Last year faculty and students from the Law School at Dalhousie submitted a freedom of information application to the university, asking for statistics concerning animals used in research over a 5 year period. This application was based on a similar FOI request submitted to Queen’s University, but whereas Queen’s continues to resist sharing information about the numbers and species of animals it uses, and the category of invasiveness of the procedures inflicted upon them, Dalhousie chose to release this information last month.1 Dalhousie should be commended for doing so, and for joining the growing number of Canadian universities recognizing their moral obligation to make this information available to the public. (Public disclosure is routine practice in the US and Europe.)
The use of animals in research and education is scientifically, pedagogically, and ethically contentious. There is growing public unease about inflicting deprivation, pain and suffering on animals in the name of science. This reflects both increasing concern about animal welfare/rights, as well as increasing knowledge about the ‘translation failure’ in biomedical research – i.e., the overwhelming failure of findings based on animal models to translate into human-relevant knowledge or therapies. There is a compelling public interest in being able to monitor the use of animals, and to conduct independent oversight of biomedical research.
Canadian universities claim to abide by the ‘3Rs’ – a commitment to refine, reduce and replace the use of animals in research. By soliciting data covering a 5-year period, the successful Dalhousie application will make it possible to assess whether Dalhousie is in fact reducing its use of animals, and developing alternative approaches to scientific inquiry. Without this basic transparency, it is impossible to hold universities to their commitments, and their claims to ‘use alternatives when available’ amount to nothing more than propaganda and 3R whitewashing.
Similar FOI requests are ongoing at several Canadian universities. It is ridiculous that individual students and faculty have to repeat this time-wasting and expensive process over and over again (with mixed results) to try to acquire basic and vital information from publicly funded institutions. The Canadian Council on Animal Care publishes aggregate Canadian statistics, but refuses to make available the statistics for individual institutions. This must change.
1. As more information about the released data becomes available, we will publish an update here. In the meantime, anyone wanting to review the data for themselves should direct inquiries to QAD.