The Home Office has said it is looking into the practises of an animal-testing laboratory working for MSD Animal Health after undercover filming unveiled the slaughter and dissection of kittens and puppies.
The investigation – carried out by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) over eight months – revealed the killing of puppies as young as five weeks of age and kittens less than six months old during vaccine testing. In footage from the investigation, workers can be seen administering lethal injections to puppies before cutting their bodies up. One puppy is seen being lifted over a bin to get rid of its insides.
Elsewhere in the investigation, the BUAV said there was routine killing of healthy female adult beagles, with pregnant ones having their puppies taken away for tests as early as five weeks after birth. After they were taken, the nursing females were killed, “often within minutes“. There was no system, said the union, to rehome animals no longer required.
Michelle Thew, BUAV’s chief executive, called the footage “the secret the research industry would never want to be released into the public domain”.
“Millions of families throughout the UK who share their homes and lives with cats and dogs will be appalled by these revelations,” she said. “It is unacceptable, not only that these animals are suffering and dying in this way, but that many of them could have been released into loving homes instead of being killed and discarded for convenience sake.”
Norman Baker, crime prevention minister at the Home Office, said he expects “the highest standards of welfare for animals used in research” and takes any allegations of mistreatment “very seriously“.
“The UK has one of the most comprehensive animal welfare systems in the world to ensure animal testing is carried out humanely and only when necessary,” he said. “All establishments are subjected to regular inspections and we expect them to strictly adhere to the terms of their licence.
“I am advised the site had been subject to a number of unannounced visits in the last year and I have asked for further enquiries to be made into the precise conclusions of these inspections.”
In reaction to the investigation, MSD said it is “committed to advancing the health of pets and farm animals” and that it “adheres to all regulatory standards of testing and development of vaccines“.
“Our standards for animal care meet or exceed applicable local, national and international laws and regulations,” said the company in a statement. “The UK Government has set some of the highest global animal welfare standards and MSD strictly adheres to them.
“We always adhere to all legal and regulatory frameworks that require our vaccines be tested on laboratory animals to ensure they meet all safety and efficacy obligations prior to making them available to veterinarians.
“All animal health research is performed by qualified, trained personnel [and] our facilities are in full compliance with all laws and regulations,” it continued. “Procedures and facilities are regularly reviewed and inspected by relevant regulatory authorities [and] we are dedicated to the ethical treatment of all animals used in development of medicines and vaccines.”
The company also insisted it made “significant efforts” to find homes for animals “whenever possible”.
For the full story by Rebecca Hubbard, look out for next week’s Veterinary Times (VT44.11).