Imperial accused of animal abuse

Hidden cameras in biology lab reveal excessive suffering of laboratory animals


College has ordered an urgent inquiry after hidden cameras showed researchers mistreating laboratory animals in a way that breached welfare rules. The footage was made by an technician who was actually working undercover for the British Union for the Abolition for Vivisection (BUAV) between May and November 2012

From the BUAV footage

Whilst life as a lab animal is obviously never a picnic for the animal itself, Home Office rules state that the suffering of the animals is to be minimised as much as possible. Footage from the BUAV video as described in today’s Sunday Times (paywall) show scenes where animals are moving and lifting their heads during surgery. Further pictures show a rat that is supposed to have been anaesthetised rolling its eyes as a technician attempts to break its neck using what appears to be a metal identification card holder removed from a cage.

The BUAV has uploaded the  video of their findings to youtube, it’s graphic.

Audio from the video shows that the others in the lab were aware of what was happening was contrary to Home Office Rules. Pictures from October also show a group of mice that have been shaved so badly that their skin had developed sores and they were shown on camera to be clearly distressed.  An animal welfare officer is then heard saying:  “I’m so disgusted. These poor mice. If the Home Office was in [the laboratory], we would have been screwed if they saw those mice.”

Another section of footage shows a group of mice that had been injected and irradiated and are then found dead in their cages. One animal welfare officer says: “She’s exceeded her project licence. She’s actually violating their project licence by them dying on her.”

A second person is heard saying: “This is what she does all the time.”

The welfare officer replies: “The thing is, if the Home Office had seen it, that would have been the end of the project licence probably.”

According to college’s guidelines, animals should be killed quietly, not in the presence of other animals and only by “experienced and competent personnel”; whilst footage shows killings taking place in-front of other animals and with the radio playing loudly in the background.

Imperial’s statement to the Sunday Times said: “Imperial College’s policy on the use of animals in research is that animals may only be used in research programmes where their use is shown to be essential.

“Scientists and staff at Imperial work hard to ensure that animals are kept and cared for using the highest standards of husbandry, thereby causing least pain and distress.”

College have announced an independent investigation to be led by Steve Brown, director of the Medical Research Council’s mammalian genetics unit.

Staff and postgrads with Home Office licenses have been reminded by college of the policy on animal welfare and their own responsibilities in ensuring the animals don’t suffer. It has also informed the Home Office of the BUAV claims and said it will work with officials there.

All testing on animals must be licensed by the Home Office.

Under Home Office rules [PDF], no animal test can be conducted if there is an alternative research technique. The expected benefits must outweigh possible adverse effects.

Each lab must have on-site vets and animal welfare officers who check animals are being humanely treated. Suffering must be kept to a minimum at all times.

According to the article from the Sunday Times: “Licences — graded “mild”, “moderate” and “substantial”, according to the expectation of the severity of suffering that animals may be subjected to — also specify the point at which the animal must be killed because the suffering is considered too great.” In the video a researcher is shown to not know what grade license he has for the work he is doing.

The animals should be killed quickly and humanely by a competent person, according to the law.