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SERIOUSLY DELUDED - About animal experiments
Posted 1 February 2002
A UK patients' advocate group has attacked anti-vivisection activists, alleging - in a report published last week - that they mislead the public and fail to invest in research designed to find alternatives to animal research.
The report, Anti-vivisection Unmasked, was published by the UK charity Seriously Ill for Medical Research. Its membership includes patients - many of whom are seriously ill with a range of conditions including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis - and their relatives and carers. The charity's medical panel comprises several leading researchers including Professor Roy Calne and Professor Robert Winston.
The report argued that some anti-vivisection groups use "tactics of deception" designed to manipulate public opinion. These alleged tactics included use of old photographs of unknown origin - some not even of research animals - in their propaganda to imply that these represented conditions in today's laboratories. They tended to concentrate on species that people feel close to, including cats, dogs, and monkeys.
"Together these make up less than 10f all research animals," the report said. A key criticism was the lack of expenditure by anti-vivisection groups on funding research into methods of replacing the use of animals in medical research. The report claimed that about £531,000 ($758,800; €871,500) was spent by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, the National Anti-Vivisection Society, and Animal Aid for 1990 to 2000, out of a total income of over £31.2m. Andrew Blake, founder and director of Seriously Ill for Medical Research, explained the aim of the report: "[It] is about uncovering the truth. Anti-vivisection groups have been getting away with making incredible allegations over the years without ever having their own credentials called to account. At long last, these groups have been brought under public gaze."
Publication of the report followed the decision by South Cambridgeshire District Council on 6 February 2002 to refuse an application from Cambridge University for a neuroscience research laboratory at Girton College, Cambridge. The refusal was based on a warning from the local police that "on the basis of recent experience the proposal will result in protests." They considered that this would result in road blockages and a serious danger to public safety because the location was close to the junction of a busy road.
The councillors had previously refused the application on the grounds that it would cause harm to the "green belt" (area of land protected from development). The latest proposal had been amended to minimise this harm and was accompanied by a letter from the Department of Trade and Industry stating the national importance of the research that would be carried out at the centre. However, the council voted 17 to 4 to refuse the application as a result of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. This states: "It shall be the duty of each authority to do all that it reasonably can to prevent crime and disorder in its area."
A statement from South Cambridgeshire District Council reported that the application had attracted substantial public interest, with more than 2000 letters of objection.
A response to the BMJ article, by Animal Aid's director, Andrew Tyler.
The arguments made by Seriously Ill for Medical Research (SIMR) in its new report, as detailed in your recent article ('UK patients group hits back at anti-vivisectionists') are no more credible than their other outpourings.
Let me say at the outset that anti-vivisectionists are also subject to disease and the heartbreak that can often accompany it; we do not come from a planet where people live in good health forever. We, therefore, have a keen interest in promoting sound research and opposing that which is irrational and fails to deliver. The simple reality is that medical therapies - whether they be new drugs, diagnostic tools or surgical procedures - that depend on the experience and data acquired from animal 'models' can not be reliably used for people.
Just this week, a trial of an experimental vaccine for Alzheimer's Disease has been halted after 12 volunteers became seriously ill - the same vaccine that was variously hailed in 1999, on the basis of mouse experiments, as 'exciting and encouraging' (Apples for Health. Vol.1. No. 6, 9 Jul '99)... 'stunning' and 'wild and amazing' (Science Newsonline Vol 156. No. 2 Jul '99).
Given the above, it comes a bit rich that SIMR should accuse those on our side of the argument of 'manipulating public opinion'. The public is routinely softened up by powerful commercial interests and their allies into imagining that medical miracles, supposedly based on mouse and other animal studies, are now routinely on offer.
SIMR complains that some of the photographs our movement uses are old. We would dearly love access to very many more contemporary photographs. Every August, Animal Aid hands out our 'Mad Science Awards' for typically grotesque and pointless research on animals. Three years ago, I wrote to every one of the 12 winning research teams and asked them for photographs that would accurately reflect their work because, it was explained, we did not want to misrepresent them. Only one replied - but failed to come up with a single image.
Is it SIMR's case that monkeys, mice, rats, cats, dogs etc are not subjected to extraordinarily painful toxicity, carcinogenicity, neurological and other research procedures? We routinely consult published scientific papers and find, without the need to embellish, examples of animals having their skulls drilled open and corrosive chemicals applied; others injected with lethal toxins, pathogens, industrial chemicals etc.
SIMR complains that groups such as Animal Aid, BUAV and NAVS fail to finance non-animal research. That is not our function. Our function is to educate and campaign and move the argument forward. In fact, there is already a multitude of non-animal research methods available - the problem is encouraging the scientific community to embrace them. Animal Aid, for a decade, has worked diligently to detail and promote the scientific and ethical merits of donated human tissue for in vitro testing - as against the use of tissues obtained from animals specially bred and killed for their body parts. Around 400,000 animals meet this fate every year.
Meanwhile, SIMR posits the sum of £31.2 million - said to be the collective income of BUAV, Animal Aid and NAVS. I have no idea what the other two groups have received but readers may have missed the point that this was said to have been the three groups' total income OVER TEN YEARS. It is also the fact that the groups concerned depend entirely on voluntary public support - we are all not-for-profit organisations, without shareholders. We get no support from the government (quite the opposite) and none from powerful drug and biotech companies.
I would like to issue a formal challenge to SIMR to declare any and all financial support it receives from pharmaceutical or biotech companies or from any other medical products company.
In protesting at South Cambridgeshire District Council's decision to throw out a proposed primate research lab, SIMR seeks to give the impression that the dispute is between the mindless thuggery of animal rights campaigners and the well-directed altruism of researchers keen to deliver cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's.
The reality, as already indicated, is very different. As we noted in our formal, thoroughly referenced objection to the monkey lab, the fight against such human conditions is not advanced by opening up the skulls of monkeys, chemically or surgically mutilating them and pretending the result is the equivalent of these specifically-human neurological conditions. Not only is the disease-construct bogus, there are important differences between non-human and human primates relating to, for instance, the impact of viral and other pathogens, and the manner in which drugs are absorbed and excreted. What harms or helps a macaque might have precisely the reverse effect in people.
There is a lot of money and intellectual prestige tied up with such research - never mind its efficacy or safety. Those who profit from it indulge in the worst kind of moral blackmail (let us have our way or you'll get Alzheimer's and cancer) to extract public and political support.
In short, experiments on animals are a betrayal of people too, because they yield nothing of any use. Consequently, when drugs do prove beneficial to patients (and a great many declared as safe on the basis of animal tests end up maiming and killing people) it is DESPITE the fact that they were animal tested.
If SIMR supporters were to engage in a serious and objective assessment of the use of animals in biomedical research, they would see that their own interests lie in joining us on our side of the argument.