongdoing.
These are some of the verbatim observations recorded by researchers as primates endured a lingering and agonising death as a result of xenotransplantation experiments:
• “Uncoordinated limb spasms” and “stroke”
• “in a collapsed state” and “found dead”
• “Gastro-intestinal toxicity, resulting in severe diarrhoea”
• “very distressed”
• “body and limb tremors”
• “grinding teeth, eyes rolling . . .”
We urgently need to learn the lessons of this scandal so we can prevent such futile cruelty under the updated law resulting from the new EU Directive on animal experiments.