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Newchurch Guinea Pigs Closure

Guinea pigUncaged urges Government to change policy to deal with the underlying causes of anger and frustration driven by compassion

Yesterday's announcement of the closure of the Darley Oaks guinea pig breeding farm offers a possible reprieve for the animals currently incarcerated there who had been destined to suffer and die in vivisection experiments.

We implore Darley Oaks Farm to work with animal welfare organisations to adopt the guinea pigs out to loving homes, rather than despatch them to their deaths.

Recent media coverage of the campaign has focussed on incidents of intimidation and criminal damage. Uncaged does not support or condone any form of pre-meditated violence or aggression towards any animal, be they human or nonhuman. However, it is clear that the conduct of the media, the Government and the research industry is a causal factor - an explanation rather than a justification - for illegal campaign activity.

Firstly, media attention on animal rights campaigning is mostly lazy and ill-informed (though for a more thoughtful approach see this article (1)). Coverage tends to concentrate on a small minority of relatively 'sensational' illegal actions rather than covering the vast majority of peaceful and dignified animal rights campaigns. It is therefore not surprising that some activists feel that the only way to get publicity for their grievances is through illegal activities. It is possible that an exaggerated image of 'extremism' plays into the hands of animal abusers and may alienate the public from the animal rights movement. Presumably, this is one of the reasons why journalists, who tend to have close relations with the pro-vivisection lobby, are happy to promote an image of 'extremism'.

However, significant responsibility for illegal campaigning must rest with the Government and the vivisection industry. On 1st December 2004, the Prime Minister told Parliament that illegal campaigning was not justified because of Britain's supposedly strict regulatory system for animal experiments. (2) But the scarce evidence that has become available regarding the effectiveness of the regulatory system reveals that the Government and research industry routinely collaborate to avoid the rule of law. In relation to Darley Oaks itself, to the best of our knowledge the Government failed to take any action following evidence of disturbing conditions in the guinea pig breeding sheds, where animals were found dead and existing in filthy conditions.

Perhaps the clearest example of Home Office bias and misconduct involves pig-to-primate organ transplant research conducted by Imutran Ltd between 1995 and 2000. Uncaged published leaked documents describing these experiments following a two-and-a-half year legal battle with Imutran and Novartis. Uncaged won having argued that there was a public interest in exposing wrongdoing on the part of Home Office Inspectors and the researchers.

In these procedures, genetically-engineered pig hearts and kidneys were transplanted into the necks, abdomens and chests of baboons and macaque monkeys. Having endured major open surgery that had a 25% failure rate, the animals were then dosed with toxic doses of several immunosuppressive drugs in a futile effort to prevent rejection of the pig organs. The suffering of several primates clearly exceeded the 'moderate' severity limit attached to the procedures. In reality, many primates were allowed to deterioriate until they were 'found dead' or 'in a collapsed state'. The huge doses of drugs - on occasions eight times higher than doses used in human beings - lead to deaths due to poisoning and/or infection. Some drugs caused internal haemorrhaging. Other illnesses included viral and protozoal infections, lymph cancer, intense nausea, severe stomach inflammation and diarrhoea, dehydration, fatal pneumonia, persistent wound infections and breakdowns, brain trauma, heart attack, pneumonia and anaemia. These are just a small selection of the harrowing observations of the dying primates recorded in the official study reports:

  • "...looking very weak with head in hands... Vomiting profusely."
  • "very distressed and having difficulty breathing... animal collapsed",
  • "uncoordinated limb spasms",
  • "suffered a stroke",
  • "retching and salivating",
  • "abdomen swollen and appears fluid filled. Salivating. Very laboured breathing. Extreme difficulty trying to walk",
  • "large volume of bloody mucoid faeces",
  • "Collapsed on cage floor, appears weak and unable to get up, breathing shallow and rapid, salivating, heavy lidded eyes, body and limb tremors."

In addition to failing to enforce the regulations in the Imutran case, the Home Office has since gone to great lengths to avoid accountability, refusing to set up an independent inquiry and issuing a series of false denials and half-truths in order to obstruct justice. Given the level of suffering involved, such behaviour is unconscionable.

Given these Government-endorsed regulatory breaches, ironically, the logic of the Prime Minister's argument is that illegal campaigning is justified. Uncaged would not go that far. It is clear however, that the contempt for the rule of law exhibited by the Government and the animal research lobby renders their protestations at illegal campaigning hypocritical. Furthermore, their arrogant disregard for regulations provokes activists' disillusion with 'constitutional' methods of campaigning. For any legal progress that has been made to tackle the problem of animal experiments has been undone by biased and inadequate implementation of laws and regulations.

Unfortunately, this cavalier approach to regulation has been entrenched in the Home Office for over a century. However, if the Government is genuinely committed to consistently upholding the rule of law, then the most productive and legitimate course of action would be to initiate a radical change in policy style. In other words, the Home Office needs to break its incestuous ties with the powerful vivisection industry and instead adopt the position of a neutral arbiter, judging the arguments put by all sides on their merits rather than the economic power or social status of the advocates.

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Adam Nicolson, 'Animal rights and wrongs', Guardian, 24 August 2005. www.guardian.co.uk/animalrights/story/0,11917,1555032,00.html
  2. Michael Fabricant: I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his reply, and my constituents in Yoxall, Newborough and Newchurch, who have been terrorised by animal rights extremists now for five years, will also be grateful. We welcome the legislation, although, as with everything, the devil will be in the detail. But does the Prime Minister also accept that there are genuine animal rights campaigners? What does he say to those who read the pamphlet, "Labour Britain: New Life for Animals", which made the pledge in 1997 that a Labour Government "will support a Royal Commission to review the effectiveness and justification of animal experiments"? Does the Prime Minister not stick to what he promised, or was that just talk again?
    The Prime Minister: I was going to say that we could dissect that question, but it is probably not the right thing to say. We pledged to ensure better welfare and better safeguards in animal experiments, and we delivered on that pledge. We have made sure that all experiments that are conducted are conducted according to the tightest possible regulations. It is for precisely that reason that we are in a strong position to say to animal rights extremists that we have tough measures in this country, so there can be no justification whatever for harassing and intimidating people who are going about their lawful business.

Uncaged Campaigns 24.08.05

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Uncaged 1993-2012: This is the archived website of Uncaged. All information correct at the time of archiving - November 2012.