On Saturday evening, the words ‘54K ANIMALS KILLED AT UOB’ were illuminated and hung from the canal bridge over the A38 by Animal Justice Project, an animal rights pressure group

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The words were hung from the bridge from half past five until seven o’clock in the evening. They reference the amount of animals killed at the University of Birmingham (UoB) in 2016 which, as Redbrick reported in October, numbered 54,728.

To continue stubbornly to waste public money and animal lives is tantamount to scientific fraud

This stunt followed a request from the pressure group for UoB researchers to debate with their science advisor, Dr Andre Menache, who is a European veterinary specialist in animal welfare science, ethics, and law.

Animal Justice Project claims that a debate between UoB researchers and Menache ‘would provide an excellent opportunity for the facility to justify its increasing use of tens of thousands of animals each year’. They also said that it would allow Birmingham to show how it was adhering to the principles of the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement), a set of principles providing a framework for humane research.

The pressure group claims that the experiments conducted on animals at UoB have involved mice being injected with toxins to cause liver injury, being injected with cells to cause cancer, being dosed with bioluminescent chemicals to make them glow, and suffering from arthritis at six weeks old. In addition to this, they claim that rats have had tetanus toxin injected into their brains to cause epilepsy.

Menache said that, given the differences between mice and humans, ‘to continue stubbornly to waste public money and animal lives is tantamount to scientific fraud’. He said it was time for UoB to ‘stop experimenting on animals and instead, switch to evidence-based, human-relevant research’.

Though UoB has not responded to Animal Justice Project’s calls for a debate, they have told Redbrick that ‘all the experiments referred to by the Animal Justice Project were undertaken legally and under the appropriate Home Office Legislation and are published in scientific literature’.

An individual from Biomedical Sciences revealed that the currently unpublished number of animals killed at the university in 2017 was 45,361, down from 2016’s 54,828 by approximately 17%. They claimed that ‘57% [of the 2017 figure] is simply the breeding of genetically altered strains of mice and zebrafish’.

Some diseases and health problems involve processes that can only be studied in a living organism

A statement issued to Redbrick by the university claims, ‘we are open and transparent about the species and numbers of animals that are used for research at the University of Birmingham and this information is published on our website.

‘We are involved in research to develop drugs and medical technologies that will help in the fight against life threatening and debilitating diseases and improve health care for patients, and indeed animals too.

Some diseases and health problems involve processes that can only be studied in a living organism. For example, treatments for heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer have all been developed by involving animals in testing and research.

‘We adhere to strict guidelines from the Home Office and are regulated by the Operational Guidance to the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which requires that experimentation on animals should only occur when there is no alternative research technique.

‘As part of that regulatory framework we have periodic visits from a Home Office inspector who checks the welfare of the animals used in research and the facilities that they are kept in. During these visits the inspector is looking for evidence of a caring culture, which ensures responsible behaviour and respect for the use and care of animals.

‘All research that requires the use of animals is scrutinised by the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body to ensure that there are no possible alternatives to the use of animals and that studies are carried out to the highest standards of welfare and care, following the 3R’s principles of replacement, reduction and refinement. The 3Rs are a widely accepted ethical framework for conducting scientific experiments using animals humanely’.

Redbrick asked whether the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body was independent of the university or whether UoB controlled its staffing. In response, UoB said that ‘the Body is a combination of University members and external members from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research’.