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News Archive

It Can be Done! Company Introduces Testing Moratorium (March 1999)

Many people say to us when we are doing our information stalls around the country "do you think anything will ever get done?" Well, we have news of a major proponent of animal testing methods who has declared an immediate moratorium on such tests for its 'personal care' products.

The company in question is Colgate-Palmolive. The moratorium covers a wide range of products designed for adults: including deodorants, shampoos, shaving cream and men's and women's fragrances. In a statement, Colgate said that 98% of all internal requests for product-safety approval are currently met using available data and non-animal alternatives. Continued consultation with industry and scientific groups led to additional opportunities to reduce animal testing.

A spokesperson said:

"We feel that our moratorium on animal testing of adult personal care products is a positive step forward, consistent with our overriding responsibility to consumer and employee safety."

Uncaged Campaigns welcomes the announcement. Campaigns Coordinator Max Newton said:

"We await further clarification, but this appears to be good news for countless animals that are tortured and killed in cruel experiments. We are pleased that at long last Colgate have woken up to the fact that such tests are not necessary, indeed there are many companies that make like-for-like products that have not been tested on animals and which are perfectly safe for human use."

This announcement increases the pressure on Procter & Gamble, who insist that animal tests are necessary for cosmetic and 'personal care' products. Now, one of their pro-vivisection cohorts in this industry have performed the volte-face that all right-minded individuals around the world are demanding of these corporate giants.

Max Newton, Uncaged Campaigns 31.03.99

Red Herrings and Sick Rats

Perhaps the major news story of the past three months was sparked by an endorsement of a vivisection experiment conducted at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen by Dr Arpad Pusztai. Dr Pusztai force-fed rats with genetically-modified potatoes, and concluded that the altered potatoes were toxic to rats.

The issue had first broken into the public domain in August of last year. Immediately following publicity about the experiments and Dr Pusztai's appearance on World In Action to explain that his research suggested that the genetic modification of food is dangerous, the academic was sacked by his employers and accused of being "confused", his professional credibility in tatters.

The issue exploded once more when twenty scientists from across the world spoke up for Dr Pusztai in a letter of support. Claim and counterclaim then appeared in the pages of the national media: were the experiments designed and reported properly? Did they really demonstrate that the genetically modified potatoes damaged the immune systems of rats?

If one is both opposed to vivisection and deeply suspicious of the genetic meddling of transnational biotechnology companies, the controversy was strange. Some environmental groups, such as Friends of the Earth, seized on the results of the experiments to back up their claims that genetic modification of food is unsafe.

However, despite their superficial usefulness to opponents of GM foods, rat experiments should be criticised on at least two grounds.

Firstly, as many proponents of genetic manipulation pointed out, whatever the truth about the effects upon rats of being force-fed raw mutant potatoes, experiments on rats cannot be extrapolated to humans. Many of the commentators who made this point are the same people who tell the public that animal experimentation is vital to scientific progress! This shows us that the confusing and unreliable nature of vivisection means that different lobby groups can seize upon some set of results to back up their claims.

However, amid the confusion one thing is certain: several sentient, sensitive creatures were subjected to painful tests - resulting in damage to their internal organs, including their brains.

While we are only too familiar with profit-crazed biotechnology companies using results from animal tests to justify the marketing of new products, it is another thing for supposed "environmental" groups to base calls for bans on GM food on violent and unreliable "science".

GM foods are completely unnecessary and pose dangerous risks to the environment as a result of the cross-pollination of GM plants with weeds etc. Their consumption may even pose a direct threat to human health - although animal experiments will not cast any light on this risk. These are reasons enough to oppose GM foods.

Dan Lyons, Uncaged Campaigns 22.03.99

Prospects for Progress...

The Government-appointed committee responsible for advising the Home Office about animal experiments has set out an agenda for its work into the next millenium.

The Animal Procedures Committee (APC) made the announcement on December 9 1998, five days before Barry Horne called off his hunger strike.

In the announcement, the new chairperson of the APC, Reverend Professor Michael Banner (FD Maurice Professor of Moral and Social Theology, King's College, London) stated: "In particular, the Committee will be taking a long, hard look at the issues of household product testing on animals, scientific testing on primates and the benefit of allowing animal tests for so-called 'me-too' drugs."

However, many of the areas identified as needing particular attention, such as "developing a strategy for research on alternatives", should be routine aspects of the operation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Upon closer analysis, the programme of work outlined by the APC confirms the charge that has been persistently made by anti-vivisection pressure groups: that the Act, which is fatally flawed in any case, is not enforced. It is therefore untrue for the APC to claim that "the use of animals in scientific procedures is strictly controlled."

It is also worth bearing in mind that the APC is only an advisory body - it cannot make decisions. The real location of the decision-making process regarding animal experiments is made by a group of Home Office civil servants, including the mysterious Home Office Inspectorate. This is the same Inspectorate that didn't even bother to look at the beagle dogs being abuse at Huntingdon Life Sciences; the same Inspectorate that licensed the mutilation of beagles for Viagra; and the same Inspectorate that believed that the "benefits" of torturing 1300 animals in cosmetic tests were worth the suffering they endured.

To compound the suspicion that the infrastructure of the Government decision-making process on animal experiments is completely biased in favour of animal experimentation, the attitude of Home Office civil servants to opponents of vivisection is dismissive, patronising and downright rude. Many of the letters emitted by the Home Office in response to critical enquiries from the public could have been penned by the pro-vivisection propaganda group, the Research Defence Society (RDS).

The agenda for work outlined by the APC could even run into opposition within the Home Office. A new animal rights magazine, Biteback, reports on a memo circulated by the Director of the RDS, Dr Mark Matfield. Matfield identifies and criticises a growing emphasis on animal welfare within the Home Office, fearing that it might place too much restriction on research. If the vivisectors are complaining about the current situation, how unwilling will they be to accept any improvements in the future?

While the Government continues to represent the narrow interests of the animal research lobby, its attitude towards the issue of vivisection will continue to be hopelessly one-sided and distorted, and any progressive moves will be unlikely to come to fruition.

Dan Lyons, Uncaged Campaigns 22.03.99

UKXIRA Open Meeting Report

Monday 7th December 1998

UKXIRA (United Kingdom Xenotransplantation Interim Regulatory Authority) was created in March 1997 following the publication of the report, Animal Tissue into Humans, two months earlier. Its terms of reference are as follows:

To advise the Secretaries of State of the UK Health Departments on the action necessary to regulate xenotransplantation, taking into account the principles outlined in Animal Tissue into Humans, and worldwide developments in xenotransplantation. In particular to advise:

a. on safety, efficacy and considerations of animal welfare and any other pre-conditions for xenotransplantation for human use, and whether these have been met.

b. on research required to assess safety and efficacy factors in xenotransplantation procedures;

c. on the acceptability of specific applications to proceed with xenotransplantation in humans; and

d. to provide a focal point on xenotransplantation issues within government.

UKXIRA held its first open meeting on Monday 7th December 1998 at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster, to launch its first Annual Report and provide an opportunity for interested parties to discuss issues with the panel of UKXIRA members. Alistair Currie and Dan Lyons from Uncaged Campaigns were amongst an invited audience that included scientists, representatives from xenotransplantation company Imutran / Novartis and other animal welfare and animal rights campaigners such as Joyce D' Silva (Compassion in World Farming) and Dr Gill Langley.

Presentations were given by various UKXIRA members through the afternoon, and the main issues to surface from the meeting are summarised here:

Impossible to measure risk

Professor Sheila McLean, Professor of Law and Ethics in Medicine, Glasgow University gave an articulate and well-organised presentation explaining the criteria by which applications for clinical trials will be assessed. Although those criteria included an assessment of the safety/risk of the procedure to both the patient and the wider population, Professor McLean admitted that there is currently "insufficient information to undertake microbiological risk assessment." In other words, there is no way of accurately assessing the risk of a new viral disease emerging via xenotransplantation procedures: this is the major issue worrying scientists and regulatory bodies across the world.

Professor McLean revealed that each application to undertake a clinical trial will be scrutinised by several "independent" assessors, selected by UKXIRA for their expertise in relevant areas. However, upon further questioning, Professor McLean confirmed that none of the "independent" assessors had expertise or a particular interest in safeguarding animal welfare, despite the requirement to consider issues of animal welfare when regulating xenotransplantation contained in the terms of reference of UKXIRA. Already, we sensed that the minimal commitment to consider animal welfare was more rhetorical that real.

Viral transfer issues remain unanswered

Next on the podium was Professor Herb Sewell, Professor of Immunology at Nottingham University. Professor Sewell reported to the meeting the findings of the Workshop on Retroviruses convened by UKXIRA in August. Professor Sewell outlined the evidence obtained from in vitro tests which established that two known pig retroviruses (PERVs) do indeed infect human cells in culture, albeit relatively slowly. Another PERV, closely related to viruses that cause certain cancers in human beings, may infect human cells. As yet, there is no evidence to confirm that these viruses can either cause disease in humans, or be transmitted from human-to-human. Pig-to-monkey experiments cannot provide any answers to these burning questions because, unlike humans, the monkeys subjected to these experiments do not have the kind of receptors on their cells that allow these viruses to infect and replicate.

Studies of previous recipients of pig tissue are currently being undertaken. However, once more these procedures do not offer any kind of reliable guidance as to the safety of whole organ xenotransplantation because they have involved:

  • relatively small numbers of cells
  • very short term ex vivo perfusion of patients blood with pig organs
  • non-genetically-modified pig tissue
  • most patients have not been immunosuppressed
  • the overall number of patients being studied is small in statistical terms - approximately 160.

These factors make the transfer of pig viruses into these patients far less likely to occur than in the case of full-scale xenotransplantation, especially should the procedure become an established procedure with many xenografts taking place.

The first three events in a sequence of seven, which would result in a new virus transferring from pigs to humans, have been fulfilled. Professor Sewell announced that there are "no clear answers on the safety of pigs as tissue donor sources," and said that decisions on whether the risk of viral xenozoonosis were low enough to permit the commencement of human trials should be taken by "industry, clinicians, scientists and the public." One of those decisions could be to "abandon xenotransplantation."

Surveillance cannot be guaranteed

After a short break, Professor George Griffin, Professor of Infectious Disease at St George's Hospital discussed the work of the newly-formed Surveillance Working Group. Professor Griffin outlined various measures designed to monitor patients for the emergence of a new viral disease. Professor Griffin admitted that the kind of intensive, life-long surveillance regimes required to monitor recipients of pig tissue that offer the best hope of containing any pig virus are, it appears, not strictly enforceable: the legislation to ensure compliance with these strict regimes simply does not exist at present, apparently. This seems to reveal a gaping hole in UKXIRA and the Government's plans to regulate xenotransplantation and protect public health.

Open discussion

The meeting ended with an open discussion of the Authority's work and xenotransplantation. The discussion was dominated by questions regarding the animal welfare remit of UKXIRA. It was this discussion which reinforced the impression that animal welfare was not taken seriously by UKXIRA. Joyce D'Silva asked the panel a direct question regarding the relevant difference between pigs and primates which justified the exploitation of pigs, but not primates, for source tissue, as outlined in Animal Tissue into Humans. The members of the Authority had great difficulty addressing this issue. Professor Griffin even went so far as to deny that Animal Tissue into Humans had ruled out the use of primates on ethical grounds. This is quite disturbing as UKXIRA is supposed to base its considerations on that report, which concluded:

" ... it would be ethically unacceptable to use primates as source animals for xenotransplantation, not least because they would be exposed to too much suffering." [para. 7 and 4.28].

Professor Griffin also revealed a rather cavalier attitude to the whole question of animal welfare and primate use. Another member of the Authority, Mr John Dark, Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle appeared openly hostile to the animal welfare viewpoint.

Another area of concern surrounds the issue of how the public were integrated into the consultation process. When addressing this question, the Chair of UKXIRA, Lord Habgood of Calverton, expressed scepticism as to whether the House of Commons was a fit body to be discussing such complicated matters. Though, to be fair to Lord Habgood, his comment was made rather tongue-in-cheek, the issue of democratic scrutiny is a very important one, and once again UKXIRA seem to be paying lip service to the notion of public involvement, without seriously incorporating it into their deliberations.

The overall impression of UKXIRA that I and others received is of a body which although it is working within a framework that could allow for a relatively fair and balanced consideration of xenotransplantation issues, is composed of members of rather mixed ability and attitudes, and is failing to meet some of the complex demands required of it, particular in the area of animal welfare. Too little attention is being paid to the precautionary principle, and far too much faith is being placed in the ability of science and technology to assess and control risks which are not understood and are literally beyond the limits of scientific knowledge. The inevitable presence of unknown viruses was not mentioned once during the meeting. Given the immense repercussions of xenotransplantation, any shortcomings in UKXIRA are a cause for great concern.

Uncaged Campaigns 22.03.99


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