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UK politician pledge would ban 89% of animal research, say scientists

By Fiona Barry +

31-Mar-2015
Last updated on 31-Mar-2015 at 16:25 GMT2015-03-31T16:25:56Z

The pledge calls for a ban on non-applied research and monkey importation. (Image: Jim Deka/CC)
The pledge calls for a ban on non-applied research and monkey importation. (Image: Jim Deka/CC)

British MPs have signed an anti-animal cruelty pledge which scientists warn would “cripple” disease research and outlaw 89% of preclinical animal research.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and leader Natalie Bennett, Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister Ed Davey, 20 other MPs, and 148 prospective parliamentary candidates signed the Vote Cruelty Free pledge created by BUAV, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.

The six-part promise calls for a ban on experiments on cats and dogs, an end to “non-medical” animal testing, monkey importation, genetic modification of animals and extreme suffering, as well as greater government disclosure.

Records seen by in-Pharmatechnologist.com show signatories to the pledge from political candidates across most of the country's parties: Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour, Greens, UKIP, Plaid Cymru, SNP, and Northern Ireland’s Alliance.

'Destroys British research'

The definition of “non-medical” animal testing has brought disagreement. The BUAV pledge claims of the 4m animals tested per year, “only 13% of these were to test new medicines for humans. As a first step, the Government must stop any animal experiment which does not claim to directly benefit human health.

But animal research advocacy group Speaking for Research said the campaign will effectively ban disease research in the UK.

"The BUAV's six pledges would destroy British research by calling for an end to more than 88% of animal studies,” founder Tom Holder told in-Pharmatechnologist.com.

“All veterinary research would end. And it would cripple our ability to make advances in cancer, heart disease and many other conditions, all of which rely on studies on genetically modified animals".

Speaking for Research believes politicians are being misled by the pledge’s phrasing. The term “non-medical research” encompasses the fundamental biological research that is necessary before more specific trials, said the group:

This BUAV pledge wants to limit research to the ‘Applied Studies – Human Medicine or Dentistry’ [category], insinuating this is the only research important for human health.

The reality is that without the fundamental research (often called ‘basic research’), and the breeding of GM animals, the Applied research could not happen.”

UK government statistics break down areas of research into Fundamental biological research (28%), Applied Studies – human medicine or dentistry (13%), Applied studies – veterinary medicines (4%), and Applied Studies – breeding of GM [genetically modified] or HM [harmful mutant] animals (51%).

Campaigners: ‘show medical benefits’

But BUAV spokesman Nick Palmer told this publication scientists’ claims “that nobody could ever do basic research” under the Vote Cruelty Free conditions were themselves “misleading”.

What this [pledge] is actually asking for is that the researcher should as part of the licence application make a case to the Home Office that the research has medical benefits.

“For example, the recent Bateson report  showed that in 9% of primate experiments, the researcher was unable to suggest any way that the research might benefit humans, and that seems to us not to meet the expectations that most politicians will have.

Cats, dogs, and monkeys

BUAV’s petition also claimed 2,202 monkeys were experimented on in the UK in 2013, adding “there is no humane way to take monkeys from their families and transport them into a laboratory on the other side of the world.

But Speaking of Research said all monkeys used in the UK were bred in captivity, mostly in hotter foreign breeding centres where the climate is better for them.

Less than 0.08% of British animal experimentation takes place on primates, said the group, adding they are nonetheless essential to studies of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

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