No animal deserves to be a live target

The use of pigs in military training is a barbaric practice that needs to be stopped

Wars are started by humans, yet animals often become caught in the line of fire. For the pigs who are shot, cut open and blown apart in training exercises for British Army medics in Denmark, there are no Geneva Conventions and no peace treaties – just human mercy.

People around the world were shocked yesterday, and rightly so, when PETA revealed new details about the way in which the Ministry of Defence has sent military surgeons to Denmark in order to participate in an archaic training drill callously nicknamed ‘Danish Bacon’. Photographs of the crude exercises released by PETA, which take place in a town called Jægerspris Kaserne, show live pigs being shot at while they hang from wooden frames. Then military personnel operate on the pigs, who are eventually killed even if they survive the initial injuries.

The Ministry of Defence has been quick to respond, with a spokesperson calling the archaic exercises, “entirely appropriate and, indeed, necessary”, while pointing out that they have not seen the images in question and therefore cannot comment on the photos.

“Our military surgeons undertake vital training in Denmark where they learn specialist trauma treatment skills that save lives on the battlefield,” they said. “All animals used in medical training are anaesthetised before they are treated and by participating in the Danish-led exercises twice a year rather than conducting our own, we minimise the overall number of animals used.”

It is wrong to shoot and maim these intelligent, sensitive beings, and there exists absolutely no conclusive evidence that doing so better prepares people to treat human injuries than more humane training options that are readily available.

Indeed, a study conducted by PETA and published in Military Medicine said more than 80 per cent of NATO allies – including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and, most recently, in November of last year, Poland – confirmed that they do not use any animals for military medical training exercises. Germany has even repeatedly denied applications by the US Army and its contractors to conduct similar training on the grounds that it would violate German and EU laws because effective alternatives to animals are available. This conclusion was further confirmed by an independent panel of medical experts convened by a German court in 2012.

Instead of shooting, stabbing and blowing up animals, military personnel in these nations are trained to treat traumatic injuries using life-like human-patient simulators – such as TraumaMan and the state-of-the-art Caesar trauma-patient simulator, which is used by the NATO Centre of Excellence for Military Medicine.

More than a decade's worth of studies by military and civilian trauma experts show that simulators – the most hi-tech of which ‘breathe’, ‘bleed’ and are made of artificial human skin, fat and muscle – better equip trainees to treat human traumatic injuries with regard to both skill acquisition and psychological preparedness. A recent study by Israel Defence Forces researchers found that training with simulators increased medical personnel's self-confidence in trauma skills, but training on animals did not.

Among other reasons, this is because there are vast differences in biology between humans and pigs, and unlike animals, simulators actually mimic human anatomy and physiology and allow trainees to repeat life-saving procedures until they are confident and proficient. Shooting and blasting animals may desensitise people to violence and suffering, but it doesn't make them better doctors.

The Government claims it wants to replace animals with artificial devices where possible, but the UK is tragically out of step with the majority of our NATO allies and the latest developments in modern medical training techniques.

The UK's Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, the EU's Directive 2010/63/EU and Denmark's Animal Welfare Act all require that non-animal methods be used to train the military whenever available. The preference for sophisticated non-animal training methods by our military allies around the world suggests that these methods are not only viable replacements but also superior to the use of animals. We say there is no scientific, ethical or legal justification for harming and killing animals in military trauma training exercises, and it's time for the military to end its participation in these inhumane and ill-conceived exercises for the sake of both people and animals.