Victory in Row Over Animal Testing Data Access


Animal rights campaigners have won a legal row with a North East university over access to 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.

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.

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 agreed with the university’s stance but BUAV leaders appealed the decision. An appeal tribunal hearing in London yesterday found against the university’s principal argument for not meeting the FoI request. In its judgement, the tribunal, led by Judge Bartlett QC, ruled: “BUAV submitted it would be remarkable if the university did not hold important information about extensive animal research carried out on its premises by its employees.

“This is work for which it received the funds, for which it provided the facilities, the training, the ancillary staff, and the necessary insurances, in respect of which the university owed duties of care to safeguard employees and the local community from biosecurity risks. We agree with BUAV’s argument.”

If the tribunal now rules that individual scientists would not be endangered by the release of sensitive testing data, the university will be expected to meet the original FoI request.

Michelle Thew, BUAV chief executive, said: “This is a victory for common sense. For over two years, Newcastle University has tried every which way to avoid providing us with information. “These are highly controversial and invasive experiments and the public, particularly in Newcastle, has a right to know what is happening to these poor animals.”

A spokesman for Newcastle University said: “We are disappointed by this ruling. We have never hidden the fact that we carry out a small amount of work
on primates, where no alternative exists.”


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© Keith Mann