The Information Tribunal has described legal arguments run by Newcastle University as ‘an affront to common sense’. The comment was made following an appeal by the BUAV under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) into taxpayer-funded experiments on primates at Newcastle University.
In June 2008 the BUAV requested information from the University about recent highly invasive brain experiments on macaques. Amongst other things, the experiments involved opening up the animals’ skulls and implanting electrodes into their brains to record activity while they were forced repeatedly to undergo various tasks. Monkeys were forcibly restrained by the head and body, which would cause them a high level of distress.
The University initially confirmed that it held the information in question but it refused the BUAV request on the basis of various exemptions in FOIA. Very late in the proceedings, the University claimed that it did not actually hold the information – indeed, that it was prohibited from doing so. As well as rejecting this argument, the Tribunal also rejected the University's reliance on a particular FOIA exemption. Two further exemptions will now be considered.
Aside from the ethical issues and lack of benefits to human health, these experiments are also contentious because primates can be replaced by human volunteer studies using non-invasive imaging machines such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines. It is supposedly a fundamental principle of UK legislation that animals should not be used where non-animal methods can give the desired information.
Michelle Thew, BUAV Chief Executive, said: “This is a victory for common sense. How many thousands of pounds of students’ and taxpayers’ money has the university wasted in maintaining these ridiculous arguments in a desperate attempt to wash its hands of the huge amount of animal research which takes place there? Sadly, Newcastle University’s extraordinary behaviour is typical of the lengths to which the animal research community, backed up by the Home Office, will go to keep information about animal experiments secret. This begs the question: just what have they got to hide? It is high time for an intelligent debate about the ethics and science of animal experiments. Without full transparency on what is being done to animals and why, such a debate is not possible.”