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Exposed - Britain's animal labs fail to meet new EU standards

June 21, 2007

Conditions for animals in Britain�s research laboratories fall short of new Europe-wide guidelines which enter into force today (15 June). The failure has been highlighted by non-animal research charity, the Dr Hadwen Trust, which says the news is in stark contrast to the Government�s frequent claim that Britain has the strictest regulations in the world. Universities are likely to be the worst offenders.

New Europe-wide guidelines on laboratory animal housing and care are contained in a revised Appendix1 to a Council of Europe Convention2 which was unanimously adopted by signatory parties (including Britain) on 15 June 2006. In many aspects the British Codes of Practice (CoP) for housing conditions for laboratory animals are significantly lower than the new recommendations3.

In a letter to the Dr Hadwen Trust, the Home Office admits it has not announced a revision of Britain�s CoP to meet the new standards by 15 June 2007 nor taken measures to ensure that British laboratories will be compliant by that deadline4.

Of particular concern, Home Office advice on minimum pen sizes for some primates falls dramatically short of what the Convention now recognises as best practice in the interests of animal welfare. Britain is the largest user of laboratory primates in Europe, with more than 4,600 experiments performed on these animals each year5. However, minimum pen sizes for some primate species in Britain�s CoP are up to eight times smaller than the new recommendations.[6]

Says Dr Gill Langley, Science Director at the Dr Hadwen Trust:
"Primates are highly sentient animals with complex social and environmental needs that will always be seriously compromised in any laboratory. Macaques and marmosets are denied the space and freedom of their natural forest homes and have to endure procedures like brain damage, force-feeding with toxins and the infliction of debilitating diseases. At the very least the government should have ensured that housing conditions met or exceeded the new minimum standards, but instead they appear to be treating the welfare of animals with contempt."

Housing standards for other species are also now considered out of date. Guinea pigs, gerbils and rabbits should all be provided with more than double the space currently recommended, and enclosures for cats (pair of) should be almost seven times wider and four times higher.

Dr Langley, who served for eight years on the Animal Procedures Committee (APC) which advises the government on animal research issues, warns that British universities and medical schools are likely to have the poorest housing standards for laboratory animals. They represent the largest single category of UK laboratory animal use (43.5% of the total) and yet are least likely to exceed even current minimum Codes of Practice.

In its letter to the Dr Hadwen Trust, the Home Office claims it has merely advised designated establishments to take note of the new recommendations when refurbishing facilities, not to enforce them across the board. In reality, refurbishment is infrequent, particularly for universities which are more likely to be financially constrained. It is possible that a large proportion will fall far below the new minimum welfare recommendations.

Paragraph 7 of the Introduction to the revised Appendix A states:

"If existing facilities or equipment do not conform to the present guidelines, these should be altered or replaced within a reasonable period of time, having regard to animal welfare priorities and financial and practical concerns."

Despite being a signatory to the Council of Europe Convention, the Home Office has not made compliance with the new guidelines mandatory for UK animal research laboratories and there is no penalty for non-compliance, so labs have little incentive to replace outdated housing any time soon.

Says Dr Langley, Dr Hadwen Trust:
"The government has taken no meaningful action to implement these new guidelines, despite ample time. That betrays a worrying lack of interest in the suffering of laboratory animals. Discussions in Europe have been on-going for more than eight years, and the new housing sizes finally agreed a year ago, yet the government has done little to improve conditions and laboratories are effectively free to ignore the new guidelines."

"The government�s often-stated claim to have the highest standards in the world has always been a sham from the animals� perspective. They endure months or years of experiments confined in small and inadequate conditions that we wouldn�t dream of keeping our own pets in. Flouting the Council of Europe Convention�s guidelines sends out a very clear message to the British research community that animal suffering simply doesn�t matter enough. If the government�s commitment simply to providing better housing for lab animals is so weak, what confidence can we have that its commitment is genuine in other areas it claims to prioritise, such as the replacement of animal experiments?"


1 Revised Appendix A to the Council of Europe Convention ETS 123 can be read here:

2 The Council of Europe Convention ETS 123 � European Convention for the Protection of Vertebrate Animals used for Experimental and Other Scientific Purposes can be read here:

3 This Animal Procedures Committee aide-memoire highlights in yellow all areas where the UK minimum CoP are inadequate:

"Tests on animals have led to around 100 drugs being thought potentially useful for stroke; not one has proved effective in humans. You don't need to be a balaclava-wearing animal rights activist to question the value of animal studies in this area of medical research."

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