The Independent View: Norman Baker’s move to cutting edge science will benefit Britain

Norman Baker’s calls for an end to animal testing were dismissed as “short sighted” in Alasdair Hill’s Lib Dem Voice article (‘Why a ban on animal testing is short-sighted and bad for our knowledge-based economy’).

But the comments made by the Liberal Democrats’ Home Office Minister are welcomed by the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) which has long championed moves towards modern science, benefiting humans and animals alike. However, progress away from animal tests will falter while researchers are working within an outdated system that hinders scientific progress and keeps animal experiments hidden from public scrutiny.

Despite the advancement of alternatives, animal experiments have been increasing over the past decade. Norman Baker’s comments come just weeks after figures were released showing that more than 4 million animals were experimented on in Britain last year. The statistics reveal that over half of all procedures involved genetically modified animals, whilst many others were curiosity-driven.

Shamefully, Britain is bucking the trend that is being seen across Europe, where animal experiments are on the decline, in line with the ultimate goal of EU legislation to end the use of animals in research – a goal shared by Norman Baker.

Contrary to Alasdair Hill’s article, the global scientific community is moving away from outdated and unreliable animal models in favour of advanced alternatives like computer modelling and cutting-edge ‘organs on a chip’ which can predict the effect of drugs in humans quickly, cheaply and with greater accuracy than animal tests.

As Norman Baker rightly stated, there is a clear economic benefit to be gained by Britain through the development of these modern methods – the market for non-animal testing is now about the same size as the contract animal testing industry, and is projected to double by 2017. It will be our loss if Britain isn’t prepared to invest in, and take advantage of, the future direction of science, because other countries certainly will.

A major block to progress is the secrecy surrounding the use of animals in experiments, due to Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. This ‘secrecy clause’ is at odds with EU legislation which came into force in Britain last year, and makes it a criminal offence to disclose any information about animal tests, even with the researcher’s consent.

With blanket secrecy and over 4 million animal experiments taking place each year, it is perhaps no surprise that the NAVS continues to reveal animal experiments that are repetitive, scientifically questionable or have taken place when alternative methods could have been used instead. Information on animal testing needs to be in the public domain so that an informed debate on this highly contentious topic can take place.

Recognising that Section 24 is out of step with government policy on openness and transparency and following a high profile NAVS campaign, the government launched a review of Section 24 and is currently considering the results of a public consultation on the issue. We are pleased that progress is finally being made on this important issue and hope that the outcome will be a repeal of this restrictive clause.

The NAVS is encouraged by Norman Baker’s recent words and hopes that in working with Liberal Democrats MPs and other politicians, we can work together to modernise British research, moving away from animal experimentation. Cutting edge alternatives are good for the economy, skills base and for the future of Britain. Please have your say on this important issue and ask your MP to support the repeal of the Section 24 ‘secrecy clause’. You can find out more at www.navs.org.uk.

‘The Independent View’ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Jan Creamer is President and Founder of Animal Defenders International.

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14 Comments

  • Perhaps you should take to actual biologists rather than anti-vivisectionists if you want to learn about the role of animal experimentation in science?

    Without animal experimentation, much of biology CANNOT progress. It is as simple as that.

  • For all I know there may be a case for repealing or amending Section 24, but Jan Creamer has wasted her opportunity to argue the case for it, and has chosen instead to come out with a lot of scientifically illiterate drivel about computer modelling being more reliable than animal experimentation, which will immediately alienate anyone with the slightest knowledge of the field.

  • Do you have any authenticated suggestions how Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, motor neuron disease, schizophrenia and other neurological conditions can be investigated without experiments on animals? Something peer reviewed would be helpful.

    Or do these health problems not matter to you that much?

  • Incidentally, there is no secret why there is a lack of “openness and transparency” and there is “secrecy surrounding the use of animals in experiments”.

    The onus is very much on the anti-vivisectionists, including the NAVS, to rebuild trust before this can be rectified.

  • stuart moran 10th Aug '14 - 12:24pm

    Dave Page

    Well said…

  • Passing through 10th Aug '14 - 1:45pm

    “advanced alternatives like computer modelling and cutting-edge ‘organs on a chip’ which can predict the effect of drugs in humans quickly, cheaply and with greater accuracy than animal tests.”

    As someone who has actually worked on the development of one of these “organ on a chip” alternatives, I just wish that was true, that is the ultimate goal but we are a long way off that and the irony is the only way we could ever get there is by continuing just the sort of animal work Jan would like banned in order to validate them. The NAVS are actually hindering the very shift in science they are calling for.

    Strange all this discussion about the “secrecy” around animal experimentation yet no mention why this might be the case nor any condemnation of the terrorist actions of the NAVS’s fellow-travellers who make this secrecy necessary .

  • On the issue of Section 24, the consultation documents are here:
    https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/section-24-of-the-animals-scientific-procedures-act-1986

    As the Freedom of Information Act does include an exemption for information whose release would, or would be likely to, endanger the health or safety of any individual, it seems reasonable to question the need for a blanket ban. Though I think I can see the point of including a prohibition of malicious disclosure of exempt information.

  • I think the comments above about sum it up. There may be arguments regarding ways to make the secrecy more appropriate for the modern day, but that is not what this article touches at – it seems just to be saying that animal testing is done with secrecy, so it must be bad!

    This misses out several steps of logic needed to prove its point and seems to be failing to have a clear narrative of what it is arguing for. The arguments, such as they are, seem to be criticising section 24, but the solutions, such as they are, seem to be saying that banning animal testing is the way to fix this – or put more simply, this article seems to want to debate morality of animal testing, but is actually looking at section 24, which is a slightly different issue.

    Looking at animal testing, itself, as has been pointed out, the alternative are simply not there yet.

  • What scientific background has Baker got? Degree in German and History. Highly relevant I don’t think

  • ” The statistics reveal that over half of all procedures involved genetically modified animals”
    Perhaps the obvious solution is not to research genetic modification…

  • Passing through 13th Aug '14 - 12:28am

    @Roland “” The statistics reveal that over half of all procedures involved genetically modified animals”
    Perhaps the obvious solution is not to research genetic modification…”

    Assuming that wasn’t tongue-in-cheek I think you and Jan have misunderstood what is meant by “genetically-modified animals”.

    I think the implicit (if disingenuous) suggestion in the article is to link it with GM foods which is a completely different topic. However in this context genetic modification is a tool to produce among other things better disease models with animals.

    If I want to research the development and treatment of say obesity or diabetes one option is to genetically modify a mouse line so they have genes which cause or at least make the animal more susceptible to obesity or diabetes or allow the disease to be turned on and off at will. The initial work would be the creation of the mouse line, effectively raising and breeding mice with the desired genes, none of which causes any particular suffering in the animal (other than the unavoidable effects of the disease in some but not all cases) but they still would be counted in the numbers quoted.

    Ultimately once you are convinced the trait is being bred true the descendants would eventually undergo experimentation of the kind the NAVS object to but the raw numbers are misleading in assessing the amount of animal experimentation going on. There is no non-animal alternative I’m aware of currently available for this sort of invaluable work which has nothing to do with GM foods.

    I use “mouse” in my example but IIRC a lot of this work is actually done in the likes of fruit-flies and zebra fish which again takes us back to the point how many fruit-flies is a human life actually worth?

  • @Passing Through – Many thanks for your informative point, concerning a key role genetic-modification of animals plays in medical research. My understanding is that the only role animals play in GM crop research is in toxicity testing; a role they also play in medical research.

    My tongue in cheek was to suggest that if we really wish to reduce the number of animal experiments then we really need to look more closely at the experiments actually being performed and why. As you point out much, cutting edge research can only be performed on live animals, hence we have a dilemma: either we accept that we wish to benefit from cutting edge research and hence accept that animal experiments will be necessary, or we don’t do the research.

    What I was a little surprised about was that Jan said nothing about the the significant number of animal experiments that are only performed because the regulatory framework demands it. I would of thought this was an area many on both sides of the vivisection debate could agree on.

  • jedibeeftrix 13th Aug '14 - 3:32pm

    But lid dems love their regulation!

    It was only yesterday I suggested reducing the regulatory burden on firearms certificates, and no one seemed to support that…

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