UK law currently bans the use of stray and feral animals in research – requiring that all animals must be purpose bred for research. There are also very strict limitations around the use of wild animals in research. This legislation is now being updated in line with a new EU Directive. This update will change the wording of this outright ban – saying it will be allowed should it become essential to do this research to tackle serious threats to the environment or human or animal health. Though the government says this exception is unlikely ever to be needed.
However, this change has raised concern that the Home Office is relaxing the rules around the use of stray animals in research, leading to a campaign by BUAV against this change and MPs tabling an Early Day Motion to express their concern. The House of Commons has now published a very clear note which explains the changes, noting that the change in wording will not actually mean we can use stray and feral animals in research and that the effective ban will remain. It also includes a statement from the RSPCA that they believe the intention of the Home Office is not to allow the use of any stray animals.
A new EU Directive means UK regulations governing animal research are to be updated. The Home Office published an outline of how they plan to update UK law in May. There have been concerns raised by anti-animal research groups that the proposed update will now allow the use of stray animals in research. MPs have tabled an Early Day Motion and asked questions in the House of Commons to raise these concerns. Lynne Featherstone, the minister in charge of the regulations, has responded, saying:
The UK does not allow the use of stray dogs and cats in animal experiments. The EU Directive also states that stray animals should not be used. We do not envisage any circumstances under which the use of stray animals will be justified in the future.
The House of Commons has now published a standard note, which has been placed in the Commons Library for reference by MPs. It says:
The Directive does not allow the use of stray or feral animals in experiments unless there is an essential need for studies concerning the health and welfare of the animals or serious threats to the environment or to human or animal health, and there is scientific justification for the procedure.
Our current law includes an outright ban on the use of stray and feral animals with no exception. So although there is now an exception to the ban where there wasn’t before, the Home Office does not see any circumstance when the requirements of that exception would be reached and stray animals would be used in research. So in practice this remains a ban.
The RSPCA also offers reassurance on their website, saying:
A number of concerned people have recently come to us after reading suggestions elsewhere that the new UK law will allow the use of stray animals for research. Confusion seems to have been caused because the wording of the EU law is different to that in the current UK text.
However, we have looked into this very carefully and believe there will not, in fact, be any change to the current situation in the UK – and that the intention of the Home Office remains NOT to allow the use of any stray animals.
Like all scientific research, animal research is done under very carefully controlled conditions to ensure high quality and reliable results. Scientists would not want to use stray or feral animals as unknown diseases or genetic problems with the animals would seriously undermine the credibility of the research.
The government is now in the process of drafting regulations to update UK law. These will be published as an affirmative Statutory instrument (the affirmative bit means it must be debated by both Houses) and will go before Parliament to be agreed before they can become law. The deadline for the directive coming into force is January 2013 so, when you take into account summer recess from mid-July to September, time is tight for this process to be completed.