Home Office Investigation Clears Cambridge University Laboratory of Wrongdoing

Last May, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection released video footage that it claimed showed monkeys at a Cambridge University laboratory being abused by their caretakers who were not reporting the level of suffering actually experienced by the animals (see this story for background).

In February the UK Home Office released the results of its investigation which concluded that the primate laboratory was well managed and that there was no evidence of abuse nor any evidence that there was any sort of withholding of information by animal researchers or caretakers at Cambridge University.

According to the Home Office report (full report – PDF), the Cambridge University researchers did not cause any more suffering than was necessary to carry out their research on brain disorders such as amnesia, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease and that, moreover, the primate facility,

. . . meets, and in some respects exceeds the standards of housing and care set out in the relevant Home Office Codes of Practice, and that some examples of best practice are to be found there.

BUAV, meanwhile, condemned the report saying it was,

. . . utterly appalled and deeply angered by the complete dismissal of overwhelming evidence of animal suffering.

But the report noted numerous problems with BUAV’s videotapes,

The campaign videotape includes covert recordings of animals in the immediate and early-postoperative periods. The condition of the animals shown reflects a combination of the early effects of the surgery and anaesthesia, and the post-operative medication given. The surgical incisions shown reflect the extent of the surgical exposure required rather than the magnitude of the surgical procedure performed.

In some cases, BUAV outright distorted issues that laboratory personnel themselves had raised. Again, from the Home Office report on BUAV’s claim about overcrowding at the primate facility,

The BUAV report makes mention of stocking levels reaching “critical points” during 1999/2000 and needing to be resolved with “with [sic] some urgency.” Contemporary records confirm that the issue under consideration was how to manage breeding performance and available animal accommodation in order to remain in compliance rather than to deal with stocking levels that had resulted in non-compliance [as the BUAV report clearly implied].

Similarly, BUAV’s claims about other aspects of animal welfare don’t hold up under scrutiny. In its report, for example, BUAV claimed that “Common problems with primate groups include fighting injuries and bacterial and viral infections . . .” But according to the Home Office report,

The BUAV report suggests that animal health and welfare problems are commonplace in the animals bred, kept and used in the Cambridge facility. The specifics discussed include fight-related injuries, diarrhea, respiratory tract infections and dental abscesses.

. . . bearing in mind that the unit houses over 400 animals at anyone time, recorded injuries from fighting are uncommon. In 1999 there were two unequivocal confirmed cases of fight-related injuries, and a further five minor injuries where fighting may have played a part. In 2000 there were no confirmed cases, and only four minor other injuries where fighting may have played a part. In 2001 there were two confirmed fight-related injuries, and three other minor injuries where fighting may have played a part.

Diarrhea occurs occasionally. It is generally mild and sporadic, and seldom lasts for more than one day. Cultures are taken from all animals believed to have an infective disorder. Only one Salmonella infection has been recorded since May 1999.

Infective respiratory problems, that is significant upper respiratory tract infections and/or pneumonia, are uncommon and sporadic. Transmission is generally restricted to cage mates. These conditions are not endemic within the colony. Contemporary documents record five cases in 2000, and nine cases in 2001, again at times when the facility housed over 400 animals. The BUAV report describes an outbreak of pneumonia caused by Bordtella bronchispetica affecting five members of one family group in 2001. Rather than illustrating a chronic, widespread or endemic problem, the outbreak discussed in the BUAV report accounted for more than half of the respiratory tract infections recorded in 2001.

More proof that you simply can’t take animal rights-produced videos and still photos at face value. BUAV, for its part, seemed more interested in creating video footage for its own purposes than actually helping to stop alleged animal abuse at the Cambridge University laboratory. For example, consider this odd statement from the Home Office report,

Cambridge University co-operated fully with this review.

The Home Office invite BUAV to provide the evidence on which their concerns are based, and to allow their investigator to be interviewed for the purposes of this review. BUAV declined.

How predictable.


A Review By The Chief Inspector Of The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate Of Aspects Of Non-Human Primate Research At Cambridge University.

Monkey research cleared by report. Roger Highfield, The Daily Telegraph, February 12, 2003.

Aspects of Non-human Primate Research at Cambridge University: A Review by the Chief Inspector. UK Home Office, October 2002.

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