Newcastle University loses animal testing data row

ANIMAL rights campaigners have won a legal battle against Newcastle University over controversial animal testing data.

ANIMAL rights campaigners have won a legal battle against Newcastle University over controversial animal testing data.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) launched action after a failed Freedom of Information request on experiments carried out at Newcastle University.

The BUAV asked the university’s medical research department for details on testing procedures and welfare controls for tests on primates undertaken in 2008. Almost 21,000 animals were used in medical experiments at the university that year, including Macaque monkeys for examining new treatments for Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and spinal conditions.

The BUAV claim the tests, which involved implanting electrodes into the animals’ brains to record activity while they underwent various tasks, were “highly invasive” and would have caused “a high level of distress”. But university bosses rejected the FOI request, claiming the institution itself did not hold the information requested and that sensitive research programmes would be endangered if details were released before the work was completed.

They argued that research details remained the “intellectual property” of individual scientists and not the university until work was finished and published in UK medical journals.

The Government’s Freedom of Information Commissioner initially agreed with the university’s stance but BUAV leaders appealed the decision. Last year the Information Tribunal in London found that it would be “remarkable if the university did not hold important information about extensive animal research carried out on its premises by its employees”. Now the Upper Tribunal has upheld the ruling, meaning the university could be forced to reveal the data.

Michelle Thew, BUAV Chief Executive, said: “We are delighted with this ruling. Once again, the courts have dismissed Newcastle’s attempts to say they have no information about the thousands of animal experiments taking place at the University.” She added: “The public has a right to know what is happening to these poor animals.”

A Newcastle University spokesperson said: “Newcastle University is currently taking legal advice following the decision.

“The studies carried out with primates at Newcastle University aim to improve our fundamental understanding of how the brain works, and to apply this knowledge to treating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injury.

“The university carries out research that involves the use of animals only when there are no alternatives. Before any research is conducted on animals, the research proposals must be approved by an ethical review committee, and then by the Home Office.”

The case will go back to Information Tribunal to decide whether two other exemptions apply.

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