Monday, 4 April 2016

The Old Brown Dog

The original statue erected in 1906 and believed to have been
destroyed in 1910
The Brown Dog was a bronze statue of a dog, erected in February 1906 after being commissioned by anti-vivisectionists, as a memorial for a brown terrier dog used by  William Bayliss of the Department of Physiology at University College London. It was claimed he performed an illegal vivisection, before an audience of 60 medical students, on the dog – adequately anaesthetized, according to Bayliss; conscious and struggling, according to the activists.   Bayliss was outraged by the assault on his reputation. He sued for libel and won.

Medical students were angered by the provocative plaque on the statue –  "In Memory of the Brown Terrier Dog done to death in the Laboratories of University College in February, 1903, after having endured vivisection extending over more than two months and having been handed over from one Vivisector to another till death came to his release. Also in memory of the 232 dogs vivisected at the same place during the year 1902.  Men and women of England, how long shall these things be?" – leading to frequent vandalism of the memorial and the need for a 24-hour police guard against the so-called anti-doggers. 

On 10 December 1907 a thousand medical students marched through central London waving effigies of the brown dog on sticks, clashing with suffragettes, trade unionists and 400 police officers, one of a series of battles known as the Brown Dog riots

Tired of the controversy, Battersea Council arranged under darkness for the statue to be taken down and melted down by the council's blacksmith, despite a 20,000-strong petition in its favour.  A new statue of the brown dog was commissioned by anti-vivisection groups over 70 years later, and was erected in Battersea Park in 1985.

The Old Brown Dog:  Women, Workers and Vivisection in Edwardian England.

Author: Coral Lansbury 1985

“In 1907, an extraordinary series of antivivisection riots took place in Battersea over the structure of a brown dog in the Latchmere Recreational Ground.  Medical students came across the river from London University and tried to destroy it, and a crowd of trade unions and feminists, momentarily united by their opposition to vivisection, battled to defend the brown dog.”

So begins a detailed and often confronting account which draws parallels between the fight against vivisection, trade union rights and women’s suffrage in Edwardian England as the author, Coral Lansbury, contends that workers and feminists identified themselves with the trembling animal strapped to the operating table.  Her rendition is supported through analysis of novels and events of the time. The book is not specifically about antivivisection, but does present a fascinating history of the movement exploring the hurdles faced by antivivisection pioneers such as Frances Power Cobbe (founder of NAVS and BUAV), Anna Kingsford and Louise Lind-af-Hageby.

While tremendous progress has been made over the years in the areas of both workers and women’s rights, the same cannot, unfortunately, be said about vivisection.  We are today still subjecting hundreds of millions of animals worldwide to often painful and invasive procedures for what we know now are dubious degrees of relevance. Their treatment is much the same as that described by Lansbury when she details the invasive nature of genital examination of women by trainee doctors (p.85-86) or the callous treatment and sexual exploitation of female servants by their landlords (Ch.7).

Lansbury writes strongly about vivisection demonstrations: “When observers like Frances Cobbe and Louise Lind-af-Hageby witnessed these demonstrations, they felt as though they were in the presence of a new pornography, and all the animals stretched out writhing on boards were like women on the gynaecologist’s table or bound to some chair…” (p.111)

Over 100 years later one can compare this with extracts from recent scientific publications about primate research in Australia:

“… a circular aluminium frame that enclosed the entire scalp was fixed to the skull using 6-8 stainless steel pegs. Access to brain areas for recordings was through small conical tubes that were placed in 2.5mm diameter holes drilled in the skull.”[1]

“Animals were infected with a 104 TCID50 dose of SIVMAC251 either intrarectally or intravaginally… SIV infection was confirmed in all animals”[2]

Lansbury also tells us (p123) “catalogues for physicians and surgeons were replete with descriptions for the new gynaecological operating chairs and tables illustrated with line drawings or photographs showing a woman strapped into ...position” and that Johnson’s operating chair of 1860 ... is described as “a frame supported on four legs, a shallow stuffed seat and a stuffed back with was maneuverable to various angles by means of a frame and ratchet. It had two attached bars ending in stirrups or footrests, which could slide in and out of a groove, or be removed entirely”.

Today’s researchers use similar contraptions called stereotaxic frames for immobilising animals in a similar manner. A typical (and disturbing) protocol is documented in “Preparation for the in vivo recording of neuronal responses in the visual cortex of anaesthetised marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)[3].
 A new statue, by Nicola Hicks,
was erected in 
Battersea Park in 1985.

Of particular interest was the violent reaction of medical students who vehemently opposed the statue and sought aggressively to destroy it with sledgehammers. Then during a heavily guarded antivivisection meeting held by Louise Lind-af-Hageby as described by Lansbury:, “over a hundred students managed to smuggle their way in, and soon the meeting was pandemonium, with broken chairs, fistfights, and smoke bombs” with medical students demanding to have the statue’s inscription removed(p.18).

It is often argued by those who conduct animal experiments that they must remain secretive about their work due to the perceived threats of “animal liberationists”. However, like the previous passage, it is not the animal activists who react aggressively, but rather the researchers themselves who object to the questioning of their right to treat animals as their tools.

Lansbury, who died in 1991, was estranged from her son Malcolm Turnbull since he was aged ten, however it is understood she remained an influential force in his life.  It is disappointing then, that her recognition of injustice – including that of animals – seems not to have swayed the government’s support of animal-based research under Turnbull’s leadership.

[1] Information processing bottlenecks in macaque posterior parietal cortex: an attentional blink? Ryan T. Maloney, Jaikishan Jayakumar, Ekaterina V. Levichkina, Ivan N. Pigarev, Trichur R. Vidyasagar, Exp Brain Res (2013) 228:365-376 DOI 10.1007/s00221-013-3569-2
[2] Comparison of Influenza and SIV Specific CD8 T Cell Responses in Macaques (2012) Sinthujan Jegaskanda, Jeanette C. Reece, Robert De Rose, John Stambas, Lucy Sullivan, Andrew G. Brooks, Stephen J. Kent, Amy Sexton
[3] “Preparation for the in vivo recording of neuronal responses in the visual cortex of anaesthetised marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)” James Bourne, Marcello Rosa, (2003)

Friday, 25 March 2016

They All Had Eyes – a must read

A couple of months ago an appeal for a crowd-funding campaign appeared in my inbox. It was for “They All Had Eyes – confessions of a vivisectionist”.  It looked like a very worthwhile cause – a rare opportunity to reveal what occurs inside an animal laboratory - so I made a small contribution. Several weeks later I received an electronic copy of the completed book.
I was looking forward to reading it, but must confess that I am trying to get through a backlog of reading so it was put aside for the time being.

This week I had a power outage at home. There was not much I could do in the darkness but luckily my Kindle was charged so I took the opportunity to start reading They All Had Eyes. I’m so glad I did.

It has been some time since a book had enthralled me, but I read the opening paragraph in the preface and tears welled in my eyes. It hadn’t even begun at this stage to address the treatment of animals in laboratories, but had already instilled in me the immense feeling of guilt and regret felt by the author over what he had done throughout his working career.

The author discloses the matter-of-fact manner in which sentient animals are routinely used and then killed, then exposes his awakening as he refers to certain laboratories as “torture chambers.”

It must be a terribly difficult thing to acknowledge that your entire life’s work may have been misdirected. I am aware of a number of people who have trodden the vivisector’s path fully believing that they were doing the noble thing for mankind in conducting a “necessary evil” on animals, and then later acknowledging the unbearable and unjustifiable cruelty they inflicted on sentient beings. This account however, touched me deeply and I struggled to put the book down.

Accounts of monkey experiments in the latter part of the book describing the removal of brain tissue and eyes were particularly moving considering the work using primates currently undertaken by researchers at Monash, Melbourne and Sydney Universities in particular.

HRA’s policy is to challenge animal experiments on scientific grounds – arguing that data obtained from animals cannot be extrapolated to humans with sufficient accuracy.  HRA’s view is that factual and non-emotive argument is critical to counter scientists’ claims of the necessity of animal use, however we mustn’t forget that at the very core of the debate are millions of animals.  These animals are sentient individuals who have an interest in living free from harm and suffering, or as the author states “own thoughts and a goal in life” and despite us focusing on the science, there are also highly ethical grounds on which to oppose vivisection.

The book also reminded me of a discussion with a fellow student during my studies at Monash University.  An animal technician was telling a group of us how she would not respond to her children’s friends’ question about what she did for a living as “they would not understand”. Maybe they would understand and that was the problem.  Perhaps deep down there was some sub-conscious awareness that what she was doing was unethical.

The picture I have included in this blog is a postcard I have kept on my desk for over twenty years now at various workplaces. It has served me well to remember those individuals whose lives have been lost in the name of science. It keeps me focused and determined to never forget them and to continue speaking out for them.

They All Had Eyes will also help me with this focus.  How very grateful I am for this week’s power outage and how grateful I am to author Michael Slusher for his courage in sharing his difficult story.

I urge you to read this book, available through Amazon, and I’d love to hear your own thoughts.       

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Paleo Diet makes MICE fat - your tax dollars at work

Last week I read with interest the latest findings on the Paleo diet.

The article began “Researchers who set out to prove the benefits of the Paleo diet have instead discovered it could cause significant and rapid weight gain.” 

The research paper was published in Nature’s Nutrition and Diabetes journal.

Now, as a long term vegan I am in no way advocating a Paleo diet, but on this occasion you’ve got to acknowledge that celebrity chef, and avid Paleo advocate, Pete Evans has a fairly strong point.

Evans said "The first question I'd ask is: 'Why are they testing mice on a diet that isn't their natural diet in the first place?'" That’s a very valid question, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The article (linked above) reads “Mice were used for the study due to their genetic, biological, and behavioural characteristics which closely resemble that of humans.”

I’m really having trouble with that statement.

The chimpanzee genome (complete genetic material) is 98.77 percent identical to that of humans, therefore, researchers argue that chimpanzees will be the species most likely to replicate human outcomes in scientific (biomedical and toxicity) testing. However this small genetic variation between human and chimpanzees accounts for very significant differences in the way diseases affect the two species.  You only need to look at the tragic results of what happened in France recently when a new drug (BIA 10-2474, to treat pain and anxiety) ‘successfully’ tested in chimpanzees was translated to humans.  One man dead and others suffering permanent brain damage.

So if that’s a consequence of our differences to  chimpanzees – genetically our closest relatives – how can it be claimed that mice are suitable models based on their genetic and biological characteristics? 

As for their behavioural similarities to us, well I’m baffled by that claim.

The intricate differences in genetics, anatomy and metabolism make them poorly predictive of human outcomes and a number of recently published papers and systematic reviews have confirmed this. In fact, 95% of drugs deemed “successful” in animal tests fail in human clinical trials, suggesting the current model is simply not working.

This leads to another concern. Why weren’t humans studied for this research? There are already many people following the Paleo diet so why not use them in an epidemiological study? This way environmental and social elements could be factored into the equation, but more importantly, the data obtained from this research would be directly applicable to the species it is intended to benefit – humans – and not provide misleading data extrapolated form another species that differs from us genetically, anatomically and metabolically.

To clarify, I am not advocating for a Paleo diet, but such research as this which criticises the diet based on what happens to mice is failing medical research 101. 

I guess the only real lesson to be learned from this research is to not feed mice a high fat, low carb diet or else they may likely put on weight!   Once again, a frivolous waste of our tax dollars, courtesy of the National Health & Medical Research Council.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

“Animal testing has saved tens of millions of lives”

That seems to be the base argument of all those such as Speaking of Research and other pro-vivisection groups around the world. We hear it quite often, but let's take a look at that statement. 

Following a recent hearing for a bill, introduced by Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, to ban the importation of primates for research purposes, there has been an increase in media coverage including some researchers defending their use of animals.

They often argue that the use of animals – primates in particular - has been instrumental in the development of major medical breakthroughs. The reality is that whilst animals are widely used for medical research, they are far from being an appropriate model, and certainly could not be credited for any ‘breakthrough’. The genetic, anatomic and metabolic differences between humans and other animals mean that any data obtained from animal tests cannot be translated to humans with sufficient accuracy. Even when genetically modified, there is no single animal model that can accurately mimic the complex human situation. There are far too many unknown variables that cannot all be accounted for.

Three of the most common examples used by researchers are:
  • Development of the Polio Vaccine
  • Deep Brain stimulation as a treatment for Parkinson’s Disease
  • MORE animal testing (including on pregnant animals) would have avoided the Thalidomide disaster of the sixties

These claims are misrepresentative of the historical records.

With regards to the polio vaccine, monkey experiments were involved in its development, however Polio is contracted through the digestinal tract in humans but through the respiratory system in monkeys. The original vaccine resulted in numerous deaths and paralysis. Then further experiments (on monkeys) led to development of a nasal treatment which caused permanent olfactory damage to children. In 1941, Dr Albert Sabin studied human autopsies to disprove the nasal theory and stated: “…prevention was long delayed by the erroneous conception of the nature of the human disease based on misleading experimental models of the disease in monkeys” Finally, in 1949, Nobel Laureate John Enders grew the virus in tissue cultures. He did unfortunately use monkey tissue which resulted in a virus (SV4O) jumping the species barrier. It is now grown in human cell culture (and could have been originally).
(Source: Safer Medicines)

More recently, deep brain stimulation for sufferers of Parkinson’s disease is often credited to the terribly cruel work with MPTP (1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine).)- treated monkeys, developed after the serendipitous discovery of symptoms of parkinsonism in young drug addicts exposed to the narcotic contaminant. Yet the practice has actually been used to treat sufferers since the 1940’s - many years before the first ever description of the MPTP-primate model ever existed.[1] 

Thalidomide – showed no detrimental side effects in animals but caused immense suffering in tens of thousands of children born with missing or deformed limbs. It has been claimed that had it been tested on pregnant animals we would have seen malformations, however after thousands of malformed babies were born researchers started conducting teratogenicity tests and failed to produce similar malformations in numerable other species.
Finally, the White New Zealand rabbit also gave birth to deformed offspring, but only at a dose between 25 to 300 times that given to humans. It also eventually occurred in monkeys, but only at ten times the normal dose. The bottom line is that more animal testing would not have found the side effects, and even if they had tested on the White New Zealand rabbit, Thalidomide would still have gone to market since the vast majority of species showed no ill effect. It is only possible to produce specific deformities in specific species, and chances are the right species would never have been used.

There are several other examples throughout history where animal research has been given undue credit.

William Harvey has been credited as being the first to provide an accurate description of the blood’s circulation in 1628 through using animals (although it has been reported that the Chinese understood the blood’s action as early as 2,650 B.C.). However Dr Lawson Tait (one of the most famous surgeons of the nineteenth century responded:
”That he [Harvey] made any contribution to the facts of the [blood circulation] case by vivisection is conclusively disproved… It is, moreover, perfectly clear that were it incumbent on anyone to prove the circulation of the blood as a new theme, it could not be done by any vivisectional process but could, at once, be satisfactorily established by a dead body and an injecting syringe.”[2]

Ovarian function was demonstrated by physician Dr. Robert.T. Morris in 1895 in surgical procedures on women, yet history credits the discovery to Emil Knauer who one year later reproduced the procedure in rabbits in 1896.[3]

Banting and Best are often cited as having discovered insulin through animal experiments in 1922. However further investigation of the history of diabetes reveals that this is not quite the case. The connection between diabetic symptoms and the pancreas dates back to 1788 when an English physician, Thomas Cawley, performed an autopsy on a diabetic. Unfortunately subsequent research on animals delayed the acceptance of his hypothesis. Despite the existence of this knowledge, it was evidence obtained from Banting and Best’s dog experiments that was the convincing factor for scientists.

In summary, animals have been used throughout history in crude and invasive experiments, but the fact that they were used in the process does not imply that they were a necessary part of the development of these treatments. There's certainly no doubt that animals have been used in almost every medical breakthrough. The questions are however, whether their use played an essential role, whether the breakthroughs could have been made without using animals and whether more knowledge and progress would actually have been gained without their use. The fact that they were used as part of a medical discovery does not make them complicit in that discovery.

Conversely it could be argued that animal testing has instead cost tens of millions of lives – particularly when we consider that Penicillin was delayed for 15 years and blood transfusions for more than a century due to misleading data from animals. Imagine how many lives would have been saved had we not been misled by animal tests!

So, let’s not take the vivisector’s claims at face value. Let’s start challenging them and questioning the need for animals in the first place and whether we are likely to find better outcomes from human-specific research. We should never be bamboozled by such claims simply because the messenger is wearing a white coat.

[1] Burns RS et al. 1983. A primate model of parkinsonism: selective destruction of dopaminergic neurons in the pars compacta of the substantia nigra. PNAS 80:4546.
[2] Tait, L. (1882) Transactions of the Birmingham Medical Society, quoted by Greek, R and Swingle Greek, Jean, (2002) Specious Science
[3] Greek R. and Swingle Greek, Jean (2002) Sacred Cows and Golden Geese.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The dirty secrets they don’t want you to know…

Looking in from the outside, animal experimentation is shrouded in secrecy.  It’s certainly not easy to find out what’s actually happening to animals in research labs even though our tax payer dollars are very frequently funding the experiments.   Is it actually that secretive, or are we just not asking the right questions? And if experiments on animals are really necessary to provide useful information to improve human health and wellbeing, why is it so guarded?

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.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

It was supposed to be safe!

Yesterday I heard the very disturbing news that a clinical trial in France, has gone terribly wrong leaving one human volunteer brain dead.

“The chief neuroscientist at the hospital in Rennes, Dr. Gilles Edan, said in addition to the brain-dead man, three other men could have "irreversible" brain damage. A fifth man is suffering from neurological problems and a sixth man is being kept in the hospital but is in less critical condition, he said.

The men were included in 90 healthy volunteers participating in a Phase 1 clinical trial of a new drug, code named BIA 10-2474, to treat pain and anxiety by Biotrial - a drug evaluation company based in Rennes, on behalf of the Portuguese pharmaceutical company Bial.
The remaining volunteers are being contacted.

The French Health Minister Marisol Touraine has suggested the incident is “unprecedented” and stated of the catastrophe “We'll do everything to understand what happened. I don't know of any other event like this.”

Perhaps the minister is not aware of the TGN 1412 disaster in 2006 whereby six healthy males suffered major organ failure and are now at higher risk of cancer and autoimmune diseases; nor the recall of Vioxx, a drug shown to be cardio-protective in mice yet caused heart attacks in humans; or even Thalidomide, the anti-morning sickness drug which was tested on animals yet caused tens of thousands of physical deformities in children; or perhaps even Diethylstillbestrol, a synthetic estrogen prescribed to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage, but instead Increased spontaneous abortions, premature births and neonatal deaths and also increased risk of vaginal cancer in daughters and granddaughters of users.

These are only those well publicised failures but there are many others recalled on a regular basis due to unexpected side effects not predicted in preclinical trials.

A Phase 1 clinical trial is the first step after pre-clinical (animal) trials have deemed the test substance safe. This particular drug, like those listed above, had undergone extensive animal tests – in this instance including chimpanzees – genetically, our closest relatives!

So, if the animal tests are a precautionary measure to evaluate the safety of these drugs, prior to administering them to humans, why have these unfortunate men been exposed to such a horrendous outcome?

Considering that 95% of drugs that enter clinical trials do not make it to the market, despite all promise of the (animal) models used to develop them[1] it is becoming increasingly clear that our methods of testing need to change, and instead of focusing on animals with different genetics and metabolism to us, we need to embrace the technologies that are specific to humans – not monkeys or mice – because it’s quite obvious that animal tests provide dangerously misleading data.

A paper published this week in ATLA titled “Predicting Human Drug Toxicity and Safety via Animal Tests: Can Any One Species Predict Drug Toxicity in Any Other, and Do Monkeys Help?” is timely.  The paper looks at whether tests on animals, including monkeys, can predict human outcomes. It reveals that drug tests on monkeys are just as poor as those using any other species in predicting the effects on humans. The chances of a getting it right are no better than a coin-toss.

The authors of the study, FRAME Life President Professor Michael Balls and Dr Jarrod Bailey and Michelle Thew of Cruelty Free International, argue that animal testing for human drugs is not ‘fit-for-purpose’. They hope the paper will lead to discussions in the pharmaceutical industry about using more reliable testing methods not involving animals.

I certainly agree, because if we continue using the current flawed system based on animal trials, sadly we are likely to see similar tragedies unfold and far slower progress toward genuine medical cures.

Since publishing this post one of the volunteers has sadly died and the others who remain hospitalised are at risk of brain damage.

Scientific experts have responded to the news with the suggestion that the risks may have been identified through computational tests:

'Sean Ekins, PhD, who writes at Collaborative Chemistry, has run the BIA 10-2474 structure through two computational algorithms to identify potential protein targets other than FAAH to which the drug might bind. While he stresses that these are simply computational analyses that have not been confirmed experimentally, Ekins writes
“These high scores for many protein targets in humans could suggest the molecule is highly promiscuous and there may not be a single pathway interfered with. Vesicular acetylcholine transporter is slightly lower down in the list which also makes you wonder how many GPCRs might be impacted too. For now this is all idle speculation until we hear more about exactly what happened. Perhaps this compound could be profiled both computationally and experimentally to answer these questions of what the target/s of the toxicity are.”

If Bial performed similar experiments for their drug–biochemical or computational–no similar data has been published or otherwise made available publicly.'

[1] Look Back in Anger – What Clinical Studies Tell Us About Preclinical Work Thomas Hartung, Altex 30, 3/13 (

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Do you invest in cruelty?

For many years I have had some concern about ethical investments.  Despite the frequent use of the word “ethical”, not all companies share the same values as me and so my superannuation was placed in the best I could find at the time.  

Several years later I learned of a superannuation fund that did indeed share my values – Cruelty Free Super – and of course I switched to them.  

As many good advisers suggest however, not to keep all your eggs in one basket, I did leave a smaller portion in my previously chosen superannuation fund – Australian Ethical Investments (AEI).

I was concerned to learn recently however, that AEI invests in Cochlear Ltd – a medical company that has recently been the subject of media attention concerning its involvement with research into the effects of cochlear implants.  The research involves rendering healthy cats profoundly deaf, performing craniotomies on them, conducting recordings using microelectrodes in their skulls and then killing them.

HRA was deeply disappointed that such cruel and unethical research is conducted by Cochlear Ltd and puzzled that AEI chooses to invest in such a company.   It therefore respectfully requested that AEI consider removing Cochlear Ltd from the portfolio of companies it considers to be ethical and instead invest in the development and use of innovative technology and research that is directly relevant to the species (humans) it is purported to benefit.

AEI did not share the same concerns. While AEI advised that it considers the wellbeing of animals as an issue in all its investment decisions, its ethical charter allows it to “invest in a healthcare company that conducts animal tests where the testing is necessary and we assess that the human benefit of the company’s products outweighs the concerns about animal testing.”  AEI did acknowledge however that the recent media article included concerning details about the nature of Cochlear’s testing which it had not previously had access to and that AEI will address those concerns with the company.

While I appreciate AEI’s willingness to look into this issue, I am nevertheless concerned that an “ethical” investment company continues to include companies which use animals in medical research in its Ethical Charter.

As the Chief Executive Officer of an organisation that is focused on bringing an end to the unethical and unjustifiable use of animals in research when so many scientific and relevant alternatives exist, I was having great difficulty reconciling my own superannuation investments with both my personal ethics and those of the organisation I lead.  From what I’d already heard, such sentiments are shared by a significant number of HRA members who are concerned that on the one hand they are opposing animal experiments while simultaneously investing in the industry they oppose through their superannuation fund and its choices.

I informed AEI of my dilemma and my intention to move my investments from them. Their response was:
“…we do accept that there are significant limits to the efficacy of animal testing for developing medical treatments for humans, and that these limitations need to be taken into account in deciding whether research programs which use animals should receive ethics approvals to proceed. However, where we currently differ I think is that we still consider that there are circumstances in which the use of animals for medical research and testing may be justified by the potential benefit to humans.”

Needless to say, I am currently in the process of withdrawing my investment from AEI and moving to a fund which is genuinely aligned to my values.