Uni Criticsed For Horse Experiments

6 April 2016, 06:00

A campaign group is asking Cambridge Uni to stop experimenting on horses.

In a statement to Heart Cruelty Free International says: "We are calling for an end to the use of horses and ponies in experiments across UK laboratories, including at Cambridge University. The call comes following concerns about the source of horses and ponies supplied to UK laboratories and the cruel nature of the experiments they are subjected to.

In 2014, 8,079 experiments were completed on horses, ponies and donkeys; a total of 187 animals were used for the first time. There are no restrictions regarding where laboratories can source their horses and ponies to be used in experiments. Research carried out by Cruelty Free International has shown that Dartmoor and Welsh Mountain ponies as well as former racing horses and those purchased from private owners, including a farmer, have been used in experiments by UK laboratories in recent years. Some of the research has been funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board.

Many horses are kept for years to be repeatedly blood sampled for the production of biological materials like serum for regulatory purposes. Others are used for basic research purposes. There are at least five UK laboratories that have carried out experiments on horses or ponies in recent years.

A current project licence ('Developmental Regulation of Physiological Systems') at Cambridge University allows cruel experiments to be carried out on pregnant horses and their unborn foals. The University has permission to use up to 150 horses over a 5-year period (until 2018). The experiments could involve the compression of umbilical cords or cutting umbilical vessels during pregnancy so that unborn foals do not receive enough nutrients, the surgical removal of endocrine glands or injecting the animals with hormones, endocrine disrupting substances or various drugs that are known to affect growth and metabolism."

In response, the Uni say:

"Animal research plays an essential role in our understanding of health and disease and in the development of new medicines, antibiotics, vaccines and surgical techniques for both human and veterinary medicine.

We place good welfare at the centre of all our animal research and aim to meet the highest standards: good animal welfare and good science go hand-in-hand. Our research, including the sourcing of animals, is scrutinised by the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body, who strive to reduce the number of animals used.

We only use a small number of horses in research, and have used none since those reported in our 2011 Home Office Return. Although one Cambridge licence still authorises the use of horses, none have been used under the authority of this licence. Project licences are required to include the maximum number of animals to be used (this figure will also include all offspring), as well as all potential procedures and outcomes.

Under A(SP)A 1986, horses are considered a 'specially protected species', and hence specific harms and benefits need to be addressed together with justification for their use and why other species or alternatives cannot be used instead.  For animals that have not been bred specifically for use in scientific procedures, special explanation has to be provided to the Home Office as to why a purpose-bred animal cannot be used. All of the horses used in our research were sourced from a recognised supplier. By law all horses have passports, so their provenance is known. The animals were cared for by our staff qualified and checked regularly by a qualified veterinary surgeon.

Regarding the two studies highlighted, the first relates to dexamethasone, a common steroid drug used in both human and veterinary medicine. Although its effects have been studied in other animal models such as mice and rats, horses have much longer pregnancies and lifespans than most other experimental animals and so we need to study the potential side-effects of the use dexamethasone in the horses themselves, with the aim of improving its efficacy for clinical treatment and in the knowledge of any additional side effects for the offspring if used during pregnancy.

It should be noted that the limb deformities noted by Cruelty Free International were in a control foal and were not due to experimental procedures. Such deformities occur naturally in horses and are overseen by a qualified veterinary surgeon if they occur."

Findings likely to have implications for improving the health of horses themselves and of humans

"The second study was to examine the impact on the sex of the foal on the development of insulin secretion after birth, an important factor in determining long term metabolic health. We know that the size of offspring at birth can have a significant impact on the long-term secretion of insulin and health outcomes in other species and that males tend to be larger than females at birth. However, we do not know whether sex of the foals affects development of the endocrine pancreas in the crucial period after birth and hence its long term health. The findings are likely to have implications for improving the health of horses themselves and of humans.

The University of Cambridge has signed up to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research and publishes information on its activities, including species used and the number of procedures. In 2015, we were awarded a 2015 Openness Award for our film Fighting Cancer: Animal Research at Cambridge."