LibLink: Norman Baker – I want to see the end of all animal testing

Norman BakerIt is, perhaps, unusual for a minister to declare that he or she would like to see the end of part, or all, of their job. But then, Norman Baker isn’t necessarily your average minister. It is ironic that, given his record as an anti-vivisection campaigner, he was given responsibility for the regulation of animal experimentation. In an interview with BBC News, he said that he wants to see an end to such testing, although he understands that it “would not happen tomorrow”.

Unexpectedly perhaps, the number of experiments using animals has increased by 52% since 1995, even allowing for the move away from the testing of cosmetics on animals. And, whilst the 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto including a commitment to end testing of household products on animals, there have been allegations that the Coalition has moved too slowly on turning things around.

And such an aspiration is not entirely uncontroversial within Liberal Democrat circles, with Evan Harris having been a supporter of animal experimentation during his time as the Party’s science spokesperson;

It is not a case of ‘ethical concerns outweighing benefits’. It would be unethical not to do animal research, given the enormous potential and past benefits to medicine and public health that such research has brought. It has been vital in work on dialysis, diabetes, transplants, and the polio vaccine, to give just a few examples, and could be vital in the search for treatments for HIV/AIDS and malaria eradication.

Over the past few months, Norman has been carrying out a review of Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which exempts requests for data on research contracts and the justification for using live animals from freedom of information law.

In a statement, he 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.

The expectation is that such legislation will be introduced before the General Election.

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  • Possibly Norman Baker would also wish that all scientific understanding concerning disease and brain function could be resolved; adding of course that it “would not happen tomorrow”.

    I feel that Norman Baker is displaying irresponsibility that I do not expect of a Lib Dem minister.

    With the publication of the mouse and rat genomes the opportunities for achieving understanding through animal experimentation have increased enormously. It is hardly surprising that the number of experiments using animals has increased. We are very far from understanding the neurological basis for schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and a host of other brain conditions. There is no access to research that will generate an understanding of brain functions that might lead to treatments of these conditions that deal with root causes without animal models. It is simply irresponsible and damaging to the good work that Lib Dems have put into welfare for those with mental problems to suggest otherwise.

  • Katherine Hesketh-Holt 4th Aug '14 - 12:57pm

    I feel that this argument should form two parts. I am 100% against animal testing for cosmetic and household products – I think it is an absolute atrocity that this still happens in any form in today’s society.
    In terms of testing for medical purposes, you cannot deny the huge advances that have occurred due to animal testing, although I would like to see more transparency in the way this is conducted and a reduction in use of this method whenever possible.
    I am delighted that Norman Baker has raised this issue though – to me, this is part of what being Lib Dem is all about – too many people appear hardened to the suffering of others. As long as it doesn’t directly affect them, they have little motivation to drive for change.

  • This is a resigning issue. How can anyone who works with animals have faith in the system if the man who oversees it wants it banned?

    Also, Baker has committed the major error of using the word ‘testing’ to refer to experimentations when what he means is ‘research’. Testing implies that animals are only used to see what happens if they are given a particular compound, in reality this is near the end of, often decades long, progress in basic research where animals are used to determine questions of basic biology long before we understand those questions well enough to start testing drugs.

    Animal rights organisations do this because they are PR savvy and think the public can be persuaded that alternatives exist (to an extent they do, and are implemented whenever possible). However, there is no alternative to using animals in basic research, and it is conceivable that there ever will be. The minimum scientists should expect from a government minister is that they will understand this and act accordingly.

    No animals, no basic research.

    Baker should either recant or resign.

  • What everyone else said. Evan is right, Norman is wrong. I also have a scientific background and it’s clear that there is no replacement available for animal research, as unpleasant as it can be.

  • Adam Corlett 4th Aug '14 - 2:11pm

    It seems like Norman Baker has been stating his own view on banning all animal testing, not that of the government or LDs. Fair enough, I guess, to give his honest opinion in an interview. But this should NOT become Lib Dem policy just because a Lib Dem minister said it. And it does not seem politically wise for prominent LDs to tell the BBC of their support for policies that are both separate from their party’s and completely undeliverable in the foreseeable future.

  • Richard Dean 4th Aug '14 - 2:13pm

    While I sympathize with the “benefit for humanity” argument, I’m not convinced that human animals are much better than other animals. I see no reason, for example, why humans would be the only animals with feelings or with souls, or the only animals whose social arrangements are valuable.

    If we must do animal testing, then wouldn’t it be a good idea to have some form of structured approach? The animal kingdom is diverse, and there must surely be things people feel ok doing on, one type of animal that they wouldn’t feel ok doing on another. Fruit flies, mice, rabbits, dogs, bears, and chimpanzees for example.

  • Further to my main point, calls for ‘transparency’ need very, very careful scrutiny. While fine in principle, in the past being public about what and where experiments take place has led to animal rights activists destroying labs and harassing scientists.

    This is why, although every university biology department has animal labs, their location will never appear on any documents accessible to the public and why departments have extremely tight security.

  • Joseph Toovey 4th Aug '14 - 2:54pm

    While it is obviously a good idea to minimise cruelty in animal research as far as possible, its medical benefits are far too great to even consider banning it. This is very disappointing to hear – I had thought that the Lib Dems were committed to science and evidence-based policy, and this was, in fact, one of the major reasons I felt comfortable joining.

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th Aug '14 - 3:21pm

    I agree with Dr Evan Harris. Animal experimentation is essential if we are to make medical breakthroughs.

    I utterly disagree with animal experimentation when it relates to cosmetic or household products , and I too look forward to a time when no animal experimentation is necessary, but I believe that we are a long way from that.

    Whilst there is a need for transparency, Norman Baker should be aware that some scientists who are involved in medical research using animal experimentation are at great risk from extremists.

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th Aug '14 - 4:42pm

    @ Councillor Mark Wright,
    Thank you for the information, however, cosmetics can be bought on the internet and the import duty is waived. I was unaware of whether products that an Australian friend ordered, which were sent from an address in Hong Kong had used animal experimentation.

    Check out the internet.

  • Jayne, if you’re buying strange cosmetic products sent from an address in Hong Kong, then whether or not they were tested on animals is the least of your concerns. I’d worry more about accidental or deliberate adulteration with something like steroids and the possibility you’re funding organised crime.

  • Katherine Hesketh-Holt 4th Aug '14 - 8:00pm
  • Tony Dawson 4th Aug '14 - 8:47pm

    I thought Michael Gove would have insisted before now on ALL animals being subjected to testing.The testing would have to be done in the private sector outside local authority control and they would be allowed to be coached by unqualified teachers. 😉

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th Aug '14 - 8:48pm

    Gosh, am I likely to be on an Interpol wanted list? it was only an order for shampoo and conditioner!

    I was just making the point, that it is really hard to boycott products that have been tested on animals. Even when they claim to be cruelty free Some have Ben found to have some of the ingredients that have been tested on animals. There are better methods available for testing for the safety of cosmetics and household products than the use of animals. Also, Cosmetics are non essential and most household chores can be accomplished with vinegar.

    However, I absolutely agree with your earlier post on Norman Baker’s suitability for the role if he does indeed oppose the use of animals for essential medical research and he remains committed to that belief.

    @ Katherine Hesketh- Holt,
    Thank you Katherine. The US has been very poor when it comes to stopping animal testing for cosmetics and household goods. The new law might make a difference when the staging period is completed. Some manufacturers have been awarded and then lost the leaping bunny logo though. I am a little sceptical as to how far one can trust some manufacturers. I am unsure how the new laws in place in the EU are policed.

  • stuart moran 4th Aug '14 - 9:40pm

    The law requires all chemical-based products to have a minimum set of safety data base don the tonnages transported around the EU (it is essentially a transport legislation). It is called REACH,_Evaluation,_Authorisation_and_Restriction_of_Chemicals

    This includes all household products and chemical intermediates. Chemical finished products such as pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals are covered under different legislation that requires more stringent tests

    All of us who work in the industry are fully aware of the requirements. In China it is even more stringent as they have Order No. 7 which makes REACH look a cursory inspection…..

    I respect baker’s right to oppose animal testing but unfortunately animal testing underpins all the regulatory tests that are required to sell most chemical products.

    I am sure cosmetic finished products are no longer tested but I would hazard a guess that the actual components are on the REACH register and will have had some testing done at some point. Saying that, some older chemicals were placed on the list at the inception of REACH and so may not have done. I am not sufficiently in the know to comment on that

    In the end though we have a choice:

    Keep the law as is and all new chemical entities will have to undergo some animal testing

    Change the law so they don’t but carry on marketing the products anyway (I am sure the companies paying 2 million a time for mid-tier testing will be happy)

    Stop selling any products containing non-listed chemicals (that is a challenge)

    Refine REACH to make it more risk based than hazard based – unfortunately the whole of UK (and EU) regulation is based on the precautionary principle. Poor science in my view

    That is not to say we should not minimise testing, and there is always research to be done into human health as mentioned above

  • Passing through 5th Aug '14 - 1:29am

    @ Richard Dean

    That “structured approach” you call for is already in existence and has been for decades. It is why bacteria and fruit flies are used in their countless legions while primates are used sparingly and tend to only undergo the mildest of procedures. If nothing else the multiple orders of magnitude greater cost of doing any primate work compared to say fruit flies ensures they only get used when absolutely necessary and in tiny numbers.

    You can’t just experiment on a chimp or rat or whatever on a whim you have to demonstrate to a Research Ethics Committee that it is really necessary to use that animal, in those numbers, for that specific procedure and explain why the work is necessary, why you can’t use lower numbers, why you can’t use a “lesser” species and why a non-animal alternative would be unsuitable or simply doesn’t exist. Even if you get permission you then have to demonstrate exactly how you will minimise or remove any suffering and licences need to be held at every level of the organisation from the individual carrying out the procedure right up to the complete Institution.

    Violations of any of these strict regulations can result in fines, the loss of the entire institution’s licence stopping all animal research there and up to two years in prison for not only the person who committed the violation but their managers too. Which means everyone is very strict and paranoid about ensuring everything is done correctly as nobody wants to see their research permanently stopped because of the stupid actions of someone they’ve never heard of on the other side of their campus and nothing motivates a PI more in ensuring all their subordinates are correctly trained and comply with all the regulations than the threat of joining them in prison if something goes wrong.

    The irony is despite being far more worthy than virtually any other human use of animals and in relatively small numbers* scientific research is still markedly more strictly-regulated than farming, pet-ownership, zoos, race-courses, fishing , hunting you name it. It should be the very lowest priority of any animal rights activist yet bizarrely it is right at the top.

    *over a person’s ENTIRE lifetime the average number of animals used to provide them with a lifetime of ever-improving Western medicine, a near-doubled life expectancy and the prospect of remaining healthy for nearly all of it is … drum-roll …three rats! I note Norman Baker is married with three daughters does anyone seriously believe if presented with the choice between saving three rats or one of his family he would consider for a second choosing the rats? And if he did would any rational person want him anywhere near any sort of power?

  • Evan Harris 5th Aug '14 - 7:44am

    There are two extra points to make

    1) Is it exactly accurate to say that I am a “supporter” of animal experiments. That is rather like saying someone is a “supporter” of war because they are not a pacifist!
    Research using animals must be justified on a case by case basis, with suffering minimised and be closely regulated to ensure this.

    2) The 3 R’s – Reduction (of numbers), Refinement (minimising suffering) and Replacement (funding the development of equally effective alternatives) which everyone signs up to are not quite right. the first R – reduction – is misnamed because the policy and practice is to minimise the numbers.

    Numbers can increase as research funding increases but also because genetically modified animals (mainly mice) are proving very valuable in medical research, and replacing “ordinary” mice. But the GM mice need to be bred and extra breeding pairs count in the numbers even though they are not subject to experimentation. So the raw numbers are misleading, because an increase is still consistent with minimisation.

  • Evan Harris: The point about the numbers of GM mice and rats is interesting. I had not realised that all GM laboratory animals were included. Is this different from the past though when rats and mice would be bred to be as uniform as possible, so that any animals with any defect or variation were killed?

    Not that this matters so much. The GM point is really that, as you say, these animals, which carry ‘knock out’ alleles provide extraordinary opportunities for advancing research. As to the numbers, it is important that researchers are allowed to use sufficient numbers for robust statistical validation. It would be a mistake if limits on numbers could compromise interpretation of results.

    I would have thought that you could be described as a supporter of animal experiments for approved scientific research. I do not think it is something to be apologetic about.

  • I’m horrified by this – sorry every scientist I ever spoken to has said that it is absolutely essential and frankly I care about the suffering of people I love and care about not mice

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