Lost your cat? Lab cage.

When I read Michelle Thew’s article I thought she was exaggerating:

The Home Office proposes for the first time to allow stray pets to be caught and used for experiments, for “environmental” or scientific reasons. This was despite unanimous submissions by animal welfare groups supported by many research establishments that the change was both unnecessary and unwelcome. No proposals are made for ensuring that an attempt be made to rehome lost pets rather than subject them to laboratory testing.

But she’s not.

Under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 animals used for scientific experimentation must have been bred for the purpose by a licenced breeder. All animal experimentation and testing is regulated in the UK (except Northern ireland) by the Home Office – the latest changes are based on the EU adopted Directive 2010/63/EU.

Feral cats

But the UK government want to relax that ban:

Article 11: Stray and feral animals of domestic species 64. The Directive prohibits the use of stray and feral animals of domestic species except in essential studies relating to the health and welfare of the animals, or serious threats to the environment or to human or animal health. There must also be a scientific justification that the purpose of the procedure can be achieved only by the use of a stray or a feral animal.

Although the quote says “the directive prohibits”, what it means is that right now, under the 1986 Act, using – for example – cats from feral cat colonies for experimentation would be illegal – but once this legislation passes, if justification can be shown for harvesting “subjects” from feral cat colonies, it will be legal to do so.

Many times cats that are considered feral or wild are just frightened domestic pets that have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves, often unneutered. Once in care they soon show their true characters and are found to be friendly and affectionate. Even cats considered feral or wild can turn into loving, trusting and loyal companions if given time and patience. If nursing feral mothers can be brought into care before their kittens are too old then the kittens are just as tame as a domestic kitten. If brought into care slightly older, they can still be “socialized” and eventually become as friendly and trusting as domestic kittens.

The government consultation is closed but you could still write to your MP and ask them to query the Home Office about this. (And, if you’re looking to adopt a cat, please consider looking in a shelter, not a pet shop.)

Penny Hawkins, senior scientific officer at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) says:

“The RSPCA is deeply concerned and very disappointed that the numbers of animals used in research and testing has gone up yet again.”

The RSPCA says that if the UK chooses to amend its own regulations in line with the minimum requirements of the directive, some animals could be allowed to suffer “severe” pain or suffering.

Dr Maggy Jennings, head of the RSPCA’s research animals department, said: “Successive governments have made proud claims that the UK has ‘the highest standards in the world’ for animal research and testing.

“Now they seem prepared to weaken this legislation and take a step backwards on lab animal welfare.”


This is a consultation that ended last year, report published May 2012.

The key quote from the EU directive 2010/63/EU:

Article 11
Stray and feral animals of domestic species
1. Stray and feral animals of domestic species shall not be used in procedures.
2. The competent authorities may only grant exemptions from paragraph 1 subject to the following conditions:
(a) 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
(b) there is scientific justification to the effect that the purpose of the procedure can be achieved only by the use of a stray or a feral animal.

While this sounds stringent, it is a relaxation of the former absolute ban.

Productive responses to this: Support charities such as www.feralcatwelfare.org.uk and Celia Hammond Animal Trust, Cats Protection League.

Note that:

The humane way to control a feral colony is to trap and neuter all the mature adults and return them to the colony site. If kittens are caught young enough they can be tamed and homes found for them. Trapping and neutering a large feral colony can take weeks (or months), and then regular monitoring is needed to make sure that no cats were missed. To help identify neutered cats, many vets clip the top of their ear (called ‘ear-tipping’) which causes no distress to the cat.

Write to your MP asking them to ask why the relaxation of the ban on using stray/feral domesticated animals (not just cats) for experiments. This directive will become law in November 2012.

Vote at 38 Degrees for a campaign to Stop the government implementing the EU directive allowing the relaxation of laws on animal testing

1 Comment

Filed under Cats, Sustainable Politics

One response to “Lost your cat? Lab cage.

  1. si

    This is quite a confused article. Half the unclaimed cats and dogs in shelters are “killed” (the RSPCA, which does much of the killing, has started using that word), and meanwhile cats are bred for animal research if there’s no choice (a legal requirement for any experiment).

    Almost no cats are used in UK research – about 150 – and almost all for veterinary testing i.e. if you want to treat a cat disease you need a cat vaccine. The people conducting medial research are not doing so speculatively or callously – they are trying to save lives and end suffering. Unfortunately, the terminology for an experiment- a “procedure” can mean anything from the breeding of a mouse (which accounts for 40% of “procedures”), giving an injection of deep-brain stimulation and doesn’t discriminate between a dog, cat, fish or fruit-fly.
    There has been an “increase” in “procedures” only if you count the breeding of mice sans this or that gene to see what the gene does, and the rise of the non-sentient zebrafish.

    The RSPCA quote is old, and doesn’t refer to this issue so much as the Directive, which they now welcome because, as it happens, the government didn’t weaken animal protections in the UK.

    As for Michelle Thew’s assertion that “No proposals are made for ensuring that an attempt be made to rehome lost pets rather than subject them to laboratory testing.” That’s absolutely an exaggeration – if it’s at a shelter they will do all they can to get the cat rehomed. Also, why has the cat not been microchipped? My cat’s been microchipped.

    In the event, cats are highly unlikely to be used as lab animals for several reasons. The first is that for most research you need a genetically consistent animal – it’s no good having worldwide community of researchers who are unsure if it’s their treatments that are working or if the animals’ variant DNA and virus exposure is having an effect. This is why animals are bred in one place and sent all over the world, and why persuading ferry companies not to transport them simply makes their journey more circuitous. The second is that there are better alternatives to using cats – animals with less capacity for reflection, with what suffering there is quickly forgotten in a way we or the cat would find impossible so the researchers use them instead – they’re not monsters. Other species also have shorter gestation times, allowing us to observe the effect of proposed treatments over several generations – thalidomide slipped through the cracks because this wasn’t done. Next, the legislation makes it clear that this research would require justification – a serious response for a serious problem. It’s no good having a new cat disease sweeping Europe and we’re not allowed to test a vaccine because injecting the animal is a “procedure”. Finally, the EU Directive allows countries to retain higher standards if they are already in place. In the UK, there are special protections for dogs, cats and horses which exceed the standards in the Directive.

    Michele Thew’s heart might be in the right place, but her brain’s been inserted sideways. I know she’s convinced herself that there are “alternatives” to research, but that doesn’t make it true, and this sort of article does nothing for animal welfare because without medical research we’re left with the death and suffering of disease.

    All if these animal-themed organisations are private companies with enormous turnovers who sell outrage to animal-lovers by exploiting the gaps in most people’s knowledge. They turn up to the party with some half-understood stats and a picture of a cat from the 70s and lie to your face about what happens and why in animal research facilities. They remind me of televangelists, or the Daily Mail. If you must write to your MP, congratulate them for getting Europe to adopt higher animal welfare standards and warn them to visit a lab before listening to a word Michelle Thew says.

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