My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point. Why should we be frightened of a fact-based approach? As well as repeated forced feeding, they are forced to inhale substances for between 28 and 90 days to measure the effects of repeat exposure on the liver, kidneys, lungs, heart and nervous system.
Some animals are also bred to be bled, as has been mentioned previously, with a facility granted permission to drain them of their blood so that it can be sold to customers for the benefit of biomedical science. Guidelines state that blood in studies must be as fresh as possible—meaning that it is taken from a living donor. Despite having a tube down their throats to aid breathing, the pups are often given no sedation or anaesthetic while they are bled, as this provides the customers with advantageous drug-free blood.
In 2017, 1.81 million non-genetically altered animals that were bred for scientific procedures were killed or died without being used in procedures—shocking. I would share in the petitioner’s gratitude if the Minister will provide an update on the petition’s request for a rigorous, public, scientific hearing to take place.
The Government’s response to the petition goes on:
“The use of animals in scientific research remains a vital tool in improving our understanding of how biological systems work both in health and disease. Such use is crucial for the development of new medicines and cutting-edge medical technologies for both humans and animals, and for the protection of our environment.”
I disagree with that, as there is nigh on 20 years of scientific evidence demonstrating the medical failures of animal testing. It is evidence that comes from The BMJ, the National Cancer Institute and ScienceDirect, which is said to be the world-leading source for scientific, technical and medical research. Indeed, when ScienceDirect asked if it was time to rethink our current approach, over two years ago, it cited the questioning of animal models’ reliability in predicting human responses as far back as 1962. Yes—60 years ago. Are the Government just not listening? Perhaps the Minister will explain to us why that long-standing, peer reviewed and reputable scientific research is being ignored.
The Government response goes on to say:
“The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA) is the specific piece of legislation which provides protection for these animals… No animals may be used under ASPA if there is a validated non-animal alternative that would achieve the scientific outcomes sought.”
I feel a sense of déjà vu, again. ASPA is 36 years old, yet it is repeatedly referred to in Government responses relating to matters around animal testing. It seems that the Government are not actually listening, because so-called
“non-animal alternatives that would achieve the scientific outcomes sought”
have been brought to their attention many times before. As I have just mentioned, scientists have been challenging the reliability of animal testing predicting human responses for decades.
Here are just a few recent occurrences of non-animal alternatives being brought to this Government’s attention: they were highlighted in the animal testing debate that took place last October; they were featured in the animal testing debate that took place last December; and they were raised in the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill debate that took place on 18 January this year. In last month’s debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) remarked that there are areas of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill that the SNP believes must be strengthened. Conspicuously, one of those areas is scientific procedures involving animals.
It is mind-boggling that despite clear acknowledgment from the UK Government that animals can experience feelings and sensations, despite them introducing “landmark legislation” that will recognise animals as sentient beings in UK law and despite them establishing an expert committee to ensure that animal sentience is considered as part of policy making, the UK Government still “others” laboratory animals as if they are unaware, unperceptive, and unconscious to harrowing experimentation. It is also mind-boggling that laboratory animals are not only excluded from the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill that is currently in Committee, but also by outdated legislation that ignores them. In fact, it sanctions the otherwise illegal act of experimenting on protected animals and causing them, as set out in the regulated procedures of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986,
“a level of pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm equivalent to, or higher than, that caused by the introduction of a needle in accordance with good veterinary practice”.
Of course, the reality of animal experimentation is far more severe than what is described in the regulated procedures of the 1986 Act. Take, for example, the hideous procedures I have already mentioned, or the legislation classifying the force-feeding of factory-farmed puppies as “mild suffering”. Indeed, in the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill debate on 18 January, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith highlighted that, legally, laboratory animals can be:
“poisoned with toxic chemicals, shot, irradiated, gassed, blown up, drowned, stabbed, burned, starved, or restrained to the point at which they develop ulcers or heart failure. They can have their bones broken or their limbs amputated. They can be subject to inescapable electric shocks, driven to depression, deprived of sleep to the point of brain damage, or infected with diseases.”—[Official Report, 18 January 2022; Vol. 707, c. 252.]
Section 24 of the 1986 Act makes it a criminal offence for information on what goes on behind closed doors at UK animal testing sites to be disclosed. As the law blocks access to information about the treatment of animals during experiments, it is currently shrouded in secrecy.
Related to these appalling occurrences, I was contacted by the Naturewatch Foundation ahead of today’s debate. On its behalf, I will take this opportunity to highlight that the Animals in Science Regulation Unit has not publicly published an annual report since 2018. Those reports are important sources of information about non-compliance, and often indicate where animal welfare issues have been detected. Will the Minister commit to releasing the 2019 and 2020 reports without delay, and to releasing the 2021 report within the first half of this year?
In these times of advanced medical knowledge and gene-based medicine, the Government believe the outdated 1986 Act provides specific protection for laboratory animals. Indeed, as well as the Government referring to it as such in their response to this petition, the Ministerial response to the October animal testing debate said of this legislation:
“protection of animals on the basis of their sentience is the very principle established in the legal framework.”—[Official Report, 25 October 2021; Vol. 702, c. 43WH.]
I am sure I will be corrected if I have misinterpreted, but I understand that the petitioners do not agree with that appraisal. They would instead argue that this legislation is the means to causing unnecessary suffering of animals because, in effect, it legalises experimentation on protected animals.
However, it is not just the animals that this archaic legislation framework is failing. The petition reminds us that
“Experiments on such dogs, and other animals, are today widely reported to be entirely failing the search for human treatments and cures.”
Currently, there is enough evidence showing that there are better, more accurate and humane methods than resorting to animal testing.
For example, in 2020, in response to UK Government statistics showing no meaningful decline in UK animal experiments in a decade, despite a Government pledge, Humane Society International UK’s biomedical science advisor, Dr Lindsay Marshall, who managed a laboratory dedicated to animal-free research into respiratory diseases for 12 years, said:
“The UK cannot expect to have world-leading science innovation whilst we rely on failing animal-based research methods that are rooted in the past. In drug discovery, pharmaceutical safety, chemical testing, cancer research, the data shows that animal models are really bad at telling us what will happen in a human body. As well as sometimes being dangerously misleading, animal approaches typically take a really long time to produce results, sometimes years, are very expensive, and of course cause enormous animal suffering. As the UK leaves the EU and competes with countries like the USA that are taking bold strides towards animal-free science, we urge the government to radically update its 2010 research policy to focus on replacing animal procedures in science. Incentivising researchers to adopt new approaches is as easy as redirecting public research funding towards cutting-edge non-animal techniques based on human biology.”
I would wholeheartedly agree with those views.
The Government’s response to this petition concludes that they have
“no plans to amend the Animal Welfare Act (2006)”
even though, in this technological age, we have exceptionally accurate non-animal research methods, which can more effectively develop human therapies. That is simply wrong-headed.
Five years ago, the Dutch Government announced plans to phase out animal use for chemical safety testing by 2025, and they are well on track to achieve that goal. In September 2019, the United States Environmental Protection Agency pledged to “aggressively” reduce animal testing, including by removing requirements and funding for experiments on mammals by 2035. Belgium’s Brussels-Capital Region effectively banned animal testing on cats, dogs and primates from 2020. By January 2025, it will also ban animal use in education and safety testing unless it is deemed absolutely necessary.
However, Home Office data show that the total number of procedures involving specially protected species—dogs, cats, horses and primates—in Great Britain has increased over the last decade from 16,000 in 2011 to 18,000 in 2020. That is the case even though developments in evolutionary and developmental biology and genetics have significantly increased scientists’ understanding of why animals have no predictive value for the human response to drugs or the pathophysiology of human diseases.
I have asked this before and I will ask it again today. Do the Government have the courage to step into the 21st century and urgently consider enshrining in law other viable options for scientific research that do not involve animal suffering? They can do that by changing the law to include laboratory animals in the Animal Welfare Act. It is not too late to right this wrong. I urge the Government to seize this chance and avoid being judged by posterity to have missed a golden opportunity to end a failed practice. I hope the Minister will agree that, for a nation of animal lovers, denying laboratory animals their rights is wrong and immoral. I politely request and hope that I am not subjected to the same feeling of déjà vu in a few months’ time if no further progress has been made.