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Government U-Turn opens door to experiments on lost pets?

June 22, 2012 8 comments

The UK Government’s implementation of a new EU Directive on animal experimentation threatens to weaken our already inadequate regulations. One area of acute public concern has been the question of whether experiments on stray/feral animals – including lost or stolen pets – will be permitted under the new regime. The answer to that depends heavily on the current rules, as the Directive allows countries to keep stricter existing measures, while hindering them from unilaterally passing new rules stricter than the Directive.

The Government is now desperately trying to give the impression that stray/lost pets will not be subjected to experiments, but is refusing to actually ban the practice. So what is going on?

Yesterday, Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone issued a statement to the House of Commons which claimed that current UK legislation did not prohibit experiments on stray animals, and therefore the Government would have to ‘copy-out’ the relevant Article of the Directive into UK law. However, the Government could not ‘envisage’ allowing such tests and so there would be ‘effective prohibition’.  A Home Office email to animal protection groups has sought to reassure us and they seem suspiciously keen to move on from this issue!

At first glance this all seems reasonable, until you compare this with previous Government statements. The problem is, Featherstone’s statement contradicts the interpretation stated in paragraph 64 of the Home Office June 2011 Consultation Document, which asserted:

“This [Article 11] is a relaxation of the provisions of Directive 86/609/EC under which their use was prohibited. ASPA 10(3)(a) and (b) implements this prohibition through its requirement under Schedule 2 for animals of relevant species to be purpose bred and limitations regarding the use of wild animals.

Question: Is there a case on animal welfare gounds for retaining the current UK prohibition on the use of stray and feral animals, as permitted by Article 2?”

Given the Home Office’s equivocation on this issue – and in the absence of a clear explanation as to why the position has shifted – it is difficult to be confident about where the Government really stands.

If the Government sincerely wishes to ban the practice, why surreptitiously move the goalposts to give the impression that a ban can’t be implemented? The Home Office’s Consultation response (p.17, Article 11) last month gives a clue. It reveals that there was ‘limited support from the bioscience user sector for transposing Article 11 unchanged’.

So it appears that the Government has caved into demands by a small proportion of animal researchers to open the door to experiments on abandoned/stray dogs and cats, snubbing the call from just about everyone else (including many involved in animal research) to maintain the complete ban on such experiments.

There is a widespread and powerful commitment within the animal research sector to maximising their freedom to experiment on animals, by keeping the door open to all categories of experiment ‘just in case’ they want to perform them in the future, even if they and the Home Office can’t envisage it at the moment. Given stray animals are used in other developed countries such as the USA and Australia, UK animal protection groups are right to be wary of meaningless ‘intentions’ from a Home Office and their industry masters who are, in reality, facilitating such experiments rather than opposing them.