Animal Aid

Press Release: 'Macabre and repugnant' charity-supported sheep experiment condemned

Posted 13 January 2014
  • Pregnant sheep surgically mutilated
  • Sheep and unborn lambs suffocated
  • Cambridge University experiment financially supported by British Heart Foundation*

A ‘macabre and truly repugnant’ experiment financially supported by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has been condemned by national campaign group Animal Aid. The experiment, which was performed at Cambridge University, involved cutting sheep open in late pregnancy, pulling out the limbs of their unborn lambs and inserting tubes and monitors into the babies’ legs and major blood vessels. The ewes and unborn lambs were then made to endure two prolonged episodes of suffocation – essentially by a bag being placed over the mothers’ heads – before they were both killed.

The experiment was designed to investigate the effect of statins on oxygen-starved foetuses, but its medical relevance has been questioned by Animal Aid’s Scientific Consultant, Dr Adrian Stallwood.


‘Quite apart from the disturbing level of suffering inflicted on the sheep and their unborn lambs,’ says Dr Stallwood, ‘the methodology of this experiment appears to be seriously flawed and the conclusions drawn by the researchers seem to be contradictory. It is hard to see how any clinical advance can come from this research.’

The lethal sheep ‘procedure’ is the latest in a long line of grotesque animal experiments to which the BHF has given financial support, some of which have been exposed by Animal Aid in its Victims of Charity report (2011). Previous examples include the surgical mutilation of more than 100 beagle dogs, the destruction of the natural heart function of goats, and giving rabbits heart attacks by tying off a major artery. As well as causing the animal victims a great deal of suffering, the procedures – according to Dr Stallwood – ‘have failed to deliver any advances to human medicine. This lack of progress,’ he notes, ‘is hardly surprising, given the fundamental interspecies differences that prevent the results of animal experiments from being reliably applied to humans.’

The sheep experiment is the first in a series of cruel and medically irrelevant procedures to feature on a newly launched Victims of Charity ‘action microsite’. Every few weeks, the site will reveal a shocking, recently published animal experiment funded by a UK medical research charity. The experiments will be described in a succinct, non-technical format, and both the animal suffering and faulty science will be exposed. Site visitors will be able to register their opposition with the charity concerned through email and social media. Over the weeks and months to follow, a public archive of these shameful experiments will develop.

The results of an NOP poll commissioned by Animal Aid reveal an urgent need for the Victims of Charity initiative. More than 80 per cent of respondents said they would not donate to medical research charities that fund vivisection – given the huge financial support such charities currently receive, it is clear that the public has been kept in the dark about how their money is actually used.

Says Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler:

‘As well as being disgustingly cruel, the BHF-supported sheep experiment, like others we will be highlighting, has no relevance to human medicine. By adding a new example of charity-funded vivisection every few weeks, we will build an accessible and powerfully evocative online archive that will bring home to people the horror and pointlessness of animal experimentation. And, because charities like the BHF depend entirely on public donations, their supporters can have a direct influence on the kind of research it gives funding to in the future. Our goal is to build sufficient public pressure to convince the charities concerned that their own best interests lie in funding only ethical and productive non-animal research.’

Notes to Editors:

*The published paper states that the work was supported by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and Professor Dino Giussani – who heads the research programme of which the experiment was part – has received a Programme Grant from the BHF.

  • The experiment, Statin treatment depresses the fetal defence to acute hypoxia via increasing nitric oxide bioavailability, was published in the Journal of Physiology in 2012.

  • The new Victims of Charity microsite can be viewed at www.victimsofcharity.org, and the Victims of Charity report can be viewed online here

  • For more information or to arrange an interview with Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler, please call 01732 364546. Out of hours: 07918 083 774

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