Uncovered: A major BUAV undercover investigation exposes the reality of life and death inside one UK laboratory.
In November 2010, the UK Home Office released a report on Wickham Laboratories, Hampshire, which substantiated many of the findings of the BUAV's 2009 undercover investigation, The Ugly Truth.The BUAV's investigator worked undercover for eight months at Wickham Laboratories and secretly filmed the treatment of animals inside the facility.
Following our revelations, the Home Office report found breaches to the animal testing licenses issued to the company and infringement proceedings are being considered against it.
The report's key findings include:
In addition, the report highlights a potential conflict of interest with the Named Veterinary Surgeon, responsible for animal welfare, being a major company shareholder. Despite the above findings, the BUAV are disappointed that the Home Office have failed to properly investigate whether the drugs tested at Wickham Laboratories necessitated animal tests, in particular whether such tests were required by national and international regulators.
Following the BUAV’s investigation, it has emerged that one of the companies commissioning tests on rabbits at Wickham has since moved to non-animal alternatives and the UK Veterinary Medicines Directorate have launched a review into the use of rabbits for pyrogenicity testing. The Home Office investigation is a missed opportunity to review the need for animal tests across the institution and has seen the Government wash their hands of their responsibility to enforce non-animal methods.
The BUAV carried out an investigation inside a major UK animal laboratory. A BUAV investigator worked undercover for 8 months at Wickham Laboratories in Hampshire and secretly filmed the appalling suffering inflicted on thousands of animals inside the facility.
Our findings are shocking and show that crude, archaic and extremely cruel animal tests are still allowed in the UK in a continual cycle of pain and misery for the routine batch testing of products.
What we found at the lab
The UK government is failing in its legal obligation to enforce the use of non-animal alternatives where they exist and to ensure that, if animals are used, then it should be the minimum number and with the minimum amount of suffering.
Despite a UK and EU ban on the use of animals for cosmetic testing, there is a loophole in the law which allows animals to continue to suffer dreadfully in tests for a product that, although licensed for medical use, could very well end up being used – quite legally – for cosmetic purposes.
The appalling suffering inflicted on thousands of animals in cruel, crude and archaic tests. Animals kept in small, virtually barren cages that failed to meet their behavioural and social needs.
The suffering and death of hundreds of mice every week in the cruel and controversial LD50 poisoning test for the highly toxic substance botulinum toxin, commonly known as botox.
The use of rabbits in pyrogenicity tests during which they are injected with a substance and forcibly restrained by their necks in stocks for hours at a time - individual rabbits are then routinely re-used in the test.
Some animals suffered in tests that are no longer required by national and international regulations. This makes a mockery out of the often made claim that companies have to do tests just because regulators require them.
Using rabbits in tests
Wickham has a colony of around 100 rabbits. They all have numbers and were given names such as Dexter, Melon, Uranus, Fork and Coral by staff.
As part of the test, rabbits could be starved for up to 30 hours. During the test, they are forcibly immobilised by their necks in stocks for several hours. The test substance is injected into an ear vein, sometimes resulting in painful damage to the ears. A temperature probe was inserted 7.5cm deep into the rectum and left for hours. Some rabbits struggled against their confinement and these invasive procedures. The laboratory acknowledges that struggling could result in injury, particularly to their backs.
The tests are uncomfortable and distressing for the rabbits. Some were killed at the end of the test, but others were returned to their cages to be re-used repeatedly in further pyrogen tests.
A miserable existence
The rabbits could remain at Wickham for many months to be used time and time again in tests. Although naturally inquisitive, social and active, these poor animals were kept on their own in small, essentially barren metal or plastic cages.
This caging was totally inappropriate for the behavioural and physical needs of rabbits. There were no opportunities for natural behavior such as digging and burrowing. Bored and frustrated, some rabbits displayed abnormal behaviour, including repetitive bar biting and pacing inside the small confines of their cages.
The UK government is failing in its legal obligation to enforce the universally accepted concept of the 3 R’s (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) for animal tests. Tests such as the LD50 test for botulinum toxin and the pyrogenicity test have valid in vitro alternatives and it is outrageous that they are not being implemented.
The Limulus amoebocyte lysate assay (LAL) is an ‘in vitro’ method that can be used for detecting bacterial pyrogens and is recognized by regulatory authorities in both Europe and the USA as an alternative to the rabbit pyrogenicity test. Indeed, European guidelines stress the alternative should be used in preference to the rabbit test in many cases.
The SNAP-25 assay, a method that does not use live animals but instead measures the activity of the toxin in a test tube, can be used to replace the botox mouse LD50 tests. The BUAV believes that under UK law this test should be used because the Home Office has a duty not to license tests when a non-animal method is available.
Furthermore, this test has been validated by an official UK government laboratory specifically for the type of botox used at Wickham and has been used by them since 1999. Inexplicably, the UK Home Office is not insisting on this test at Wickham even after all these years.