The Nuffield Council on Bioethics launches a consultation today (3 October 2003) about research involving animals. Can we justify research on animals? How much do animals actually suffer? Does a mouse have a different moral status than a monkey? Who should fund research into alternatives?

Many people are concerned about the use of animals in research. There is also widespread recognition of the need for more medical research. Since much of this currently involves animals, these two views are not easily reconciled. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, recognising that people feel very deeply about this topic, has set up a Working Party to consider the ethical issues. As part of this process, the Council is inviting comments on the topic.

A major focus of the consultation is on the increasing use of genetically modified (GM) animals. Last year, one quarter of all animal procedures – 710,000 in total – involved GM animals, a tenfold increase since 1991. This dramatic increase raises a number of new questions. Are GM animals ‘unnatural’ and if so, why? Are there types of animals that should never be created? Some animals may be created to suffer on a long-term basis, for example from Parkinson’s disease. Can this be justified?

The Council is also asking for comments on four other areas: the acceptability of using animals, developing alternatives to animal research, regulations in the UK, and the provision of information to the public. "We are looking forward to hearing a wide range of views on these questions," said Baroness Perry of Southwark, Chairman of the Working Party. "We would welcome comments from individuals and organisations on ethical, social and legal implications of this very emotive topic."

All responses will be considered by the Working Party, which includes members with backgrounds in animal welfare, philosophy, science, law and veterinary practice. The Council expects to publish a Report early in 2005.

Responses can also be submitted on-line. The closing date for the responses is 15 December 2003.

Notes for editors:

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is an independent body which examines ethical issues raised by developments in medicine and biology. Established in 1991, it is funded by The Nuffield Foundation, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

Members of the Working Party

Baroness Perry of Southwark (Chairman)
Member of the House of Lords and Pro-Chancellor of the University of Surrey

Professor Kenneth Boyd
Professor of Medical Ethics, University of Edinburgh

Professor Allan Bradley FRS
Director, The Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre, Cambridge

Professor Steve Brown
Director, MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit, MRC Mouse Genome Centre, Medical Research Council, Harwell

Professor Grahame Bulfield
former Director of the Roslin Institute, currently Vice-Principal and Head of College of Science and Engineering, University of Edinburgh

Professor R D Combes
Scientific Director, Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments

Dr Maggy Jennings
Head of Research, Animals Department, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Professor Barry Keverne FRS
Director of sub-department of Animal Behaviour, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge

Dr Mark Matfield
Executive Director, The Research Defence Society

Dr Judy MacArthur Clark
Chair, Farm Animal Welfare Council

Professor Ian McConnell
Professor of Veterinary Science, Centre for Veterinary Science, Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge

Dr Timothy H Morris
Head of Comparative Medicine and Investigator Support, Laboratory Animal Science (LAS) UK, GlaxoSmithKline

Professor Martin Raff FRS
MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, University College London and member of the Nuffield Council

Mr Nick Ross
Broadcaster and member of the Nuffield Council

Dr Lewis Smith
Syngenta CTL

Professor John Spencer
Professor of Law, Selwyn College, University of Cambridge

Ms Michelle Thew
Chief Executive Officer, Animal Protection Institute, Sacramento, USA

Professor Jonathan Wolff
Department of Philosophy, University College London

4. Terms of Reference

1 To review recent, current and prospective developments in the scientific use of non-human animals, including genetic modification or cloning;

2 To assess the ethical implications of these developments, and, in doing so, to consider arguments about the differing status of various non-human animals and the implications of such arguments on their use in research;

3 To examine ways of assessing the costs and benefits of the scientific use of non-human animals;

4 To assess ways of regulating and enhancing good practice;

5 To assess the ethical implications of using alternatives to non-human animals in different fields of research;

6 To identify and review developments and differences internationally in the use of non-human animals in research and its regulation;

7 To explore ways of stimulating public debate and providing information and education about the issues involved.