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On The Prowl with Nick Mays

Animals fed drugs in junkie research

A HARD-HITTING report has revealed that millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been used to fund animal testing of banned substances at UK universities in the last ten years.

The report, ‘Creatures of Habit’ by British Union the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) scientist Dr Katy Taylor BSc PhD, shows UK universities have repeatedly won licenses from the Home Office to spend public money giving often lethal doses of crystal meth, cocaine, cannabis, speed and ecstasy to animals to test effects already well documented in human studies.

The BUAV’s research uncovered that at least £1.6m of taxpayers’ money has been spent by scientists conducting illegal drug studies such as addicting rats to cocaine at Cambridge University.

In another study at Cambridge, paid for by taxpayers’ via the Government-funded Medical Research Council, rats were driven mad through enforced isolation so scientists could then test the effects of speed (amphetamine) on their ability to carry out simple tasks.

A separate set of studies at Cambridge saw researchers conducting frivolous tests including giving a combined lethal dose of crystal meth (full name methamphetamine) and loud music from the composer Bach and the pop group The Prodigy to see if it would induce death.

Meanwhile, the report reveals that Birmingham University gave rats cannabis to see if it increased their hunger – an outcome already well-documented in human evidence and commonly known among students as ‘the munchies’. Estimates show this experiment could have cost the university up to £100,000 to carry out, based on average costs of such studies.

The report also reveals that similarly unnecessary and expensive tests have been funded and licensed at Liverpool, Nottingham, Aberdeen and Leicester’s De Montfort universities, in which animals have been subjected to a range of bizarre activities such as burying marbles and swimming in vats of milk under the influence of mind-bending drugs.

Very few of the UK studies detailed in the report have ever been ‘cited’ by other researchers – meaning most were a complete waste of time from a scientific point of view, in addition to a waste of taxpayers’ money and a cause of pain and death to animals.

The testing of legal ‘recreational’ drug products alcohol and tobacco are banned in the UK alongside other products deemed ‘non-essential’ such as cosmetics.

BUAV chief executive Michelle Thew said: ‘I think people will be appalled that public money is being used to fund such unnecessary and cruel animal tests. Surely public funds would be better spent on relevant, ethical human volunteer research, improving drug rehabilitation centres and supporting families dealing with drug abuse?

‘The BUAV is calling on the Government to put an end to this entirely unnecessary animal suffering and divert funding where it is sorely needed.’

The BUAV obtained the information on public funding of illegal drug experiments at Cambridge University (£1.6m) under the Freedom of Information Act from the Medical Research Council (MRC). The total £10m figure is based on the average cost of such experiments based on information from the MRC and the total number of relevant UK-published research papers since 1997.

The BUAV points out that recreational drug research using animals is failing to help humans with drug dependencies. The studies cited in the report are often repetitive and yield no real insight into what motivates humans to take illicit drugs or what happens to their bodies when they do.
The Association says that funds would be better spent on improving drug rehabilitation centres for those individuals struggling with their addictions, providing information resources and youth outreach to prevent drug abuse, supporting facilities for families living with the consequences of drug abuse and of course, on ethical human volunteer research.

Studies of the effects of chronic drug use on human volunteers are already being conducted and have yielded a goldmine of information. For example, blood samples have been obtained from volunteers at a rave and the levels of MDMA correlated with blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature. Another study has looked at the cerebrospinal fluid obtained from willing MDMA users to investigate levels of neurotransmitters.

Other studies are using imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) to look non-invasively at the brains of human volunteers. These tests are really helping answer questions relating to addiction, drug craving, interactions between drugs and the effects of drug withdrawal in people. Tests on animals, according to the BUAV’s report, are at best dubious in their use to humans.

* The report can be accessed via the BUAV’s website: http://www. buav.org/

EU vote to ban all sales of cat and dog fur

A COMPREHENSIVE EU-wide ban on trade in cat and dog fur was approved by the European Parliament Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection on 12th April. The committee scrapped a proposed exception that would allow trade in fur from cats and dogs ‘not bred or killed for fur production’. Committee Chair Arlene McCarthy summed up the Committee’s feelings, saying: ‘We want a ban, not a restriction.’

As reported previously by OUR CATS in December 2003, the European Parliament called on the European Commission to draft a regulation banning the import, export, sale and production of cat and dog fur and skins. Three years later – after a public outcry over evidence that cat and dog fur products were still entering the EU, despite a voluntary code of conduct adopted by European fur traders – the Parliament got its wish.

‘The placing on the market and the import to or export from the Community of fur of cats and dogs and products containing such fur shall be prohibited’, stipulates Article 1 of the draft regulation proposed by the Commission. The Committee backed the thrust of this article by a large majority, with just a minor adjustment of the wording.

What they did not back, however, was the Commission’s proposed exception from the ban. As drafted, this exception would open up the possibility for the placing of cat and dog fur on the EU market provided that the fur (or products containing it) would be (a) ‘labelled as originating from cats or dogs that have not been bred or killed for fur production’, or (b) constitute ‘personal or household effects’ introduced into, or exported from, the Community.

Rapporteur Eva-Britt Svensson (GUE/NGL, SE) was adamant about doing away with the exception. If it stayed, it ‘would provide a gaping loophole, which would be ruthlessly exploited by traders of all future consignments of cat and dog fur, thus rendering the entire regulation useless’, she said. Committee Chair Arlene McCarthy (PES, UK) agreed. ‘We want a ban, not a restriction,’ she said at a press conference after the vote.

The report, which the committee approved by a show of hands, is to be put to a plenary vote in Strasbourg in late May, where all opponents of the trade are hoping that the ban will be finally upheld.

Teachers’ pets

IN THESE health and safety conscious days, classroom pets are largely a thing of the past. Sadly, too many schools are afraid of being sued if children are bitten by the animals or suffer asthma attacks, whilst many education authorities simply won’t risk liability.

Dr June MacNicholas is a great advocate of pets in the classroom.

But whilst the live-in classroom guinea pig or gerbil is declining and the visiting dog is on the rise, residential pets in schools are not quite extinct but they’re certainly an endangered species. ‘Nature study is not as valued as it once was,’ says Elizabeth Ormerod, chairwoman of the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS), a Blue Cross- affiliated charity concerned with the health benefits of animals for humans.

‘Animals in the classroom raise understandable concerns about health and safety and animal welfare. But teachers often overlook the benefits. Pets help children develop self-esteem and learn how to nurture others. They learn that sacrifice must be made to care for those more vulnerable than you.’

But the RSPCA and Scottish SPCA advise against keeping animals in schools unless proper provisions are made for their well being. ‘What concerned us most was children taking pets home in the holidays and not taking proper care of them,’ says Vin Odey, head of education at the Scottish SPCA.

The Government offers no guidance about keeping pets in schools and the new Animal Welfare Act, which came into force on April 6, though placing a legal ‘duty of care’ on pet owners, has no schools-specific content – an obvious glaring omission. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the animal rights pressure group, wants to ban animals being kept in the classroom, saying it doesn’t teach children about their natural behaviour and environment.

But the decision rests with local authorities or individual schools. Aberdeen Council, for example, banned school pets in 1997, though tropical fish were exempt. Other authorities have issued guidance, but for the most part, the decision rests with the individual headteacher.

Consequently, schools, mindful of animal welfare and human health and safety, are tending to favour the visiting pet over the residential one. ‘Visiting animal schemes, run by firms that charge to take animals into schools, vary in quality,’ says Vin. ‘In some cases we feel the animals are travelling far too much and are not getting the right care.’

But it does widen the range of animals that children come into contact with in class. Dogs seem to be the favourite. ‘They can teach children about inter-personal relationships,’ says Elizabeth. ‘Watching dogs fighting can make children reflect on the futility of squabbling. And dogs can even be role models of a sort. They don’t smoke, drink or take drugs, and they seem perfectly happy. So why can’t humans?’

But some lament the passing of the live-in school pet. ‘Visiting animals are better than nothing, but residential pets are better, provided they are properly looked after,’ says Dr June McNicholas, the well-known health psychologist who is leading Blue Cross research into what children learn from having animals in the classroom.

For an ideal classroom pet, she nominates the Rat. ‘Hamsters are cute but nocturnal, and they bite more than other small animals. Rats have the characteristics of small cats or dogs: they are affectionate, intelligent and interactive.’

* National Pet Month runs until May 7 to celebrate pet ownership. The Teachers’ Pet page features ideas and worksheets.

Visit www.nationalpetmonth.org.uk/schools

UK pet owners spend £520 million on cats and dogs

YET ANOTHER consumer opinion poll has confirmed what pet owners in the UK already know – we love our animals and we spend millions of pounds on them every year.

The survey, carried out by TNS market researchers for Halifax Pet Insurance, reports that annual UK spending on cats and dogs has topped £520 million.

On average, dog owners spend £282 a year on each animal and cat owners £92 for each cat. Men spend an average £335 per dog and women £229. On cats, men spend £41 while women splash out an average of £127 per cat per year.

When it comes to acquiring an animal, 40% of dogs compared with 8% of cats are bought from breeders. A third of cats are acquired from friends of the owner and 23% of dogs come from rescue centres.

Halifax says that we seriously underestimate the cost of vets’ bills by on average 103%.
Nearly a third of cats came from friends of the owner, while 23% of dogs came from animal rescue centres.

Vicky Watson, spokeswoman for Halifax Pet Insurance, said: ‘The research reinforces the perception of Britain as a nation of pet lovers who are happy to spend large amounts of money to purchase their perfect pet.

‘However, it is worrying that so few pet owners are researching the upkeep costs for their chosen pet before selecting an animal.’

* With thanks to Steve O’Malley, UK Pets

Supermarkets ban pet ads
A LEADING animal rights group has claimed a victory for companion animals by changing the policy positions of five major supermarkets regarding the advertising of pets for sale on in-store notice boards.

Sainsburys, Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons and the Co-op have all committed to a ban on this type of advert, according to Animal Aid.

Animal Aid believes that advertising animals for sale in such locations exacerbates the problems of over-breeding and also encourages inappropriate impulse buys.

Casual breeders with young animals for sale regularly use noticeboards such as those found in supermarkets.

Andrew Tyler, Director of Animal Aid, said; ‘Animal Aid is extremely pleased that these high profile supermarkets have taken such an important decision. We only hope that others, such as ASDA and Somerfield, will follow their lead in helping to reduce the suffering inflicted upon thousands of companion animals each year.

We will continue to press them to adopt a humane and rational policy on this issue.’