BUAV takes Newcastle University to freedom of information tribunal over controversial monkey tests

15/09/2010

The BUAV is today taking Newcastle University to tribunal over a Freedom of Information case involving controversial monkey experiments.

The BUAV first requested information from Newcastle University about experiments on primates  conducted there in June 2008. The BUAV knew about the experiments because the researchers had published three articles.  The experiments involved brain research and were highly invasive. They 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.

The experiments are particularly contentious not only because they 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.

The BUAV is particularly interested in the research because one of the lead researchers has been refused permission in Germany for apparently similar experiments on primates. The authorities rejected his application because the suffering – including repeated body and head restraint and a severe regime of water deprivation to motivate the monkeys to perform tasks – was too great, particularly given the lack of practical benefit from the experiments. In short, it said that the proposed experiments were unethical.

The UK Government often claims that its system of regulation of animal experiments is the strictest in the world – a claim strongly rejected by the BUAV. This research represents an opportunity to test the claim – why are experiments on primates allowed in this country when apparently similar ones are prohibited elsewhere?

The University initially confirmed that it held the two licences issued by the Home Office for the primate experiments in question. However, it refused the BUAV request on the basis of various exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act. Much later, it claimed that it did not hold the licences, on technical legal grounds. The University’s case is that it does not have any information concerning highly invasive experiments on monkeys carried out on its premises, by its staff. An extraordinary claim!  

The court decision will be announced in a few weeks.

15th September 2010