Monday, 24 October 2011

Row As Firm Moves To Breed Beagles For Tests

Controversial plans to breed more beagles for use in scientific research are being considered by the Government.
The proposals by East Yorkshire company B&K Universal are being looked at by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

Anti-vivisection groups claim the plans would lead to more dogs being used in laboratory experiments, but the company insists it wants to reduce the number of animals being imported.
Sky News was given exclusive access to the firm's beagles bred for use in animal testing - the first time in its 37-year history that cameras have been allowed on the site.

The dogs are housed in a compound on the edge of the remote village of Grimston, east of Hull, and are shielded from animal rights extremists by razor wire, CCTV cameras and guards.

Behind three separate doors, inside a modern low-rise building, more than a dozen beagles are kept in groups of twos and threes in metal cages against the walls.

To protect them from disease, the dogs are never allowed outdoors and staff and visitors have to wear overclothes.

In the centre of the room is a bright plastic slide which the dogs can play on when they are let out for what the firm calls "socialisation" and when their cages are being cleaned.

The animals are ex-breeding stock imported from America or Europe and are used to supply blood for sale to laboratories.

If planning permission is granted, the cages will be moved to the new buildings and will house breeding dogs and their offspring, which will be sold for drug and product testing as well as medical research.

Known as Marshall beagles, they are a strain bred especially for research purposes by B&K's American parent company, Marshall Bioresources, which bought the firm in 2009 with the aim of establishing a breeding colony and expanding into the UK market.

According to the Home Office, 3,704 beagles were used in animal research procedures in the UK last year, with some 800 procedures carried out on imported dogs.

A well-placed source told Sky News the beagles sell for around £1,600 each, making the market worth up to £6m a year in the UK alone.

"To meet the demand these days we're having to import animals from long distances away and we'd like to avoid that," B&K's general manager, Roy Sutcliffe, said.

"(Our redevelopment) won't increase the numbers of dogs that are needed for research, it will just make it more convenient for the UK researchers to source them in the UK."

Although the use of animals for testing cosmetics is banned in the UK and the Government says it is committed to phasing out the testing of household products and reducing the use of animals in laboratories, the law states new drugs must still be tested on animals for safety.

A planning application to redevelop the Grimston site was refused by East Riding Council in June, and an appeal by the firm has been called in by the Department for Communities and Local Government over the controversy.

The company refuses to say how many dogs it would breed on the site if its appeal is successful, but campaigners claim it could be up to 2,000.

Michelle Thew, chief executive of anti-vivisection group BUAV, said 28,000 people signed their petition objecting to the plans.

"A decision to accept the facility would fly in the face of public opinion and the recent Government pledge to reduce the numbers of animals in experiments," she said.

"People will be shocked to learn of the unnatural conditions in which these beagles are bred. Tragically they are viewed simply as products with a price tag on their heads."

The Department for Communities and Local Government said the appeal is being assessed by a planning inspector and will be approved or rejected in line with planning legislation.

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