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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 October, 2003, 11:49 GMT
Lab test penalties 'too mild'
A mouse
Researchers involved in bad practice get 'ticked off'
An experiment which involved playing loud music to more than 200 mice dosed up on the drug "speed", has raised concern among a group that gives advice to David Blunkett.

Some of the mice suffered "seizures" during the tests and at least 19 of them died as a result of it.

Members of the Animal Procedures Committee (APC), which advises the home secretary on experiments that may cause pain, suffering or distress to animals, said the penalties for such serious cases were "too mild".

The most that researchers are likely to get is a ticking off or a reminder not to do it again
Wendy Higgins
Buav
The bad practice came to light through the publication of a scientific paper on the work, according to the APC's report on its activities during 2002.

But the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (Buav) claims that had it "not relentlessly pursued the case, the fact of their illegal suffering would have remained hidden forever".

Training

The experiment was one of three listed as "serious infringements" to the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which can result in penalties of up to two years imprisonment.

The APC report said the mice study had been part of a licensed project concerning Huntington's disease, but had gone "beyond the procedures covered by the licence authorities".

If something came up where there would be a realistic prospect of a conviction ...obviously, the Home Office would refer it to the police
Home Office spokesman

As a result, the project licensee was given a warning and "required to undergo training".

A personal licence holder was also admonished and the certificate holder was "asked to remedy defects in the record keeping systems in the department concerned".

The APC said lessons needed to be learned, adding: "The committee is always concerned to learn of any infringement, but was particularly concerned about this case."

'Behind closed doors'

But Wendy Higgins, Buav campaigns director, said the "punishment" for these infringements amounted to "a glorified ticking off".

It also showed how the inspectorate which is charged with monitoring inspections of laboratories had failed, she said.

"Countless Buav undercover investigations in UK labs have revealed that researchers break the rules all the time, but they act behind closed doors so no-one ever gets to see.

"What the report does demonstrate is that even where the Home Office does admit an infringement has occurred, the most that researchers are likely to get is a ticking off or a reminder not to do it again.

"With such a poor record of monitoring and deterrent, animal researchers are literally getting away with murder."

'Misconception'

In its report, the APC conceded that some people, including some of its members, had expressed "concern that penalties for infringements, even those in which animal welfare has been seriously compromised, are too mild".

"In particular, there seems to be a belief that not enough prosecutions take place, and that this is because of failings by the Home Office.

"This latter concern is based on a misconception. The Home Office told us that offences that might in their view merit prosecution would be brought to the attention of the police."

The APC said it was surprised that "prosecution" had not been contemplated in another infringement involving a rat destined for humane euthanasia that was left in its cage for five days without water.

"In this case the Home Office view was that there were factors, including evidential problems, mitigating against such a course," it said.

'Admonition'

Instead, the establishment involved had since "reorganised its procedures to minimise the likelihood of reoccurrence".

The licensees involved and the certificate holder received warnings, with conditions attached to the certificate to require further evidence of administrative and procedural improvements over time.

In a further study, two sheep were found to have problems with abnormal horn growth, resulting in an "immediate welfare problem" and led a local inspector to conclude that "proper provision had not been made for the care of these animals".

The matter had been treated as a "class one" infringement, rather than a "class three" or "the most serious" infringement and had instead been dealt with locally.

"Further action was not deemed appropriate, but the inspector had been reminded of the correct procedure for dealing with infringements that impact adversely on animal welfare," the report said.

Convictions

A Home Office spokesman said the infringements had been "dealt with in the appropriate manner" and had emerged out of the 2.73m experiments carried out in the UK in 2001-2.

"There is on-going monitoring of licence holders and certificate holders where appropriate," he said.

"If something came up where there would be a realistic prospect of a conviction and it was in the public interest, obviously, the Home Office would refer it to the police.

"As the report says, we do have one of the most stringent regulatory systems in the world on animal procedures and the vast majority of the scientific community uphold those standards."




SEE ALSO:
GM animals push lab test stats up
21 Jul 03  |  Science/Nature
Science wrestles with monkey business
16 Jul 03  |  Science/Nature
Row over animal test reform
21 Jan 03  |  Sci/Tech


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