University in desperate attempt to avoid disclosing details on monkey research
BUAV has lodged an appeal with the Information Tribunal following last-ditch
moves by Newcastle University to avoid releasing information about primate
research, under freedom of information legislation. The university has made
the extraordinary claim that its animal researchers do not need to have
their official licence available when experimenting on animals.
licences, issued by the Home Office under the Animals (Scientific Procedures)
Act 1986 (ASPA), are long and highly technical documents, setting out precisely
what can be done to animals, what steps must be taken to keep suffering
down, when animals can be re-used, when they must be killed and so forth.
It is a criminal offence to carry out unauthorised experiments.
University initially admitted that it did have the two licences in question
but later claimed to the Information Commissioner that it did not, despite
sending him copies of them! The university’s argument was that only
the official vet, an university employee, had access to the licences, and
that the researchers themselves did not need to; nor, it seems, did the
senior employee with overall responsibility for animal experiments there
or the animal care officer with day-to-day responsibility for the animals.
In effect, the university is trying to wash its hands of responsibility
for animal experiments carried out on its premises, by its employees.
Commissioner accepted that the university did not have the licences and
therefore rejected the BUAV’s complaint.
research on macaques involved implanting electrodes into the monkeys’
brains in order to record the activity of brain nerve cells in awake monkeys,
who are forcibly restrained while being made to watch images on TV screens.
experiments are particularly contentious not only because they involve primates,
are highly invasive and long term (the monkeys are reused sometimes for
years), but they can be replaced by human volunteer studies using non-invasive
imaging machines such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines.
intention of the BUAV in submitting a FOI request was to discover why such
experiments were allowed in the first place because apparently similar experiments
by the same researcher have been recently banned for ethical reasons by
the Berlin authorities in Germany.
Thew, BUAV chief executive, said: ‘The Home Office would be very interested
to learn of the cavalier attitude which Newcastle University takes to its
legal responsibilities for the animals in its laboratory. How can it make
sure that everything is done properly if the researchers and other key employees
do not have the licences? We suspect this is a desperate attempt by the
university to hide from the public what goes on behind its four walls’.
further information please contact Sarah Kite at firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner’s decision will shortly be available on his website but
in the meantime can be obtained from the BUAV
paragraph 22 of the decision, the Commissioner says: ‘The University
explained that it was not necessary for a project licence holder to hold
a copy of a project licence in order to conduct work under a licence’.
of the licences had expired by the time of the BUAV request, in June 2008.
The other was active though it has since expired. But this is not why Newcastle
says it does not have them. Its arguments would apply equally to current