Animal research is on the rise at UBC, according to data recently released by the university.
In 2012, 227,362 animals were involved in UBC research, up 2,319 from 2011. Ninety-eight per cent of these animals were rodents, fish or amphibians. Sixty-seven per cent were involved in either Category B or C research, which causes “less than minor or short-term stress” such as observance or tagging wild animals.
“We’re really saddened that they’ve increased their numbers,” said Laura-Leah Shaw, director of Stop UBC Animal Research.
Eighty-five animals were involved in Category E experiments, 26 more than in 2011. The Canadian Council on Animal Care defines Category E as “procedures which cause severe pain near, at or above the pain tolerance threshold of unanesthetized conscious animals.” All animals involved in Category E research in 2012 were given anesthesia during surgical procedures, under veterinary oversight and with “an approved pain management plan,” according to a media release.
The use of animals in most species groups has decreased since last year, except for fish and large mammals, due to a study which occurs every two years surveying 11,000 fish in the wild and a series of animal welfare studies which involved a large herd of dairy cows.
“Every single animal [studied] has to be accounted for and tracked,” said UBC Associate VP Research and International Helen Burt. “When you’re using large numbers of fish and so on, the numbers are going to go up … but I don’t believe that [the numbers going up] represents any kind of trend.”
UBC did not disclose numbers on specific species used. “The reason for that is … keeping our studies confidential,” said Burt. “It’s important to remember that this is all published on completion of the work. It’s always available to the public through the medium of publications.”
In 2011, Stop filed a series of access to information requests regarding research protocols, statistics on specific species used for research and the source of primates used in research. UBC did not share this information on the grounds that it contained research information of UBC employees, which is not included in the B.C. Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The information and privacy commissioner for B.C. ordered UBC to continue processing the requests that did not contain research information of UBC researchers, including the source of primates and the names and affiliations of members of the UBC Animal Care Committee. This information has not yet been released.
“You can trace [cattle] from the supermarket shelf all the way back to the farm where they originated at, or the place of their birth. We should be able to have the same information on a research animal,” said Shaw.
This is UBC’s third consecutive year releasing animal research statistics, and the first year they have released a virtual tour of one of their facilities. The virtual tour of the Centre for Comparative Medicine, which opened in March 2012 and cost $40 million, includes views of training, scanning and surgical facilities, as well as views of housing units for rabbits and geese.
“The public rarely get to see what kinds of facilities we have, and I think this demonstrates quite nicely the state-of-the-art facilities UBC now has for conducting research,” said Burt.
UBC controls 21 animal research facilities, and between six and eight of these are on campus, according to Burt.
A 2010 report by the Canadian Council on Animal Care recommended more “appropriate management” of their facilities by centralizing them and increasing supervision of animals used in research. The report also found one facility, the name of which was redacted, to have “deficiencies.” The report also said UBC has “made excellent progress in its animal care and use program.”
Over the past eight years, UBC has invested $160 million in new animal facilities on this campus. According to Burt, about 10 facilities have been closed over the last eight years.
Shaw expressed concerns about the new Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, set to open on campus in early 2014. Research at the centre may include primates, according to Shaw.
UBC does not have plans to end animal research.
“The fact is that we’re doing a lot of research and we will allow research that meets the ethical standards to go forward. So provided that UBC continues to be so successful, we will keep allowing studies that use animals,” said Burt.
“When other institutions in other parts of the world are reducing and eliminating animal research, here’s UBC increasing it,” said Shaw. She cited China, India and Norway as examples of countries cutting back on animal research.
“We don’t want to stop the research,” Shaw said. “We understand the research is important, but there’s ways of doing the research without both the pain and suffering of animals and the extremely high cost in taxpayer dollars of using animals.”
According to a press release, UBC is the only Canadian university that publishes its animal research statistics annually.