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.
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:
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.
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