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Animal Testing

Animal Testing in the UK.

A reader sends along news that a minister at the UK’s Home Office has made it his goal to completely eliminate animal testing in the country. Norman Baker has been a longtime activist on the issue of animal rights, and is now in a position to do something about it.
Or is he? Reading the article, it seems to me to be one of these “Form a commission to study the proposals for the plan” things. The current proposal is to increase the publicly available details about what animals are being used for:

In a statement, Mr Baker said: “The coalition government is committed to enhancing openness and transparency about the use of animals in scientific research to improve public understanding of this work. It is also a personal priority of mine.
“The consultation on Section 24 of the Animals in Science Act has now concluded and we are currently analysing responses in preparation for pursuing potential legislative change.”

So I don’t see a ban on animal experimentation in the UK any time soon – which would demolish what’s left of the pharma industry there, along with great swaths of the academic biological research world as well. I am not in favor of animal suffering, and would gladly punch anyone who is. But given the state of our knowledge, there really is no alternative in many cases. We shouldn’t be doing frivolous experiments, and we should all be mindful of alternatives. But the anti-testing people should realize how few good alternatives there really are.
I’ve found, by the way, that many activists are convinced that such alternatives are a lot more useful than they really are. When I’ve had a chance to press them for details, things get hazy very quickly. Phrases like “cell cultures” and “computer models” get thrown around, but how these can substitute for whole-animal disease models and toxicology – that turns out to be not so clear.

50 comments on “Animal Testing in the UK.”

  1. ano says:

    ALso what is the defintion of “animal” in the document. Banning all experiments on animals, including flies, fish… (not only mouse/rat/dog/monkey) will also close most of the biological university labs in the country. Is a parasite an animal for the proposed law?

  2. Erebus says:

    Animal right are important, and worth fighting for, but this scheme is extremely foolish. It has economic and scientific implications that Mr. Baker surely isn’t aware of. Here’s hoping that it doesn’t pass.
    With respect to your last sentence, I wouldn’t say “not too clear”, as I think that it’s quite obvious that “cell cultures” and “computer models” are extremely poor surrogates for experiments in animal models — especially where toxicology and unanticipated off-target effects are concerned.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Only now are we realising the emotional complexity that even quite simple forms of life (e.g. crayfish) have. This is not a simple debate and I think not enough has been done to investigate how to reduce animal suffering. In fact in most experiments the levels of animal suffering are simply not measured, so we don’t really know how much of it happens.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Well, it looks to me, that Mr. Baker knows nothing about research. I’m afraid that it is not only Mr. Baker… There’s bunch of activists (fanatics?) out there, but hardly there’s one that knows the subject they protest against. Currently, there is no alternative, and for long time there won’t be.

  5. Kent G. Budge says:

    “It has economic and scientific implications that Mr. Baker surely isn’t aware of.”
    My impression of animal rights activists is that they are not ignorant, but indifferent, to the implications. If you accept the premise that the suffering of a rat is morally equivalent to the suffering of a child, so that deliberately inflicting suffering on a rat is morally equal to deliberately inflicting suffering on a child, you either make animal experimentation unacceptable, regardless of any other implications, or you make child abuse acceptable.
    There is no room in this kind of moral arithmetic for the suggestion that the rat suffers to reduce the likelihood of the child suffering.
    It’s not a moral arithmetic I’m keen on, but that’s because I reject the premise, not because the conclusions the animal rights activists draw from the premise don’t logically follow.

  6. Virgil says:

    Hahahahahaha @3. Anonymous.
    I just love the total ignorance in your statement “in most experiments the levels of animal suffering are simply not measured”, which belies an utter lack of understanding about the realities of lab work…
    Just for sh!ts and giggles, let’s imagine a hypothetical situation in which a researcher does an experiment and the animal IS suffering. Given that stress hormones are a big deal in determining animal physiology, can you give me a reason why the researcher would not want to know about that?
    Wouldn’t the outcome of the experiment be better served by knowing about the suffering? This is what makes your statement such a fallacy. It is in the interests of the researcher to both MEASURE and minimize suffering, because it makes for a better experiment with more easy-to-interpret results! The animal regulatory boards place a lot of emphasis on this, and quite simply it is impossible to get permission from the government to do an experiment if you don’t document it. There is simply no advantage whatsoever to the researcher, in brushing this stuff under the carpet. Doing so would make the experiment worthless (certainly not publishable in any journal) and would likely get you barred from research or even sent to jail. If you’re going to make wild claims, at least have the decency to back them up with hard facts, or think through the logic of what you’re saying, before writing on a blog that is inhabited almost entirely by scientists.
    Please go back to your cave, and when you’re dying of some horrible disease we might make an exception and let yo have some medicine, provided you’re OK with it having been tested on animals.

  7. realist says:

    This is the kind of nothing statement which comes out when the politicians have nothing else to say while many are on holiday anyway. Expect the Lib Dem Mr Baker to lose his seat in next year’s general election so all this good-sounding-but-not terribly-well-thought-through stuff will quietly slip away (we hope).

  8. Darwinsdog says:

    After skimming the piece I don’t get the posts here – its a perfectly reasonable position that we all (scientists, drug companies etc) routinely take, namely to be conservative in the use of animal testing and look for alternative approaches that can phase in – heck there are whole conferences that we hold on this subject, just because a civilian says it doesn’t change the aspiration). Maybe this minister of something or other has a more notorious past but at least in the piece, I missed the starkness that this board appears to be reacting to?

  9. Harrison says:

    @7: I hope you are right. I can’t imagine a much more ignorant statement than this: “I am firmly of the belief it is not simply a moral issue but that we as a nation can get a strategic advantage from this – something that will be good for the economy,” Mr Baker told BBC News.
    Sure, destroying UK academic and industrial medical research will be good for the economy.

  10. Cato the Elder says:

    #6 win!

  11. newnickname says:

    Animals are expensive to purchase, care for, monitor and document, test, analyze, etc.. No one uses them like disposable paper towels (as some animal advocates seem to think). They are not always the test of last resort, but if you want to use animals you’d better be able to justify the expense to Management or go with other tools until you really do need animal data. (There’s probably a “PETA Security Expense” in there, too.) (Yes, I am comparing “expenses” vs “morals”; they are not always antithetical.)
    If you are against animal testing, do we get to test the drug candidates, surgical procedures and medical devices on you, when you are on death’s door?

  12. Polynices says:

    Anti-testing nuts should be forbidden access to all pharmaceuticals and modern surgery. Let them live how they want to force the rest of us to live.

  13. a. nonymaus says:

    This sounds like a reasonable animal rights priority to put right after eliminating agricultural livestock. Has anyone compared an animal laboratory to a chicken farm or abbatoir when deciding what is the source of more suffering?

  14. oldnuke says:

    The good news is that animal testing will be shifted from rodents to ministers and bureaucrats, who reproduce more quickly than lab rats.

  15. PSU says:

    @14: And they’re a comparatively lower form of life as well.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I think the animal testing regulation in the UK is very good and I don’t think the activists realise it. I never saw anyone who did this kind of work who didn’t take their duty of care very seriously.
    I do however think a lot of animal research is underpowered irrelevant rubbish, carried out to fulfill the needs of an army of students rather than answer scientific questions properly.
    I don’t know, maybe this is already happening but surely SERIOUSLY figuring out which are worth doing (tox) and not (alzheimer’s disease) is more important that getting rid of it altogether?

  17. Algirdas says:

    “Animal right are important, and worth fighting for”
    Why? Even if we assume that animals do have rights, are these rights really such an important issue? An issue worth fighting for? I’d argue that among the multitude of the problems present in our world, animal rights are very a minor issue.
    Also, for the sake of completeness, let me point out that not everyone agrees with your assumption. I, for one, do not think that animals have any rights. Rights are for people. This is not to say that animal suffering is desirable – it is not. If I see someone wantonly torturing an animal I will intervene to stop it. But if I want meat, or a skin of an animal (or if I need to do medical research) – I see no problem in killing an animal or doing whatever I need.
    tl,dr for the above paragraph: Animals are food. Food has no rights.

  18. smurf says:

    @17: because we are animals ourselves. And whether you slaughter an animal for food or take a brain damaged toddler and prepare “it” for consumption is, in my opinion, morally the same.
    And yes, I eat meat, but I also think that eating meat, and thereby contributing to the unnecessary suffering of biological systems that experience pain and have a reasonably advanced brain, is not moral behaviour.

  19. Erebus says:

    “The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.”
    ― Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality
    A man’s compassion for animals tells a great deal about his character. And it’s a rare thing to meet a fellow-scientist who doesn’t hold dear all forms of life; once one understands a little bit about it, one sees how complex it is, how innately mysterious and poorly-understood it is, etc. It’s an awe-inspiring thing. In my view, scientists who work in biology and medicinal chemistry should have more compassion for animals than most.
    That said, I’m fully in favor of ethically-conducted animal experiments. They are vital. I don’t even think that their oversight should be too strict or heavy-handed — for if that’s the case, animal research will simply shift to countries with fewer regulations, such as China.

  20. Nick K says:

    I was once having an argument with a proponent of animal rights about the use of animals in research (“vivisection”). I asked her whether she would treat an animal in distress with a drug which had been tested in animals. No reply.

  21. HT says:

    @20: Exactly. Quite a few animal rights activist seem to forget that advances in vet medicine came from animal experiments too. (Where else?) This doesn’t eliminate the ethical issues, but hopefully will get people to consider the broader implications of animal research.
    E.g. some failed human drugs that worked in animals were transferred to the vet division of the pharma too. In the end, it can work both ways, albeit not symmetrically.
    @11: I agree with you, but feel that the difficulties are understated.
    Animal experiments are a pain. At least the pain inflicted on the animals is regulated, but the agony suffered by researchers who are hoping for clean results is limitless. Seriously, I couldn’t imagine that any researchers in their right mind would want to conduct animal experiments if there are viable alternatives.

  22. NoDrugsNoJobs says:

    Smurf, I am sure the animals you are eating would have taken great consolation in your moral qualms. I would much rather be eaten by somebody who felt bad about it while they were eating me.
    Every biologist I have worked with has been vey sensitive about the care of their animals and the guidelines that protect their treatment. Sometimes it was even frustrating as a chemist when an experiment was terminated early due to too much weight loss, I kept thinking – come on, a little longer, I know they will pull through and my compound not get dropped

  23. oldnuke says:

    Just an aside, do they still perform animal dissection in middle and high school?
    I was a “helper” in my early days and remember spending several hours pithing frogs for class that day… We also caught some local dogfish and had some interesting labs based on that.

  24. Anonymous says:

    As many have already pointed out, most scientists are in favour of animal-rights and ethically conducted experiments upon animals. Getting the balance right is always open to debate. I’m all in favour of developing high-quality cell and computer-based models, as it will reduce animal testing in the long terms, however these models have to be *proven* to work to an “acceptable level certainty”. Unfortunately, we are nowhere near that yet. More over, many will argue that these models have to be *100% accurate* with no false-positives and more importantly no false-negatives.
    The article clearly highlights Norman Baker bias in this field, which is very worrying. These regulations have to be based upon a clear scientific *evidence* for the risks and benefits of animal testing to society as a whole. Furthermore, Norman Baker appears to be completely ignorant of the fact that the regulatory (legal) framework in the UK, USA and other countries *require* animal testing before clinical trials, and certainly before the launch of a new drug, to prove it is safe (see ICH S5A, ICH M3, EMEA/CHMP/203927/05 and ICH S3A).
    It is estimated that 10,000 children where born with phocomelia as a result of the Thalidomide disaster. Approximately 5,000 of them died as a result. How much is a child’s life worth, either financially or in terms of the number of animals that should die, to prevent an avoidable death? To grieving parents, or parents who have to raise a child with considerable health concerns and disabilities, a child’s life is incalculable. The regulators agreed that this was an un-acceptable and avoidable risk and therefore required drug companies to conduct reprotox studies in rats and rabbits before a drug can be licensed. Maybe Mr Baker should familiarise himself with the regulations and, more importantly, why these were put in place to begin with!

  25. Fred the Fourth says:

    Mr. Baker is completely correct. Don’t all you so-called scientists know that safe new drugs and devices come from the same invisible, pollution- and pain-free source as clean water, working sewers, reliable electricity, and money to spend on government programs?

  26. In Vivo Veritas says:

    Like Claude Bernard said, “The science of life is a superb and dazzlingly lighted hall which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen”.
    I love animals, I don’t hunt, I adopt rescue dogs, and there is a special place in hell for me if rodents run the place…. and I wouldn’t change a thing. In my mind, humanity is the priority.

  27. Anonymous says:

    @19: “A man’s compassion for animals tells a great deal about his character.”

  28. Anonymous says:

    Politicians know that they are there to do what is popular, and what is popular is not always right. I blame democracy.

  29. PUI Prof says:

    In the recent past someone posted a comment which seems pertinent here, with paraphrasing:
    Cell culture and computer modeling are the future replacement of animal studies, and always will be.

  30. Rock says:

    Don’t forgot the experiment Pharma did in the 80’s where all experimental drug testing was conducted using lawyers and politicians. It failed because the results were to difficult to extrapolate to humans.

  31. Insilicoconsulting says:

    So how many times have we heard that even animal models don’t stand up to scrutiny in most cases except db/db mouse in diabetes and a few similar cases? Right here on this blog, no less?
    A looming ban and adversity like this will bring out the best in researchers…organs on chips, better collaboration between wet lab and insilico scientists etc. Better understanding of what methods really work, how to best use proteomics/genomics…
    We need to realize all life is life and the higher we move up the consciousness ladder, the harder it is to justify using animals for research, assuming preeminence of human life.
    Even if we do assume preeminence of human life, the main motive is pharma revenue optimization, not ONLY betterment of human health.
    I am also surprised how quickly some cultural artifacts become accepted wisdom. When was formal large scale animal tox and pk/pd introduced and accepted? Did it really prevent many bad drug launches ?

  32. Piero says:

    Activists also mark animal testing as “unscientific” and the source of greatest errors in medicine, while pushing for computer modeling of pretty much everything…

  33. Sympa says:

    Some will – like me – remember images of rabbits that were forced to smoke. Which was not a nice one. And probably did that experiment over and over until they got the rabbits to survive.
    That may have created an image of useless experiments.

  34. KissTheChemist says:

    The shocking images of evil animal research we are fed by “anti-vivisectionists” often don’t come from the UK anyway or are very old.
    If we do have to carry out animal research (and we very much do, if you want to find ANY new medicines any time in the future) I for one would prefer it was done in reputable labs in well-regulated countries (like the UK) rather than, say, outsourcing to countries where the rules are not so strict or so strictly followed.

  35. Insilicoconsulting says:

    Sorry guys, especially #35, ignorance or stereotyping again. Having worked in preclinical research , I know for sure that India has some of the highest standards for ethical treatment of animals.
    I personally know several in-vivo toxicologists, pk/pd scientists & labs and they are not very different than the ones in the UK or US.
    The only issue, as also in UK and elsewhere is investment in GLP tox is too high to bear and so you won’t find many of those in Asia.

  36. Noni Mausa says:

    @26 — thanks for that wonderful Claude Bernard quote!

  37. Noni Mausa says:

    @26 — thanks for that wonderful Claude Bernard quote!

  38. pharmacologyrules says:

    @14 and @15 perhaps we should use lawyers for three reasons:
    1. there are more of them
    2. there are some things you cant get a rat to do
    3. we are less likely to have an emotional attachment to lawyers

  39. Hastur says:

    I was considering suggesting using convicts over politicians, but then I realized that the difference between the two is that there is a chance the convicts could be innocent.

  40. Harrison says:

    @32: I think in vivo animal research can be compared to driving a horrendous car (AMC Pacer, Yugo, etc) on 1000 mile trip. It is expensive to operate, breaks down, consumes lot of resources, will cause lots of inconvenience and missteps, and will take you longer to get there than you ever thought. But you would rather have that car than to walk the whole way.
    While organs on chips should be coming, and better collaborations are undoubtedly beneficial, I don’t think a whole scale ban of animal research will get us there faster, and if anything will probably slow down progress.

  41. newnickname says:

    @40 convicts over politicians: “There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” – Mark Twain
    (He also said, “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” and a bunch more doozies.)

  42. anonymous says:

    If Baker succeeds in banning animal research in the UK, it won’t demolish what’s left of the UK pharma industry. Most of these companies have research sites in the US and elsewhere, the animal studies will just be shuffled out of the UK; Baker et al will feel proud about themselves, but it won’t save a single animal. Any company that doesn’t have a research site outside the UK will just have the work done at a CRO.
    There would probably be a impact on the employment of biologists at UK pharma companies. There would also be an impact on academic research, and on the training of biologists.

  43. newnickname says:

    WEBSITE PROBLEMS AGAIN! Comments pages are loading inconsistently. I am getting blank pages whether I use Chrome, FF or Exploder. Anybody else?

  44. Anonymous says:

    this is just a typical populistic act, britain is full of that kind of crap in politics.
    google how many ways are left to transport research animals to the british isles, look at what AZ are building at the addenbrookes campus in cambridge and then reconsider the scope of such a statement.
    anyway, the UK is tied to nationalise EU legislation of animal experiments and that is still ongoing.

  45. srp says:

    Would love to know what people think about this:
    Sounds very interesting but also hyped to me.

  46. LiqC says:

    In light of this, what do you think about things like human PK studies with microdoses of 14C-labeled drug candidates?

  47. NQ says:

    There was a consultation sent out about what the public thinks about the proposals: unfortunate as (as I pointed out in my response), the majority of the public understands animal rights to a greater degree than they understand biological research, and that is totally understandable.
    I am a member of animal-rights related groups as well as being in circles that are very pro-animal research. I only saw the consultation shared amongst the animal rights groups, which I daresay are much bigger too.
    A case where democracy may not be the best way?

  48. Banning experiment on animals will not really help, especially researchers working on new projects in UK Schools how do they really manage to test there newly developed drugs this not going to help

  49. Sean says:

    I lasted 9 months ‘sacrificing’ mice, extracting the brain, made slices with a microtome, affixing them to slides and adding drop of test reagent and passing them on to someone more senior. I was in the position of Humanity vs Employment. I went for a different job where no animals were used.

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