Red-tape logic in delayed consent for animal tests

Politicians are fond of pointing to the biomedical industry's strengths for the economy. It is research intensive, profitable, export led and globally competitive. But this week leaders of the biomedical research community, on which this industry relies, wrote a letter complaining (page 2) that their work is being slowed, perhaps fatally, by the time taken to get consent for animal experiments.

The blame lies squarely with the Home Office, which takes too long to consider researchers' proposals. It has too few inspectors for the applications it receives and has, scientists say, been getting more bureaucratic of late. The scientists are right to point out that it may not be fulfilling its duty to balance industrial and research priorities and animal welfare.

But scientists have their part to play too. The law says that they must do as few animal experiments as possible and with lower-order rather than higher-order animals when they can. They could regard the present delays as a cue to make sure they are keeping their side of this bargain.

They may also be overstating the risk for UK bioscience. Despite the six-month delays to which this week's letter draws attention, thousands of animal experiments happen in the UK each year. Might better forward planning help avoid severe delays while consents are obtained?

Neither is sabre rattling about moving experiments abroad convincing. No country in the developed world wants to be seen to have low standards of animal welfare and bureaucracy is likely to accompany such standards anywhere. Huntingdon Life Sciences, the laboratory animal producer targetted by campaigners in England, has already been threatened with similar action should it move to the United States.

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