Letter to the Sunderland Echo providing the public with accurate reporting on animal research

At the end of February some UK media channels published information about an animal research license which was denied in Germany to a Newcastle researcher (Sunderland Echo and Chronicle Live). These news regarded an old German case that was not appropriately explained in the article, thereby portraying a inaccurate narrative on the case.

This news story dates back to 2002, which the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) is now using to argue for judicial review of animal research licenses. A Newcastle University researcher was offered a Professorship at The Charité, a university hospital in Berlin. Before accepting the position, he applied for an animal research project licence at the regional government office to ensure he could continue his research there.

The regional agency responsible to grant this license -in Germany regional agencies are responsible to grant animal research licences unlike in the UK where only the Home Office has this authority – asked the researcher a long list of questions to assess whether they will grant it. Despite appropriately responding to the queries of the authorities, the licence request to perform neuroscience experiments in macaques was denied.

The researcher could have appealed the decision to refuse his licence in court, but since this is a lengthy process and he already had his own research group established in the UK, he decided not to pursue an appeal and declined the Professorship.

In their argument that the Newcastle professor’s research methodology is not allowed in Germany, the BUAV conveniently neglected to mention a much more relevant, and court-tested case in Germany. In 2007, a Bremen neuroscientist performing research with the same methodology, Professor Kreiter, applied for a renewal of his licence for experiments in monkeys. In the run up to regional elections at that time, animal welfare groups gained considerable political support and Kreiter’s licence application was denied, on the basis that the experiments caused severe suffering and were cruel to the animals. However, in this case Kreiter did appeal and in 2012 he was awarded the licence to continue his research. The German Administrative High Court ruled that the research is legal and the experiments cause maximally moderate suffering to the animal. This was a licence for a broad set of research procedures that included those requested in the Berlin licence application back in 2002.

There are currently several German cities performing this kind of research – electrophysiological studies where the activity of small groups of neurons is recorded – that is fundamental to improving our understanding of the cognitive processes involved in vision. Similar research is also being carried out in the US, Japan and France.

This letter was published in the Sunderland Echo on March 19th 2015.

Emma Martinez Sanchez, Press and Communications Officer, the European Animal Research Association (EARA). esanchez@eara.eu