Posted: 12 July 2012. Updated: 16 March 2013
Pictured, an NAVS field officer captures on film a laughing animal technician at Oxford University, swinging a mouse by the tail and smashing the animal into a desktop. But who is there when we are not, in this most secretive area of animal suffering in the world?
The plan has already been discussed at recent meetings between ourselves and officials responsible for animal experiments, and was included in the NAVS response to the Government Consultation on the new EU Directive 2010/63, last summer.
Representatives of the biomedical research industry are now to be approached by the Home Office to test their reaction to the scheme.
We believe the current Home Office inspections represent only a snapshot into laboratory practice, and therefore cannot reflect day-to-day activity nor prevent serious abuse.
The proposals have been given added weight after supermarkets insisted that their slaughterhouse suppliers install CCTV – a scheme backed by the Food Standards Agency. This followed an Animal Aid investigation of nine slaughterhouses using fixed hidden cameras, which led to two people being convicted of cruelty to pigs. Click here to read more about the Animal Aid investigation of slaughterhouses.
ADI investigations have shown animal circuses making a complete mockery of inspections. Click here to read more about the ADI circus investigations.
Undercover investigations by the NAVS in UK laboratories over the past decade have highlighted animal abuse, lack of care, and problems that were not identified in routine Home Office inspections, including:
Oxford University: Technicians laughing and joking as they smashed mice against bench tops to kill them and animals torn open by hand to have their organs ‘harvested’.
Huntingdon Life Sciences: Monkeys suffering prolapses due to stress after being restrained; monkeys being experimented on in front of other monkeys, against proper practice.
Institute of Neurology: A cat dying after suffering for days when the animal received inadequate post-operative care.
Charing Cross & Westminster Medical School: A laboratory losing its Home Office licence after the NAVS revealed living animals thrown into dustbin bags for disposal.
CCTV in animal labs is a cost-effective way for the Home Office to meet its regulatory obligations, especially at a time when the department faces budgetary cuts that could reduce the number of inspections of licensed premises. CCTV cameras could also help address growing public scepticism about regulatory controls and animal protection in laboratories. A 2009 Ipsos MORI poll found that 31% of people did not trust the process, while 65% ‘would not be surprised’ if unlicensed experiments go on behind closed doors.
The Home Office employed 21 full-time inspectors to assess and police the 3.7 million experiments conducted during 2010. Armed with a Home Office licence, laboratory employees can undertake procedures that would otherwise render them liable to prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, including poisoning, brain damage, and the introduction of cancerous tissue and lethal pathogens.
Pictured, two HLS workers pin down and test on a monkey – in sight and hearing of other monkeys (contravenes guidelines).
It is unlikely that negligence, or wanton cruelty, would take place in the presence of an inspector and therefore must surely go undetected. CCTV cameras would enable there to be a record in the event of complaints either from our investigation or whistle-blowers. Huntingdon Life Sciences have simply denied the level of prolapses in the monkeys that our investigator recorded. Spot checks of footage could also assess the day to day care of the animals – and could deter some abuse.
The Home Office reports annually on serious violations of licence conditions. Examples in 2009-10 included animals being inadvertently starved to death, drowned, decapitated, suffocated, poisoned or killed by overheating. Most of these ‘infringements’ are self-reported and therefore probably represent a small proportion of the true number. Despite such infringements occurring each year, only once have legal proceedings been started by the Home Office. This followed national television coverage of dogs being slapped, and admissions by laboratory staff of the fraudulent generation of data.
Because of the high level of public mistrust about the regulatory process, our proposal calls for an independent committee to monitor footage. Members would include a veterinarian, independent scientists, animal behaviour and welfare experts, and representatives from animal welfare groups. One or more full-time specialist staff would view randomly selected sequences of footage obtained from establishments on a rolling basis, and report back. The Home Office itself would have access to all footage.
NAVS Campaigns Director, Tim Phillips said: “This proposal will not end all the terrible suffering of animals in laboratories, but it represents a small, practical step. At a stroke, cameras monitoring animal research facilities could eliminate some of the gross abuses, mistreatment, poor handling, or animals being killed and experimented on in front of others. With the right independent oversight there is an opportunity here to change how animal experiments are policed in the UK and bring it more in line with public expectations and concerns. Animal laboratories are bristling with security cameras, they have multiple checks and screening to ensure journalists or undercover investigators cannot get inside, all we are asking is that some of that security be employed to protect animals.”
Animal Aid Director, Andrew Tyler: “Laboratory workers conducting animal experiments have a special dispensation to inflict the kind of suffering on animals that would ordinarily get them locked up. That places on them, and on the Home Office, which authorises the activity, a duty to take every possible step to reduce animal suffering. No lab worker is going to engage in gross unauthorised cruelty in front of an inspector. But CCTV cameras can pick up such behaviour. Better still, they can prevent it. Gross incompetence is also more difficult to conceal and cover up if cameras are watching. Cameras are now going into slaughterhouses because the public and key sectors of the food industry itself demand it. With the public also deeply sceptical about what goes on behind the locked doors of labs, the case for installing CCTV in vivisection establishments is overwhelming.”
The NAVS/Animal Aid proposal is also endorsed by Four Paws and OneKind.