Do NOT believe everything you read in the papers. Especially those “shock horror” stories. This is why.
Last week the UK Home Office published the findings of its investigations into allegations of animal suffering, made after undercover infiltrations at two animal research facilities.
These “shocking exposés”, brought to the newspapers by the animal rights group BUAV, include distressing images, links to videos that are difficult to watch, and quote allegedly secretly recorded researchers saying terrible things about the animals in their care.
The newspapers seem in no doubt that the allegations they are carrying add up to “appalling suffering on a very large scale”, and appear to be proud of their role in bringing the abuses to light: “The Sunday Express today publishes details of an undercover investigation … that shines a light on the secret world of vivisection laboratories.”
Since you will not find this information in the mainstream print media let me tell you what the Home Office found.
The infiltrations investigated by the Home Office took place at Imperial College London and the pharmaceutical company Merke, Sharpe and Dohme. Out of 180 allegations made by BUAV about Imperial, the Home office upheld just five and declared the other 175 “unsubstantiated”.
The five ‘non-compliance’ issues it found were classed as “minor” – one in category A and four in category B (with category D being at the most severe end of the suffering scale). Category B means that while there may have been “some animal welfare implications“, it “[did] not involve significant, avoidable or unnecessary pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm”, and there was “no evidence of intent to subvert the controls of ASPA [the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986]”.
While the Home Office repeated points it had made previously, which had been conceded by Imperial, about the poor culture of care and failings in management, the report concluded that “overall the … allegations of cruelty at the establishment have not been substantiated.” It was a far cry from the “abuse” reported by the Sunday Times, and as one commentator said, the BUAV allegations carried by the media “were 97% wrong and 3% right”.
In the case of Merke, Sharpe and Dohme, the Home Office upheld none of the BUAV claims. None. “Our findings confirm that the site is well managed with staff at all levels committed to the provision of appropriate standards of welfare and care, within the constraints of the scientific requirements of the research.” Again a very long way from the media headlines of “horrific distress” and animals that “can be heard screaming in terror as they are restrained by researchers”.
This kind of one-sided reporting may have been more understandable when scientists stayed quiet on the issue, but this is no longer the case. Earlier this year, 81 organisations signed a Concordat on Openness in Animal Research, committing them to embrace media and public interest in their use of animals in research, and open up their facilities to more journalists. So when animal rights activists in Leicester recently told local newspapers that a new facility in the university would be used to inflict suffering on monkeys and dogs, the university threw its doors open to journalists who after unfettered access reported that this particular facility housed only rodents.