SUZANNE BREEN: Do We Have the Right to Play God with Animals

Article excerpt


THE life of a child or the life of a rat? That's an easy way of shutting up anyone questioning animal experiments. But, mostly, it's a false choice.

This is World Lab Animal Week. An animal dies in a laboratory every 12 seconds in the UK. We'll be well into double digits by the time you finish this article.

Maybe it would be justified if the development of life-saving treatment was at stake. But many experiments are wasteful and repetitive. Vivisection is big business. Profit for drugs companies, the chemical industry, animal breeders, and a whole host of others - and not human health - often seems the main motivation.

Queen's University and the University of Ulster have just been accused of "horrific and unnecessary" experiments. Both strongly deny the allegations.

They insist their experiments are kept to a minimum and follow strict Government guidelines.

But these seem woefully inadequate. What is approved by official inspectors can be entirely different to what the public finds acceptable.

Nearly three million animal experiments are carried out in the UK every year. The unluckiest creatures are rats and mice - they account for over two-thirds of those involved. Around 30,000 rabbits, 8,000 dogs, 8,000 horses, 34,000 sheep, 3,200 monkeys, 138,000 birds, 8,500 pigs and 1,400 cats are also used.

The Freedom of Information Act doesn't apply to animal experiments. Those at our universities came to public attention when an animal rights' campaigner read a report in a scientific journal about the tests which involved inflicting 1,300 electric shocks on the hearts of sheep and pigs.

"The researchers themselves said the methods used had already been shown as safe and effective with people, so why were the experiments needed?" asks Jan Creamer, chief executive of the National Anti-Vivisection Society which highlighted the matter.

We shouldn't be dependent on scanning medical texts or undercover investigations by animal rights' groups for this information. Applications for licences for animal experiments should be made public in advance so we can question, monitor and, if necessary, restrict what scientists do.

Otherwise, even when we do find out, it's too late. There was public horror at experiments in Cambridge University. …