VEGA News Item

Testing, Testing, Testing... - 29/07/2008
Experiments in Immediate Benefit in Animals’ Welfare
Juxtaposition of articles and columns in the national press sometimes tells of journalistic nudges and hints – and of partiality without risk – so the Guardian’s page on 22 July 2008 revealed spacing and placing with interesting intent by running its column headed “Animal testing rise to be allied to GM experiments” alongside a bigger piece entitled “Drug trial hope for men with prostate cancer”, which in its headline described “Treatment shows promise against aggressive illness.”

Dr Johann de Bono, lead researcher of trials begun at the Royal Marsden hospital, London, described the treatment as "spectacularly active – we believe we have made a major step forward in treating patients who have failed all other treatments". The promising results raise hopes that the drug, called abiraterone, may be widely available within three years. Some of the patients in the trial have been able to come off the morphine they had been taking for pain relief. Scans showed that tumors considered untreatable had shrunk - including those that had spread to bone and other tissues. Men with advanced prostate cancer, which kills 12,000 in the UK every year, are not expected to live more than 12 to 18 months after chemotherapy. "We have patients still in the trial who started in December 2005 and are still doing well two and a half years later.” Side effects so far “seem to be mild, the most common being weight gain and fatigue,” says Dr de Bono.

The drug has been tried worldwide by 250 men. A global trial of 1,200 is under way, which researchers hope will be followed by rapid licensing. Abiraterone is now being developed by a company in the USA called Cougar Biotechnology, which is funding the trials.

The adjoining report gave the number of scientific procedures carried out on animals in Britain. They rose by 6% last year to just over 3.2m. Most (83%) used rodents; the number of procedures involving monkeys was down 6%, with 3,125 being used. This year’s figures from the Home Office represent a sixth consecutive annual rise. The number of scientific procedures undertaken on animals is now 18% higher (nearly half a million more) than in the year 2000.

The number of animals used in these experiments was 3,125,826, of which there were 3,125 primates, 5,648 dogs, 13,820 rabbits and 281 horses.

The overall increase is due largely to the trend for researchers to use genetically modified mice and fish in experiments. Creating GM animals involves two steps of breeding, and these animals are counted in the figures as having undergone a scientific procedure. In 2007, 1.15 million GM animals were used, a rise of 11% on the previous year.

"As the volume of medical research increases, which we all want to see, then the overall volume of legitimate and useful animals experiments will increase despite steps taken to minimise their use," said the Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris, who is “a strong supporter of the regulated use of animals in scientific research.” He welcomed the use of more GM animals because he said it would make animal use more relevant to human diseases.

The RSPCA’s senior scientist, Barney Reed, expressed the Society’s dismay over the increases: "While there are now positive signs of progress being made towards replacing the use of animals in some types of experiments, particularly in certain areas of safety testing, much more clearly needs to be done across the board. The consistent rises are largely due to the increasing use of GM animals. Their use is five times higher than in 1995, and they are now involved in 36% of all regulated procedures.” Barney Reed added: “Genetic manipulation has the potential to cause suffering not only to the GM animals themselves, but also to the many animals used to produce them. The RSPCA considers that the application of GM technology is excessive. We must question whether creating all these GM animals is really necessary and justified. Despite repeated calls from the RSPCA for the Home Office figures to be made more meaningful, we are still waiting.”

It is likely that potential and actual sufferers welcome applications of GM technology. It is unlikely too that the PM and his wife and the Shadow family have any wish to question the benefits – reluctantly and unquestionably, maybe – that GM may bring to their children; nor will many patients (and owners of pets), want to question facts presented by the Home Office and contrasted in the Guardian’s juxtaposed articles.

This is not a question that animal welfarists can devolve on Government for individual actions. Scientists and members of the RSPCA and kindred organizations can’t blink in their overweening rape of non-human animals for excesses of cruelly-produced food and the avoidable consequences that their carnal lusts at the fleshpots flout in the manifold reasons and benefits in cruelty-free lifestyles and choices for good health and responsible citizenship.

We have taken the RSPCA to task many times for its lacklustre adoption of such advocacy and practice. We think that a thoughtful message to these ends merits posting on the walls of doctors’ and vets’ waiting rooms and in religious observances in hospitals. The RSPCA must augment its wonderful first aid work and inspectorate, but must arouse a campaigning style and practice among its members to lead with effectual example in preventing cruelty and putting the 3Rs to work in their own lives and demands. The Government and electorate could be inspired by feasible reforms and flexing the muscles of their own consciences rather than lazily belabouring the Government with questions that individuals can answer themselves at every visit to the cashpoint or at every mealtime and snack. This would be some practicable redress and display of leadership while means are sought to disperse the miasma of shame that overhangs our use and abuse of all animals of all types (among whom we could number the human subjects who submit themselves for risky procedures that fail in their promise).

The Government is entitled to be bewildered, as are many of us. Gone are the days when animal welfarists could damn experimentation as of no consequence nor benefit in medical, veterinary, and nutritional research. The juxtaposed articles in the Guardian prove that point; and calls for vaccination policies (which entail experimentation and testing on various species) as a replacement for culling currently challenge official bodies with conflicting responsibilities. Cows or badgers? Which to cull or vaccinate, if possible? Should “holy” cows in sanctuaries be spared the fate in store for the milk-a-day animal and her calf? Would a bout of thinning in the dairy-herd and drastic reduction of milk production eradicate bovine TB (and some other zoonoses) practicably? And can such challenges be imminent and even more demanding as the Government faces the environmental and welfare challenges of avian flu and blue-tongue disease?

We hope that we can successfully alert animal welfarists, including the RSPCA, to reach the opening of the Oxford labs in a few months’ time with redoubled challenges to the Royal Society and other scientists to overhaul and manifest their concern and welfare by personal and corporate expressions of disciplines and restraint that have connexions with health and wellbeing and are significant in farming, food production, and sale; moreover, these abstentions and exertions of self-discipline have been demonstrated for many years by many members of groups imbued by powerful scientifically-based scruples and at times less favourable than now. Procurements in the catering in the Oxford labs should therefore be guaranteed to reflect the meat-, dairy-, and cruelty-free imperatives spelt out by agronomists and medical and nutritional experts. We have already petitioned the Food Standards Agency along these lines and seek support for such action. Further, we note that the present Minister of State at DEFRA is a vegetarian of longstanding and is setting a governmental example in populations of suffering livestock greatly outnumbering those entrusted to the Home Office’s attentions – or negligence.

Accordingly, we seek to mobilize the efforts of animal welfarists in the debate over a public holiday during the long gap between August and Christmas. For this purpose, we recommend World Food Day, 16th October, which would be observed on the nearest Monday (which would be the 20th October this year). In the UK this would fall appropriately at the time when traditional harvest festivals are celebrated and should therefore engage serious debate and observance among consumers of a scientific bent, as well as others with religious and ethical persuasions. Further, it could please politicians struggling to find relief in times of national austerity, thrift, and social security, and opposition would be muted.

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