Anita Wengdell has been involved in committee work for nearly 30 years as a lay representative of the Swedish Federation for Animal Welfare (Djurskyddet Sverige) and the Swedish Animal Welfare Association.
“It was here in Uppsala that the idea of a committee was first tested in 1976,” explains Mats Sjöquist. “Criticism has always been levelled against using animals in research, and the initial activities came about on the initiative of researchers who wanted to assure high ethical standards in research.”
“Naturally we have different opinions in the committee, but we work systematically to create a positive climate and avoid personal conflicts among ourselves. We share a common goal, to review each application as thoroughly as possible,” explains Mats Sjöquist.
“When we see statistics concerning how many laboratory animals are used, we need to be aware that many are not exposed to painful experiments. It’s easy to think otherwise,” remarks Anita Wengdell.
As an example, they mention the release of salmon in fish hatcheries, which is viewed as animal research under the Swedish definition, as is research on different types of pasture or fodder for cows, horses, and other animals.
“The suffering of animals must be weighed against the purpose, regardless of the research. Even an apparently uncomplicated experiment that causes no pain to the animal should be questioned if its purpose is not clear,” says Mats Sjöquist.
“At first glance one might think it would be good to know whether horses prefer 55% or 75% dry fodder, but if the intent is just to get trotting horses to run faster or to make feeding as easy as possible, then the aim starts to become somewhat questionable.”
“You might also understand the purpose better by looking at who pays for the research,” notes Anita Wengdell.
“In appraising general benefit, an important but difficult problem is the issue of applied versus basic research,” indicates Mats Sjöquist.
Applied research, for instance, is when a scientist wants to test whether a substance can inhibit growth in a type of cancer that affects children. Here it is easy to see a general benefit.
Basic research is often accused of searching for knowledge for its own sake. This often involves questioning old truths. Frequently, the breakthroughs in basic research are those that lead to the greatest advancements.
“It aimed at finding the reason why cats that appeared to be normal and mated did not become pregnant. Why should we spend resources on this type of research when we know that many cats are abandoned every year and need a home? This is a luxury problem for pedigree cat associations. I have been a dissenter in such cases, and hopefully others have joined me.”
“Every experiment must be well thought through,” says Mats Sjöquist. “The greater the risk for pain, the greater the need to understand what will happen to the animals, how long they could be involved, and when the experiment absolutely must be stopped.
We are strict about defining the endpoints; how and when an animal will be put to death if its general condition deteriorates. Occasionally we recommend initial studies using only a few animals to understand how the animals will react and feel. Dialogue with researchers is essential.”
“Of course it can be painful for animals to be diabetic or have cancer, and we try to set limits, e.g. how large the tumours can be, to avoid as much suffering as possible. Nevertheless – in these cases, perhaps where researchers might be able to develop a cure for childhood cancer, the aim is good, and some level of suffering would be acceptable,” says Anita Wengdell.
“For me the answer is simple,” adds Mats Sjöquist. “If I can alleviate pain for humans or for other animals through a few well-designed animal experiments, then the research is motivated. Insulin was discovered with the help of animal experiments, but excess mortality still exists among people with diabetes, and their suffering is often life long.”
“At times we receive applications claiming that other methods are too expensive. The law provides absolutely no support for such reasoning. If alternative methods are available they should be used,” adds Anita Wengdell.
Text: Nilla Johansson