Ministers split over animal cruelty scandal

Health Ministers call for prosecutions embarrasses Home Office

Newly-appointed Junior Health Minister Dr Steven Ladyman MP has broken ranks with the Home Office over the handling of controversial experiments involving the transplantation of genetically-modified piglet hearts into the necks of wild-caught baboons. In correspondence with a constituent, the Thanet South MP called the Home Office's 'average' severity categorisation of the experiments "ridiculous" and expressed disbelief that such experiments could be allowed in Britain.

The experiments came to light following a huge leak of confidential documents from biotech company Imutran (a Novartis subsidiary) in 2000. The animal protection group that received the documents, Uncaged Campaigns, recently achieved a ground-breaking legal victory, on public interest grounds, after a two-and-a-half year legal battle with the drug corporation to publish the leaked documents. Uncaged Campaigns and co-Defendant Dan Lyons argued that the experiments, which took place at Huntingdon Life Sciences, broke laws against extreme suffering and showed that the Home Office had actively helped the company avoid regulations against cruelty.

The neck-heart transplant procedures caused tremendous suffering with one animal, for example, being observed holding the transplant, which was swollen, red and seeping yellow fluid for several days before the primate was sacrificed. In a second experiment, all three of the primates, who had been specially captured from the wild in Africa for the research, were killed on the vivisection table because the scientists had misjudged the feasibility of the procedure - the piglet hearts turned out to be too large to fit into the baboons' necks.

Uncaged first submitted the report and documents to the Home Office in September 2000, calling for an independent inquiry into the Home Office's conduct. Jack Straw, Home Secretary at the time, sidestepped evidence of the department's failure and set up an internal inquiry instead. The resulting Home Office report, published during the legal battle, did not even mention the neck transplant experiments.

Dr Ladyman's comments will intensify the pressure on the Government to establish an independent probe into the experiments which have been branded a 'blind alley' by scientific advisors to the Government. 76 MPs from all parties have signed a recent Commons Motion (EDM 1340) calling for an inquiry.

Dan Lyons, director of the campaign group, comments:

"Dr Ladyman is an ex-drug industry worker and normally a staunch defender of animal research, so his criticism is especially telling. The unique documentation that we have won the right to publish shows clearly that the Home Office is deeply biased and dishonest in its enforcement of animal welfare laws, with horrific consequences. The public expects strict regulation, but the reality is a 'rubber stamping' system designed to help companies get round the law and avoid prosecution for the most outrageous acts of cruelty."

Notes for editors

  • Uncaged's victory was reported on in The Observer, 20 April 2003.

  • Copies of Dr Ladyman's correspondence are available on request.

  • To access documents relating to the suffering caused by neck heart transplant procedures, which took place at Huntingdon Life Sciences of Imutran, see the clinical signs for experiment ITN6.

  • For evidence of the failures in the vivisection procedures due to size mismatch see document ND10.2, despite assurances to the contrary (see documents ND6.8 & ND6.9).

Uncaged Campaigns, 10 July 2003


Olive baboon (Papio anubis)
Credit: Gerald and Buff Corsi / CAS

Primates were captured from the wild in Africa and killed on the vivisection table at Huntingdon.
























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