Animal experimentation and research in India.KR Murthy
Keywords: Animal, Animal Welfare, legislation &jurisprudence,India,
Many film personalities recently signed a petition by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) demanding amendments to strengthen the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. According to the petition, a new bill, which would amend the Act, was drafted two years ago but is currently languishing in parliament. “The current Act, passed four decades ago, has not been updated and imposes only minimal fines for even the most heinous cases of cruelty. The fine for any violation of the Act, committed any number of times, is merely Rs. 60. This is hardly a deterrent to those who commit acts of cruelty to the animals”. In 1999, PETA had exposed India’s cruel underground leather and meat trade. The investigations by PETA revealed the unholy nexus between corrupt traders and officials for smuggling the animals across State borders at night, and those animals that collapse during the march have their tailbones fractured just to keep them moving.
The Supreme Court has issued show-cause notices to the ministries of Defence and Social Welfare, Justice & Empowerment, and the Andhra Pradesh Governments asking them to explain why old horses of the Army were being handed over to serum vaccine firms, leading to a painful death of the animals. Firms which produce antibodies for making serums and vaccines by bleeding the horses use over-aged horses of the Army. Due to excessive administration of high doses of toxins (venoms, antigens), there have been several deaths of these horses in these firms and the State has failed (in its constitutional duty) to have compassion for living creatures. The state is not a breeder and under rules only a breeder can give away animals for such scientific experiments. So this is not only a violation of rules, but also the action is beyond the pale of imagination. The animal activists further argued that it was shockingly disturbing to find that the Army, after using the animals for 15 or more years, discards them like this. They can surely be allowed to graze in its many pastures.
The animal activists in our country do not appreciate the use of animals in biological studies. They are equating cruelty to animals committed by corrupt leather and meat traders to animal experiments conducted for scientific investigations. Physiologists and pharmacologists had been in the bad books of animal activists as they were allegedly on of the users of pound dogs caught by the stray dogs.
“Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act” was passed by our parliament in 1960. This was to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering on animals. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, himself a great animal lover, played a major role in this legislation. In their wisdom and foresight, the original framers of the Act of 1960 clearly mentioned that “nothing contained in this Act shall render unlawful the performance of experiments on animals for the purpose of advancement by new discovery of physiological knowledge or of knowledge which will be useful for saving or for prolonging life or alleviating suffering or for combating any disease, whether of human beings, animals or plants”
Indian National Science Academy (INSA) laid down broad policies on formation of Ethics Committees at the institutional level and guidelines on housing, feeding and experimental procedures. There were allegations that some private research laboratories set up by the cosmetic industries were testing their products on the animals without caring for any kind of guidelines. It was also reported that some of these suffering animals were not properly disposed of after the experimentation. The highlighting of the exaggerated descriptions of cruelty to animals in the lay press given by the animal activists aroused public sentiments against the use of animals in the routine teaching and conducting the biological research. The animal activists also reported that some animal facilities in the country are not maintained properly and the laboratory staff working for these organisations is not trained in humane methods of handling and experimentation. The animal activists armed with such reports formed a Committee for the Purpose of Control And Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA).
According to a notification published in Extraordinary Gazette of India (8th September, 1998), one should have prior permission from CPCSEA for carrying out every animal experiment. These rules prevent the use of animals for teaching, attaining the surgical skills and / or for repeating a known fact.
This Committee, now headed by Ms. Maneka Gandhi, presently Minister of State for Welfare, has assumed the power to decide on all details of the animal based experiments in the country. In 1998, the Committee for Control and Experiments on Animals (CCEA) in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment drafted the breeding of and conducting experiments (Control and Supervision Rules) on animals. Many animal facilities are closed down. All routine teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels at all the medical colleges including All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi; Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University and many other renowned institutes of learning, came to a halt. The use of live demonstrations on the animals and the research work requiring the use of laboratory and non-laboratory animals also came to a halt.
Boards that conduct Intermediate and other Examinations in many States and many Universities “banned” dissections. Many academicians felt that this is not a wise step. These academicians feel that the study of science must essentially be supported by experiments and practicals involving dissection. No drug can be given to humans unless it is found harmless after being administered on animals. The authorities behind this ban are advocating the use of clay models and CD-ROMS. A science student or a biology teacher or a medical teacher can easily say they are no substitutes to dissection. These people further asked, “Are we not applying pesticides to kill these creatures? Or is it that only dissection is cruel which needs to be banned?”
Already many Science Colleges in many Universities have done away with dissection on the pretext of non-availability of frogs and cockroaches, reducing the conducting of the so called practicals and practical examinations to a farce and thus making a mockery of the study of science (non-availability of frogs could be due to massive export of frog-legs).
The Medical Council of India (MCI), the highest governing council that regulates the working of all the medical colleges has recommended the conduct of animal experiments both at the undergraduate and postgraduate medical studies. Breach of MCI recommendations attracts the possibility of “dereognition” of undergraduate and postgraduate medical degrees awarded by different Universities.
Science and Technology Minister Murli Manohar Joshi described the rules passed by the CCEA are “major hurdles which required the intervention of the Prime Minister”. Mr. Joshi heads the Prime Minister’s task force formed to give a boost to the pharmaceutical industry.
A number of symposia on this subject were organised to raise the voice against the unilateral decision of the government. Prof. V. Ramlingaswami chaired a symposium organised by the Association of Physiologists and Phamacologists of India at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi (11-11-1998). A panel discussion “Should animal experiments be stopped in India?” was held on 5th December 1998 at Banaras Hindu University during the 10th Annual Conference of the Physiological Society of India. The panel recommended that the experiments on animals are absolutely necessary for proper training of science students, especially the medical students. Though some experiments, especially for drug testing, could be done away by alternate methods, it is not possible to avoid animal experiments completely.
There is difference between doing experiments scientifically in ethical conditions and abusing animals, and the CCEA should ensure that one does not suffer because of the other.
An editorial in Stroke stated that “the answers to many of our questions regarding the underlying pathophysiology and treatment of stroke do not lie with continued attempts to model the human situation perfectly in animals, but rather with the development of techniques to enable the study of more basic metabolism, pathophysiology, and anatomical imaging detail in living humans.”
It is suggested that a self-regulatory restraint on needless animal experimentations is required. Education and training the animal housekeepers and scientists and medical teachers will go a long way in achieving this goal. Modernizations of animal facilities are necessary to get the quality work obtained from a “good quality experimental animal”. Refinement in animal experimentations and replacement by other non-animate models (limited scope) will lead to few animals being used and this will automatically reduce the pain and suffering inflicted on the animals.