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BUAV freedom of information victory over Newcastle University monkey experiments

15/11/2011

The BUAV has welcomed a landmark decision by the Information Tribunal which has ordered Newcastle University to disclose licences governing its research on primates under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Tribunal noted the “strong public interest in animal welfare and in transparency and accountability” in relation to animal experiments and rejected the University’s claim that disclosure would endanger its staff or prejudice commercial interests.

In June 2008, the BUAV requested information from the University about highly invasive brain experiments on macaques which involved implanting electrodes into the animals’ brains to record activity while they were forced repeatedly to undergo various tasks. Monkeys were forcibly restrained by the head and body, which would cause them a high level of distress.. The experiments had been discussed in three articles published by University researchers. The request was turned down.

One of the lead researchers has been refused permission by authorities in Germany for similar primate experiments which were deemed unethical, because the suffering – including repeated body and head restraint and a very 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. Similarly, the scientific papers about the Newcastle research do not identify any benefit for human health from the research.

The UK Government often claims that its system of regulation of animal experiments is the strictest in the world – a claim roundly 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? 

Aside from the ethical issues and lack of benefit to human health, these experiments are also contentious because the BUAV believes that primates can be replaced by human volunteer studies using non-invasive imaging machines such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines. It is a fundamental principle of UK legislation that animals should not be used where non-animal methods can give the desired information. 

The Tribunal allowed a few short passages in the licences to be withheld. It has also allowed the University to withhold the licences 'until the Court of Appeal decides shortly on a further exemption on which the University relies.

Michelle Thew, BUAV Chief Executive, said:

We are delighted with this ruling. Once again, the courts have dismissed Newcastle’s attempts to hide the truth about its animal experiments. For well over three years, Newcastle University has tried every which way to avoid providing us with information. These are highly controversial and invasive experiments carried out on monkeys at a public institution. The public has a right to know what is happening to these poor animals and why”. 

BUAV Freedom of Information victory over Newcastle University controversial primate experiments appears in The Independent newspaper.