New figures for 2013 published this week by the Irish Government’s Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) have revealed that almost 200,000 animals were inflicted with injuries and diseases causing severe suffering, including pregnant rats being dosed with methamphetamine and then forced to swim in tanks of water from which there is no escape. A total of 279,379 experiments of various degrees of severity took place in 2013.
Most of the severe 200,000 procedures involved mice being subjected to acute poisoning tests known as ‘Lethal Dose 50%’, probably for Botox-type products, with a large proportion destined for cosmetic use. Over 35,000 more mice were used in this way compared with 2012, despite HPRA statements of tighter regulation and greater emphasis on replacing animal tests.
The HPRA is now required by EU law to publish summaries of animal experimentation projects. The IAVS has been requesting such information for over 20 years and welcomes this increased transparency as a vital move towards democratic accountability.
However, the 2013 summaries reveal some extremely disturbing practices in Irish labs that demand immediate scrutiny. The IAVS is particularly concerned about two experiments intending to kill 2,800 specially-bred rats over three years, some of whom will be made to undergo a procedure known as the ‘forced swim’ test. This is a ‘behavioural despair’ test where the animals are made to swim in a tank from which there is no escape, to assess the animal’s response to the threat of drowning by seeing at what point they give up in despair and stop moving.
In the first project, rats are being deliberately brain-damaged in an attempt to model depression, placed in stressful isolation, dosed with opioids such as morphine and then subjected to behavioural tests including the forced swim ordeal and being placed on a painful hotplate.
In the second project, pregnant rats are given the dangerous drug methamphetamine or ‘meth’– subject of the hit series ‘Breaking Bad’. New-born pups are then subject to the forced swim test. The researchers claim the results can be translated to human scenarios where pregnant women take meth.
IAVS chairwoman Yvonne Smalley says:
‘It is unacceptable that such medieval and barbaric treatment of animals takes place in 21st century Ireland. Not only are these experiments horrifically cruel, but artificially induced ‘depression’ and the forced swim test are not reliable or state-of-the-art ways of modelling human despair and misery. Surely it would be more useful to study real women and children afflicted by the scourge of drug abuse than hide away in laboratories causing terrible pain to animals to obtain data of spurious worth?’
The summaries published by the HPRA also state that severe pain and suffering continues in other experiments where animals have been given:
• broken legs
• spinal cord injuries
• severe arthritis
• experimental weight loss surgery
• artery damage leading to very painful gangrene
• malignant brain tumours (neuroblastomas)
• Alzheimer’s disease-type brain damage
• deadly motor neurone disease
• heart attacks
Yvonne Smalley comments:
‘The IAVS is not only deeply concerned about the intensity of pain and distress inflicted on these animals, we do not believe they pass the legally-required harm-benefit test. Furthermore translating the results of such experiments humans is fraught with uncertainty. We urge the HPRA and the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar to suspend all severely painful projects immediately pending a thorough ethical and legal review.’