Earlier this year the BUAV published details of its undercover investigation at an animal research laboratory at the Imperial College London. Our investigation documented a catalogue of shortcomings and wrongdoing by staff and researchers that caused even more distress and suffering to the animals in its care than was allowed in the experiments. Our findings included breaches in and lack of knowledge of UK Home Office project licences; a failure to provide adequate anaesthesia and pain relief; incompetence and neglect and highly disturbing methods used to kill animals. Since publishing our findings we have been calling for a wholly independent inquiry to be carried out because we believe our investigation at Imperial College raises significant and far reaching questions about animal research across the UK.
If such breaches can happen at Imperial College, with its reputation as a world-leading institution, they can happen anywhere. Imperial College established its own inquiry, which has published its report today. The Report is highly critical of Imperial College but also acknowledges that its recommendations has ramifications for the entire system of animal experiments in Great Britain.
The Brown Report, headed by prominent animal researcher Professor Steve Brown vindicates the BUAV investigation and campaign, making a range of recommendations in response to the shocking findings of our seven-month long investigation. The conclusion that Imperial College '...lacks adequate leadership, management, operational, training, supervisory and ethical review systems to support high standards in animal use and welfare' is a devastating indictment.
The report continues that '... in terms of operational structures and standards, communication and working practices, as well as reporting animal welfare concerns, we found that there was considerable room for improvement and the introduction of significant changes. These would have a substantive impact upon animal welfare ...'
Our investigation also uncovered inadequate out-of-hours and weekend care leading to inevitable additional animal suffering. The Brown Report recommends 'an increase in staffing levels that will allow the increased involvement of animal care staff with in vivo research programmes ... and ensure greater independent overview of animal welfare out of hours and at weekends'.
Perhaps one of the most shocking revelations was the incompetence found among the staff at Imperial College. The report states that the authors 'found that the provision of training, supervision and competency assessment was ad hoc, and that there was little evidence of effective mechanisms for sharing information and best practice across staff' and it went on to 'recommend a significant increase in resource of training and competency assessment ...'
The BUAV has a long history of showing the world the reality of life and death for animals in laboratories, sadly all too often the complete opposite of what the Government and research industry would want us to believe. But it shouldn't be up to us to expose the failures of the current system. There are supposed to be professional inspectors, working for the Home Office, making sure that regulations are enforced and rules are followed.
The number of inspectors has been steadily shrinking in recent years, and there are now fewer than 18 full-time equivalent members of the inspection staff compared to almost 25 full-time equivalents in 2006. Consider that in the context of a record number of animal experiments in Great Britain in 2012 and each inspector is responsible for over-seeing an average of more than 200,000 procedures. It's hardly surprising that against this backdrop serious errors are being made, even at supposedly high acclaimed institutions such as Imperial College.
The inspections system has been neglected for too long and is no longer fit for purpose. It clearly need radical overhaul if public confidence in the system is to be restored.
But that isn't the only change that's needed. After years of discussion and consideration the time has now come to throw the system open to proper public scrutiny by repealing Section 24 of the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act which allows the current system to operate under a blanket of total secrecy.
Our investigation showed that researchers often didn't know what they were permitted to do under the terms of their licence.
The public has a right to know what is being done to animals in laboratories up and down the country and one way that can happen is by lifting the curtain of secrecy which has hidden animal suffering and human incompetence for far too long.