Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

We need balance on experiments

There is little doubt that most people will be shocked by the revelations in today's Belfast Telegraph that almost 14,000 animals died in experiments carried out by Queen's University and the University of Ulster in one year.

The British Union Against Vivisection has also revealed that nearly 12,000 of these experiments took place in the laboratories in Queen's University.

The main species involved were rats and mice, but the public will be disturbed to discover that experiments were also carried out on horses, cattle, birds and rabbits, and also on household pets such as cats and dogs.

Six cats were subjected to nearly 170 experiments between them, and 12 dogs were part of an average of 11 experiments each.

Some of the more gruesome experiments included a UU project during which 71 male rats had to inhale lavender oil to determine if it reduced their anxiety after they had been subjected to loud noises and bright lights. They were later anaesthetised and pickled alive before having their brains dissected.

At Queen's University young rats were pumped with a hormone to find out if it made them lose weight or to stop eating. This was an attempt to develop a treatment for human obesity, but when the animals were later dissected, the hormone was found to have had no effect on body weight or the build up of fat.

While such details are disturbing to read and to visualise, the harsh reality is that the authorities deem animal experiments necessary to help develop medicines that can save and prolong human life and to alleviate pain and suffering.

Earlier this month the Home Office set about reducing the number of animals used in research. Northern Ireland was not included, and the BUAV is not unreasonably asking the Stormont Executive to take a further lead in implementing its own reduction measures.

This is a complex subject which has created opposition among animal lovers to experiments on defenceless creatures. Many members of the public will sympathise with this, but they also know that a balance must be found in order to help humans.

But it is imperative that the experiments are monitored continually and that all steps are taken to keep these unsavoury measures to a minimum. Human life and wellbeing are still the main objectives, but animal welfare must also be high on our list of priorities.

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