Primate died after becoming trapped in UK animal testing laboratory, dossier of blunders reveals

Exclusive: Regulator slated for failing to crack down harder after dogs, sheep, rabbits, fish and mice all suffered in staff errors

Jane Dalton
Sunday 30 October 2022 00:43 BST
A primate died after becoming trapped behind the crush-back in its cage (generic image)
A primate died after becoming trapped behind the crush-back in its cage (generic image) (AFP via Getty Images)

A primate undergoing experiments died in a British laboratory after becoming trapped behind a restraint device which staff failed to notice, a Home Office report reveals.

The accidental death was among a litany of blunders in the past three years set out in the report, which also discloses that:

  • four dogs were given “a substance not authorised for testing”
  • 120 fish died when water was drained from their tank
  • a sheep’s bone was fractured when surgery was carried out on the wrong leg
  • four mice died after an intravenous injection containing fragments of a pestle and mortar
  • five rabbits were left without water for more than 45 hours
  • and 1,300 fish died when chlorine was added to the wrong tank

The report, by the Animals in Science Regulation Unit, covering 2019 to 2021, also highlights how cases of failure by workers to provide adequate care almost doubled last year, to 34, against 18 in 2020, which was a fall from 31 in 2019.

Numbers of animals in cases of failure to comply with the law or licence conditions more than doubled between 2019 and last year from 1,600 to 3,400, after a slight fall in 2020 to 1,410.

When the primate crawled behind the crush-back in its enclosure, its absence was not noticed during checks for several days, the report reveals.

The root causes of the death were put down to lack of adequate maintenance and use of an enclosure “in which it was difficult to count animals accurately”.

Other bungles included 112 live rats being crushed to death when the box they were in was moved by mistake to a compactor.

And 16 rats suffocated to death after an isolator alarm and fan were switched off in error.

Eight new-born mouse pups died after their mother was mistakenly removed from the cage instead of their father; and two monkeys were left without food or water for more than 16 hours.

Two rats died due to “excessive head restraint during blood sampling”.

(AFP via Getty Images)

The report does not identify the laboratories but many universities, as well as private companies, carry out animal testing.

In each year, animals died from being left without food or water, the report says. In 2019, 50 “non-compliance” cases (43 per cent) were due to a failure to provide adequate food or water and led to harm or death.

In 2020, the proportion fell to 25 per cent (23 cases) and last year it was 11 per cent – 14 cases.

Critics slated the regulator for not getting tough on the blunders by referring them for prosecution, and also said animal experiments were delaying medical treatments progress.

After the primate died, a letter of reprimand and a compliance notice, which included a decommissioning of the room, were sent.

After the dogs blunder, a letter of reprimand was sent and an inspector gave researchers “advice”.

(AFP via Getty Images)

In the cases of the rat deaths, a letter of reprimand was sent and “internal personnel action” was taken over the animals crushed to death.

Kerry Postlewhite, of Cruelty Free International, said: “We call on the regulator to seek justice for these animals and enforce the law properly – crushing sentient creatures in a trash compactor should result in more serious consequences than a sternly worded letter.”

Carla Owen, chief executive of Animal Free Research UK, said: “We cannot claim to have high standards of welfare in British laboratories when animals have died from starvation, suffocation or water in their tanks being poisoned.

“It is all the more distressing that the suffering endured by animals in laboratories is ultimately in vain. This outdated practice fails people as well as animals, since the results of animal experiments cannot be reliably translated to people.

“This problem is contributing to the current medical research emergency, where patients and their families are left waiting for the progress that is so urgently needed.

“The government must take urgent action to support scientists in moving away from animal experiments and embracing cutting-edge, human-relevant research techniques.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “All establishments licensed to breed or supply animals are subject to the full requirements of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, which provides specific and detailed protections for animals used in science.

“We regularly assess licence-holders for compliance with the Act – including through announced and unannounced site visits – and take all allegations of potential non-compliance extremely seriously.”

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