We (at HRA) ask questions – a lot of questions. We don’t however receive many answers. We regularly request animal usage statistics – a very basic request one would think – but not all states provide these, those that do are often years in arrears, and there is inconsistency between states’ reporting, making a national overall figure very difficult to obtain. We have now even been advised by the Queensland government that they will “no longer collect statistics on the use of animals for research” partly because “there is no legislative obligation”, they are “not meaningful”, “collecting statistics does not improve the welfare of any animal” and “without a compelling business case to update (the database) there is little incentive to do so.”Being denied this very basic piece of information would make you wonder how on earth we can get more intricate details of what actually happens behind lab doors.
Here’s one example.
HRA sometimes gets information from “unofficial” sources. Of course we cannot use such information publicly as it cannot be verified. For that reason we need to pursue official routes to obtain this information.
A few months ago we became aware through several means, of a very controversial procedure conducted on a baboon named Conan. Shortly after the procedure, Conan was killed due to the development of disseminated intravascular coagulation [Widespread activation of clotting in small blood vessels throughout the body leading to failing blood flow and multiple organ damage.] The experiment had failed.
While we had sufficient evidence that this had occurred we were unable to use it, so we sought similar research in medical journals and then sent a request under the Government Information Public Access (GIPA) Act to the relevant body to enquire whether the research had proceeded to the level we were aware of. We were told it hadn’t (which we believed to be untrue). We therefore resubmitted a new GIPA application naming Conan and specifically requesting details of his death. The response was “to refuse access to the information you have requested because there is an overriding public interest against disclosure of the information.”So, Conan was killed because the experiment he was used in didn’t work, but you’re not allowed to know about it, even though the breeding of baboons for research is paid for by you through National Health and Medical Research (ie taxpayer-funded) grants.
(Further details on Conan and his companion Scar were featured in the Sydney Morning Herald 24/1/16)
Compare this secrecy with the situation in the European Union. Article 43.3 Directive 2010/63/EU now requires that non-technical summaries (NTS) are published by the European Member States in order to provide the public with access to information concerning projects using live animals.
NTS must include title, purpose, objectives and benefits, number and type of animals, predicted harms and application of the 3Rs (Reduction, Refinement & Replacement). They must be written in non-scientific language and accessible for five years.
Certain projects (including those which use non-human primates) must also undergo a retrospective analysis – a powerful tool to facilitate critical review of the use of animals. It is believed that this facilitates improved design for similar studies, raises openness of best practice and prevents mistakes.
That however, is the European Union, and Australia has no such transparency. Animal experimentation in Australia remains an apparent ‘dirty secret’ and until we can break the shroud of secrecy it will remain difficult, or almost impossible, to have an open and honest debate about what happens to animals and whether it is justified in terms of medical progress for humans.For further information about the need for transparency please visit Through the Looking Glass.
For more information about Conan (and his companion Scar) visit We remember you Conan.