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I’ve Got You Under My Skin - New Skin Tests To Replace Animal Cruelty

Episkin, developed by French, German and Swiss scientists, is being claimed as the most advanced laboratory-made skin in the world. It takes a relatively rapid 19 days to grow in a special solution and is reported to be a very good approximation of the architecture of human skin, with all its layers and constituents.

Grown from living tissues in culture, it apparently feels like real skin and can tan, display some features of ageing, show signs of irritation, and be manipulated to produce different colours. Professor Michael Balls, a European Union-funded scientist and anti-vivisectionist (he holds a chair at Nottingham University), has called the manufactured skin "breathtaking and astounding".

It has both a dermis and epidermis, the thick inner and thin outer layer, respectively. During its cultivation, the skin culture is raised out of the solution and allowed to dry and harden, to mimic the tough outer layer of human skin. Beneath the layers lies a carpet of connective tissue and collagen.

The layers contain the three main cell types found in the epidermis - keratinocytes, which produce the keratin that lends skin its toughness; melanocytes, which produce the pigment melanin and are responsible for colour and tanning; and Langharans’ cells, the sentry cells that look out for signs of distress to the skin and alert the immune system. It is the incorporation of this last type of cell - harvested from umbilical cords - that makes Episkin unique. The breakthrough lay in the special culture that was used to make the Langharans’ cells "take".

It is hoped that it will replace painful (and always ultimately fatal) animal tests for skin creams, make-up, sun lotions, and new chemical compounds and ingredients. There are currently an estimated 30,000 cosmetic tests carried out on animals in Europe each year.

Episkin could also be used in skin grafts for burns victims. In such grafts a small piece of healthy skin is taken from a patient, then attached to the infected area, where it grows to eventually cover the wound. However, in severe injuries the patient may not be able to provide enough of his or her skin, so surgeons resort to using industrially made skin, known as epidermal sheets.

Professor Balls also reiterated what we have known for years about the value of experimenting on living skin cultures rather than animals: "If you are making products for humans, then human skin is better than animal skin."

But these replacements, which are made by culturing human skin cells taken from biopsies and from the discarded foreskins of circumcised infants, are quite crude. They do not contain all the cell types, such as those responsible for chemical sensitivity or pigment. This is a problem for both applications. The pigment of grafted skin often does not match the patients’ own, which is not ideal cosmetically. And the lack of sensitivity means that existing substitutes cannot be used for chemical testing.

Episkin is also expected to be valuable in testing for allergies. This is because the Langharans’ cells are responsible for informing the immune system that it is under siege (these cells start the chain of biological events that lead to skin rashes, for example). When an irritant is placed on the skin, it becomes inflamed. Even though Episkin does not have any blood vessels and so cannot turn red, it can release signalling molecules when it is under duress. The more distress signals released, the more of an irritant the chemical is judged to be.

The next research stage involves finding a way of keeping Episkin alive in the lab for longer than a month. Normally skin renews itself after this period, but because Episkin is not plumbed into blood vessels, it cannot replenish itself. Stem cells - those that have not specialised to build a particular part of the body - may provide an answer.


Meanwhile, for the first time in history, regulators in the United States have approved a full-scale replacement of an animal test. InVitro International’s new synthetic skin test, Corrositex, can be used instead of rabbits to test the safety of thousands of new chemicals.

The in vitro test determines chemical corrosivity and permits the assignment of Packing Group classification for Class 8 corrosives. It is based upon a biomembrane and chemical detection system, which becomes coloured when exposed to potentially corrosive substances. Users simply record the time it takes for the sample to break through the membrane, then they can assign the relevant Packing Group classification, or use the data as a ranking tool or to substantiate marketing claims.

It replaces the rabbit test for dermal corrosivity by reliably mimicking this test (though clearly mimicking human skin reaction to corrosives would bring more reliable results). Corrositex can provide Packing Group determination in as little as 3 minutes and no-longer than 4 hours, whereas animal tests can take 2 to 4 weeks, and is also advertised as both more accurate and cost-effective.

The agreement by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission to accept the test was welcomed by campaigners in the US and elsewhere. Since there are currently more than two thousand new chemicals tested on animals every year, the substitution of Corrositex will save thousands of rabbits’ lives.

Max Newton, Uncaged Campaigns 13.07.00
[Source: Sunday Times 24.5.00 & Corrositex website]

Victory! Spanish 'Shamrock' Denied

Thanks in part to Uncaged Campaigns and our supporters, the proposed Spanish monkey farm near Barcelona will not be opening for its evil business. Uncaged Campaigns supporters and visitors to this website have been writing letters and emails to the Spanish authorities urging them to turn down the proposal from French  company, La Societe de Recherche Primatologique.

As one evil institution in Shamrock Monkey Farm closed (see news item below), another, even bigger, site was being proposed to perpetuate and increase the trade in non-human primates for vivisection. La Societe de Recherche Primatologique was denied permission to build a monkey breeding centre in Strasbourg last year after intensive lobbying from animal advocates. However, they then applied to the Spanish Government to site the centre in Camarles in Catalunya, near Barcelona. 

La Societe Recherche Primatologique had already purchased 100,000 square metres of land. If  approved, the centre it would have become the largest primate supplier for vivisection in Europe, holding up to 3,000 monkeys.

Letters and emails from Uncaged supporters, and other animal advocates, poured in to the President of Catalunya, Camarles Town Council, and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

Near the end of April 2000, an Animal Rights group in Barcelona reported that the local Government of Catalonia had presented a proposal to the Catalan Parliament to ban breeding farms for the import and export of primates for research. Nonetheless, letters and emails kept pouring in, until it was announced in July that these laws had been passed!

[Massive credit to Save the Shamrock Monkeys for organising demos, spreading info and inspiring action etc; and Coral Putman for the Spanish translation of protest letters] 

Max Newton, Uncaged Campaigns 28.06.00

Uncaged Campaigns Responds as Pro-Vivisection Scientists Lobby for Weaker Regulation

Last week, Uncaged Campaigns were interviewed by journalists from the Independent and the Financial Times for our response to a letter signed by 100 scientists to Lord Sainsbury which complained about the length of time the Government was taking to issue licenses to vivisect.

Here is a copy of an open letter we have sent to Jack Straw countering some of the fallacies and contradictions in the scientists' letter.

An open letter to the Home Secretary

Dear Mr Straw

What the scientists who wrote to Lord Sainsbury are really demanding...

The core of current legislation is a so-called "cost-benefit" analysis where the harms inflicted on animals are weighed against the potential benefits to humans from a piece of research. There are several intrinsic problems with this decision-making framework, but I won’t go into them here. But it is undeniable that this is a very complex task. There are currently 21 Inspectors (most of whom have previously vivisected), who are charged with scrutinising approximately 900 project license applications, and monitoring a further 2,700 ongoing licenses because scientific or ethical developments may alter the cost/benefit assessment in such a way that the license may need to be revoked or amended. (This is stated by the Chief Inspector in his paper on the cost/benefit assessment in the report of the Government-appointed Animal Procedures Committee published in November 1998.) A project license involves an average of approximately 700 animals, and may include several evolving studies over a few years, which will give you an idea of the complexity of these matters and how much is at stake in terms of the deliberate infliction of death and suffering on animals. Inspectors are also charged with visiting the hundreds of "Designated Establishments" who vivisect some 2.6 million animals a year (and destroy an estimated 8 million more because of over-breeding.)

Even with the best will in the world, 21 Inspectors cannot perform these tasks adequately at the moment. To ask for project licenses to be processed more quickly, as these scientists are demanding, will result in the scrutiny of project license applications being even more perfunctory.

Because of the complexity of a cost/benefit assessment in this context, any adequate scrutiny of a project license application within this framework should be lengthy. It should also be borne in mind that the Inspectorate engage in dialogue with vivisectors in order to produce "satisfactory" applications - thus a project license is discussed with Inspectors to amend it and refine it. Thus the system does not work in the manner of a simple: application... yes/no decision.

Therefore, by asking for project license applications to be approved within days or weeks which they claim is the case in the other countries to where scientific research may supposedly be exported from Britain, these scientists are, in effect, asking for the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 to be ignored. The rubber-stamping of project license applications which is demanded by these scientists is theoretically illegal in this country. However, contrary to the spirit of the law, this is basically what happens at the moment - and the signatories to the letter to Lord Sainsbury are thus looking for a more efficient and blatant rubber-stamping process.

The scientists claim that they do not wish to see a "reduction in the welfare of laboratory animals." This is a disingenuous claim because the welfare of animals would undoubtedly be given even less weight in the cost/benefit assessment of project license applications than is currently the case, should the wishes of this group of scientists prevail. What these people are really demanding is carte blanche to do whatever they want to animals, and any efforts to minimise the suffering of animals only take place as secondary considerations within that context. The 2.6 million animals who are counted in the Government’s annual statistics are subjected to procedures "likely to cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm," with only a third receiving any anaesthetic. Thus the scientists’ stated commitment to animal welfare is an insult to Lord Sainsbury’s and the public’s intelligence.

They are using a familiar and dubious form of economic blackmail to reduce further their accountability for their violence towards animals. If a few companies and scientists are prepared to export their research to countries who don’t even pretend to consider the interests of animals and where the hegemony of commercial greed is even more blatant, then this reveals the true values of these people. We say "good riddance!" and let’s ostracise these morally bankrupt individuals and companies rather than surrender to blackmail. If Britain is really to be the "beacon of progress" referred to by Blair a few months ago, then this is a real litmus test. We should lead from the front in terms of the progress of our society’s relationship with animals - and it’s not as if we’ve really got anything to be proud of yet!

Dan Lyons

For a report on this year's Global Boycott of Procter & Gamble Day click here.

EU Kow-Tows To Pressure On Cosmetic Testing Ban

After years of prevaricating, the European Commission (EC) has backed down on a proposed ban of:  i) the testing of cosmetic  ingredients, and: ii) the sale within the European Union (EU) of cosmetics, made anywhere in the world, whose ingredients have been tested on animals after 1st July 2000.

In its stead is:

i) a test ban on finished products and a ban on ingredients after three years - which can be postponed should "validated alternative methods" not be available.

The marketing and ingredients testing ban was initially put forward 8 years ago, but has suffered incessant postponement and disruption following intense pressure and self-interested maneuvering from the cosmetics industry. When it finally seemed that the legislation (Council Directive 76/768/EEC) would be introduced, the Commission smothered it by extra-ordinary behind-the-scenes maneuvering of its own. Late on Wednesday 5th April 2000, EU Commissioner Erkki Liikanen bypassed the European Parliament, and forced through a much weakened proposal.

The Directive was due to take effect on 1st July 2000. The EC appears to have been unwilling to make a stand in the face of the ‘free-trade’ behemoths of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the United States, and huge multinational cosmetic companies.

In a statement, Mr. Liikanen said:

"In its current wording, the Cosmetics Directive...would appear to raise certain difficulties in relation to the WTO... the Commission therefore proposes to modify the ban in order to ensure its WTO-compatibility and to make it legally and practically enforceable."

While the new legislation represents at least a step in the right direction, most animal testing for cosmetics is carried out on ingredients. The multinational cosmetics companies (most of whom operate out of France and Italy) can move their testing laboratories outside EU borders and then re-import their products. The new legislation is behind the UK situation (where no licenses will be granted for cosmetic ingredients testing). Mr. Watts, Labour MEP and party spokesman on animal welfare, described the amendments as "half baked" and "meaningless."

The EU has recently emerged from costly trade wars over Caribbean bananas from US-backed competition, and ‘hormone-enhanced’ beef from the US, but what price the lives of 38, 000 animals every year in cruel and unnecessary experiments for vanity products?

The Commission hopes to adopt the amendment on Friday 5th May.

Max Newton, Uncaged Campaigns
[Source: Independent on Sunday 9.04.00; European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE) mailing via World Animal Net 6.04.00]

Oops...They Did It Again!

The Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was forced by intense pressure from the public and animal advocates to back down from yet another controversial move.

The appointment in April of the vet who had been in charge at Shamrock Monkey Farm to the post of assistant chief veterinary officer appeared to be utterly at odds with the RSPCA’s perceived ethos and raison d’etre. Mr Paul West was responsible for staff who mistreated animals in Shamrock Farm in West Sussex, UK. Shamrock supplied thousands of monkeys for vivisection. Despite the self evident hypocrisy in the decision, the RSPCA initially held firm, insisting that Mr West had been found guilty of nothing and was the best qualified person for the post.

However, as was the case over the RSPCA’s deal to promote Procter & Gamble products (who routinely destroy animals to test new products and ingredients), a swarm of protests forced them to back down in late May.

Thanks to all our supporters who wrote to the RSPCA to express their disgust.

Mr West was in charge of animal welfare at Shamrock from 1989 until 1997. Between 1991 and 1992 an undercover worker with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) exposed widespread abuse and cruelty to the animals. A Government enquiry into animals under his control produced a damning indictment of welfare conditions - staff were ‘incompetent’, the handling of monkeys was ‘inappropriate’ and ‘insensitive’; and conditions were condemned as ‘inadequate’. Shamrock was closed down in March this year.

A Home Office investigation upheld the allegations made by BUAV and said:

"The investigation found evidence of poor standards of care and handling and a lack of effective management and control. Insufficient attention was paid to the maintenance of a regime in which animals are treated at all times with dignity and respect and in which the physical; and emotional need of the animals are given proper emphasis."

Save the Shamrock Monkeys spokesperson, Kerry Williams was understandably outraged:

"Anyone who understands Government speak will know that this is a forthright condemnation of animal welfare at Shamrock.

"The man in charge at that time was Paul West. The video footage puts meaning to the words and shows the terrible fear and suffering these bewildered animals were subjected to because of him. He is now the number two vet in Britain’s largest animal welfare organisation. It is a betrayal of all the monkeys who have suffered and died because of this man.

"Any other animal group, big or small, anywhere in the UK would have dropped Mr West’s job application in the bin. RSPCA patrons, trustees and members - and that includes the Queen - should be asking, in very loud voices, why this man was employed. Its Freedom Food division is staffed by ex factory farmers and people from the Meat & Livestock Commission and shows that today’s RSPCA has little commitment to animal welfare", concluded Kerry Williams.

The RSPCA email is executive@rspca.org.uk. The Director General is Peter Davies.

Max Newton, Uncaged Campaigns


Uncaged 1993-2012: This is the archived website of Uncaged. All information correct at the time of archiving - November 2012.