CEO Report to Annual General Meeting, November 2011

Like (I assume) the vast majority of members of Humane Research Australia, my personal reason for opposing the use of animals in research is because it is cruel and unethical. Animals used in research are subjected to varying degrees of suffering – from a slight interference during observational studies to highly invasive, painful and often traumatic procedures. I do not consider it right that sentient animals are used as tools for research. They have their own intrinsic value and to blatantly disregard this is a gross miscarriage of justice.

 

However, when involved in discussion with researchers or with parents of terminally-ill children, every ethical argument is cast aside. Many (in fact, most) people who claim to ‘love’ animals will always put human health first and animal experimentation is therefore considered to be a ‘necessary evil.’ Yet this is only because few people understand the scientific arguments against animal experiments. The oft-used argument ‘your child or your dog’ is simply an emotional ploy used by those who support the industry and has absolutely no scientific merit. Due to species-differences (anatomic, genetic and metabolic) reliance on data obtained from animal experiments has proven to be dangerously misleading and led to far too many delays in medical progress.

 

As discovered through our public opinion poll which we commissioned in 2009, only 62% of the general public is even aware that animals are used in experimental research in Australia these days. It’s therefore crucial that if we are to stop the continued escalation of animal experiments, we need to change the public misconception that animal-based research is necessary and to make clear that rather, it is dangerously misleading. Only then, when public donations are redirected to more ethical research and consumers purchase only cruelty free products will governments and institutions start to move away from their use of animals.

 

Humane Research Australia has been actively working towards this change through advertising campaigns and social media and this has been the major focus over the past twelve months. We have run adverts in cinemas and on Channel 31 and SBS. We have taken advantage of social networking including Facebook, Twitter and You Tube and continue to attend regular expos and events – continually chipping away at the public misconception and continuing to raise awareness. And it does seem to be working. HRA was fortunate enough to be invited onto the Kerri-Anne Show to discuss chimpanzee research and also to debate Oxford University Pro-Test founder, Laurie Pycroft in New Internationalist magazine.

 

Whilst we would need to commission another public opinion poll to verify, anecdotal discussions with members of the public seem to indicate that there is starting to be a better understanding of the futility of animal experimentation. Visitors to our expo stands have been telling us that drugs which work in animals won’t necessarily work on humans (the penny is dropping!)

 

My personal view has been strengthened after giving guest presentations to animal research students at the University of Sydney and LaTrobe University in Melbourne. Despite my initial apprehension of going into ‘enemy territory’, I’ve found that those working in the field actually acknowledge the challenges faced by animal-based research. Perhaps the failure to change to human-specific research is down to a lack of financial incentive and this is something we are hoping to address.

 

As awareness continues to grow, we continue to provide the tools by which everyone can help implement a change. The Humane Charities List – an ongoing project that is coordinated by Caley provides a simple reference guide for donors to identify which medical and health charities do not fund animal experiments.

We also publish regular ‘case studies’. We provide examples of recent Australian research taken from medical journals, remove the scientific jargon and translate them into simple terms so that people have a better understanding of what exactly is going on, what their tax dollars are actually paying for and who to write to in order to object to such a wasteful use of precious resources. We have thus far uncovered experiments which involve:

 

  • Feeding alcohol to pregnant sheep in order to observe the effect on their fetuses
  • Giving ecstacy and speed to rats in a heated environment in order to replicate the effect of party drugs
  • Exposing rats to anxiety stimuli (cat odour and electric shocks) and then administering marijuana to observe the difference in their behaviour
  • Giving pigs breast implants to investigate the hardening of the capsule around the implant.
  • Feeding sheep and mice high fat diets in order to observe the effect of obesity on fertility

 

Each of these examples is provided to illustrate how animal experimentation is not essential and life-saving as most people are led to believe.

 

Aside from these continued efforts to raise awareness in a general sense, the primary campaign that has been our main focus for the past twelve months has been the importation of primates. While the campaign has been running for several years, now seems to be the time that we are hopeful it will all come to fruition.

 

You might have seen the recent You Tube footage of the chimpanzees released from a laboratory after thirty years into an Austrian sanctuary and seeing sunlight for the very first time. The footage was quite emotional and went viral being reported around the world on television, internet and social networks. The Rising of the Planet of the Apes has also been recently released. It’s a fictitious movie based on the use of primates in research. Project Nim, another recently released movie, is a documentary that is based on an actual experiment. Each of these videos/movies have put primate research on the world stage, possibly shocking many people who would otherwise not believe that we still do this to our closest living relatives. We do! And not only do we conduct vaccine research on primates here in Australia, we import wild-caught primates (macaques) from Indonesia to use in this research. Whilst the research itself is highly objectionable, the capture of these animals from the wild, separation of family groups, confinement in holding facilities and being subject to long arduous journeys adds further insult to these intelligent animals. Over the past eleven years approximately 400 macaques have been imported; the most recent being a shipment of 44 macaques in 2009 which are used for HIV-AIDS vaccine research.

 

Perhaps the popularity of the chimpanzee footage, Planet of the Apes and Project Nim has provided us with a unique opportunity to further promote this campaign. We have recently presented almost 11,000 signatures which will shortly be tabled and discussed in Parliament. We continue to collect more signatures and to distribute postcards which are addressed to Ministers Nicola Roxon and Tony Burke – those responsible for the importation of primates for research. With three government-funded primate breeding facilities in Australia (which we do not in any way condone) there is absolutely no reason to allow the importation of primates to continue and we are seeking an immediate ban.

The campaign is actually a small part of a much larger campaign spearheaded by the British Union Against Vivisection (BUAV) to stop the international trade in primates. HRA continues to work closely with BUAV and is hopeful that Australia can lead by example.

 

As an aside, our work took on a more personal aspect late last year when HRA was involved in the rehoming of an ex-laboratory cat named Leo. As a group that focuses more on lobbying and education, we do not ordinarily have any direct contact with animals. In some ways this does make our work easier as we can get on with the job without the emotional aspect that many rescue groups have to deal with. In this case, HRA was contacted by a NSW-based group who had managed to secure the release of a number of cats used in eye research. We worked together with Halfway Home Animal Rescue to fly Leo to Melbourne and into foster care. Despite his earlier ordeal – he had had his third eyelids removed for research into contact lenses – Leo has settled into a safe, permanent home far removed from his days at the laboratory. All of the other cats rescued in the same exercise are also in caring permanent homes. Whilst the rescue of Leo pales into comparison when we consider the millions of animals still used in research in Australia every single year, he helped remind us that every one of those ‘statistics’ is an individual equally deserving as Leo.

 

At this point I’d like to thank the team that helps makes all of this happen. Our Management Committee and staff really must be commended as very few people are willing to tackle this difficult issue, however I know that everyone involved with HRA feels as passionate as I do and have therefore made that commitment to take on an active role in opposing animal experiments. My gratitude to them is moreso after the past few weeks as Caley and Megan have stepped in to carry a heavier load than usual by taking on extra tasks.

 

I’d also like to pay particular thanks to our members and donors. Every membership and every donation we receive – big or small – makes me feel so humbled, knowing that these people believe in us and the work we are doing to stop animal experiments. I’m eternally grateful for the faith that these people have in us and the wonderful support they provide.

 

I know, that like so many other areas of campaigning for animals, there is still so far to go and there are still so many vested interests against us, but we’ll continue to chip away until finally there will be a far greater understanding about this issue and the public will understand that not only is animal experimentation a cruel industry, it is unnecessary.

 

Helen Marston

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