Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
The Andre Menache Interview: By Claudette Vaughan for Abolitionist Online
There are so few qualified people willing to speak out these days against all forms of animal experimentation. Not so with Dr Andre Menache and Ms Colleen McDuling who visited Australia earlier this year. Both scientists are well known to animal rights activists for their strong stance against animal experimentation. Dr Menache once held the position of president for Doctors and Lawyers for Responsible Medicine (UK) and is currently the Scientific Consultant to Animal Aid UK. He has published several papers opposing animal research.
Abolitionist: Do you think Australia is more backward in their attempts to abolish vivisection than in the UK?
Andre Menache: No I don't think Australia is more backward. I would say that ironically there is more scope here for improvement than if there were hard and fast laws. I think that Australia could become a future battleground in the field of animal experimentation. It could go either way. About a year ago Australia and New Zealand were visited by one of the top spokespeople of the Research Defence Society. We must ask ourselves why on earth would the Research Defence Society, which is a pro-vivisection lobby based in the UK, go to the trouble of sending their top spokesperson who's a medical doctor by training, all the way to New Zealand and Australia, basically to do propaganda and I think it's because things are getting hot in Europe and especially in the UK. The pharmaceutical companies are especially at some stage or other, if they think things are getting too hot, they will out-source their research to other countries.
Australia is a possibility. Obviously countries like South Africa and countries in Asia, China, countries where animal welfare laws are not in place are certainly candidates. Australia is not in that situation but bear that in mind that they brought their top people out here for a look around.
Abolitionist: What are your views on the SPEAK campaign in the UK?
Andre Menache: Totally in support. In fact I've spoken on behalf of SPEAK before. The battle at Oxford is pivotal because neither side wants to lose this battle. The vivisection lobby are absolutely terrified because they lost at Cambridge. If they lose at Oxford then we could see a domino effect so that is their nightmare. In Oxford represents the pride and joy of scientific research in the UK. It's a symbolic battle. Both sides are putting everything they can into this battle. SPEAK have very meager resources. They are working very, very hard. They are a grassroots organisation with not much support from the Nationals unfortunately. On the other side Oxford University is putting everything it has into this campaign and Oxford University has the support of the establishment and of the government and police. Peaceful demonstrations in England today have almost become a criminal offence if you want to do it around Oxford. What they are trying to do is stifle informed debate and not let people know what's really happening.
Abolitionist: We know dissenters from the war have been stopped from speaking out against the war in Iraq as it's the same corporate formula being used to shut animal rights activists and dissenters as well. Can you speak about that please?
Andre Menache: What the media has done is take a handful of animal right activists who have taken the law into their own hands and they have focused all of their attention and energies on these people, labeled them ‘terrorists' and basically said anyone who is against animal experimentation is a terrorist and everybody else is an intelligent, respectable scientist who wants to save lives. That's not really fair but unfortunately the media would far sooner take a photograph of a violent demonstration than of scientists such as Colleen who want to represent the scientific argument against animal experimentation. Having said that, you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Sooner or later the hype is going to die down and then the same argument will rise to the surface again. The public in the UK feel so strongly against and about animal experimentation that this debate is not going to go away until it's dealt with in a transparent scientific manner.
Abolitionist: Why is it that the public are so readily able to accept the bland assurances of vivisectors?
Andre Menache: For years and years the public have only used the moral and ethical argument against animal experimentation. That on it's own isn't going to work . Just as I think the scientific argument on its own will not work. A combination of both is necessary. It's only fairly recently that the public has been made aware of the scientific argument and they have woken up and they have said “Wow. Animal experiments aren't just cruel. They are useless”. Now that is a different ball-game. I think what is also encouraging is lately TV debates in the UK where the public are asked to phone-in at the end of a debate on the use of animals in medical research, not cosmetic research. About 2 years ago it was about 50/50. Now it's about 60/40 in our favour in medical research. So I think the other side are getting worried and they are turning to desperate measures e.g., encouraging bullying and intimidation tactics by the police at peaceful demonstrations. Not allowing virtually any demonstration at Oxford. It's really curtailed. It's really restricted. Pouring a lot of money into the education system and sending a lot of materials to schools, sophisticated speakers to schools to try and win the hearts and the minds of young people. A booklet that's going around at the moment is “Do You Love Animals, Why Don't You Consider A Career As An Animal Technician?”
That sort of thing is now being aimed at younger and younger children. We don't have the resources to combat that sort of thing and some of the larger anti-vivisection groups do but unfortunately they don't seem to consider education as a priority and I think that is a neglected area.
Abolitionist: Humane education in animal rights used to mean going into schools, producing volumes of literature, choosing a cruelty-free lifestyle etc. Today the word “humane” is often associated with “humane” slaughter practices. Are we seeing one of the lows of the Movement?
Andre Menache: Yes it is low at the moment. There is of course humane research though which I think has a positive spin on it. There are organisations like the Dr Hadwin Trust in the UK and that is there forte. They sponsor research that involves non-animal methods and purely human tissues. That I think is taking off slowly. It's something of course that the pharmaceutical industries could of and should have been funding for the last 20-30 years but they are very, very slow for obvious reasons because their preference is to use animals and animal data suits them. It's left to private charities which do not have the funds or the infrastructure as the pharmaceutical industry has to try and develop non-animal methods. That's the first part. The second part is you have to validate it. Validation of a single non-animal method can take up to 10 years. Once it's been validated it then has to obtain regularity approval. That can take an additional 5 years. So we are talking about 15 years to approve one single non-animal method. At that rate it's going to take another 500 years before we replace all the animal experiments.
Abolitionist: British law says that all alternatives to animals used in vivisection laboratories must be tested on animals before they can be called alternatives. This clearly shows that all alternatives are flawed because they are based on scientifically flawed animal based methodology. The only realistic alterative to vivisection is abolition.
Andre Menache: The word “alternative” is a trap. It is a misnomer. We of course talk about non-animal methods. There's no disagreement on that. If somebody does develop a non-animal method then the bottleneck effect comes into force. It'll take 15 years to get that non-animal method approved to replace the animal method. That's is not going to work. It's far too slow. Yet if you want to replace that animal method with a non-animal method you have to go through that process. There's no short-cuts. The pharmaceutical industry if it wanted to could pour its millions and just have, figuratively speaking, a battery of non-animal methods over-night and eliminate a massive amount of animal testing. It's not doing that.
Abolitionist: In this fight to end animal experimentation all of us want to see the end of funding of ill health to become the funding of true health. We want diligent science not fraudulent financially profit motive science. We want human based scientific research methods and human based clinical observations and not alternatives but true scientific research which is obtainable now. What we all want to see is an equally based scientific debate taking place. Last but not least, we want a Royal Commission or a juridical inquiry into animal experimentation taking place. Is that correct Andre?
Andre Menache: A juridical inquiry is already an improvement on a Royal Commission. We are a little bit worried about a juridical inquiry because it most probably will be fixed in favour of the government so we want a independent scientific inquiry without necessarily defining exactly its form and shape. It's got to be something that is transparent. It's got to be balanced. It's got to represent the scientific argument against animal experimentation. It's got to be done objectively. That is the tricky part because today the vivisectors can field far more scientists and professors than we can. We are not quite ready if you like. What we are interested in seeing more systematic reviews. Very few systematic reviews have ever been conducted of animal experimentation. What that means is more and more scientists are finding that it is indefensible to carry out more research when existing research has yet to be evaluated.
Abolitionist: Duplicity in itself is a con. Is that what you are saying?
Andre Menache: What we are saying is we are supporting those scientists who are calling for an immediate moratorium on all animal research. They are saying just stop animal research. Just look at what you've done and does it provide us with any useful information. The evidence of the few systematic reviews that have been carried out so far on animal research relative to clinical trials so that animal experimentation falls down badly. So I am encouraged to see this body of scientists are saying Look! It's indefensible to conduct more research on animals when existing animal research hasn't yet been evaluated.
If you look at what the FDA in the US says and this a personal quote given to me by a senior FDA official in 1998, she said to me that the FDA has never validated animal tests. That's in the US. In the UK the government is on record as saying they have never commissioned or evaluated animal experiments to see that really work. That is smoking gun evidence. No-body knows if animal experiments really works and the regulatory authorities continue to collect animal data and to pass drugs on the strength of animal data even though they don't really know whether the animal experiments work or not.
Abolitionist: When Dr Ralph Haywood was working for Huntingdon Life Sciences he said that the best guess for adverse reactions in man and animal toxicity data is somewhere between 5 – 25%. So that means that 75-95% of products going out on the market have an unknown adverse reaction to them.
Andre Menanche: It's worse than that because what it means is animal experiments will predict 1 in 4 adverse drug reactions that occur in humans. The problem there is you are better off tossing a coin when you have a 50% chance of getting the right answer rather than only 25%. Point number two is you only know in retrospect which of the side effects you saw in animals occur in people. What you can conclude from that is animal experiments are not predictive of the human response. You don't need more evidence of that.
Abolitionist: Do you think calling for transparency in animal experimentation is a retrograde exercise (as it's not insisting upon abolition) or is it incremental in forcing universities and laboratories to disclose what animal research it conducts even if there's a proviso on not disclosing who conducts the experiments or when and where that research takes place?
Andre Menache: In order for the public to make an informed decision on whether animal experiments are meaningful or not, they need to know what is happening. In order to stop something you have to expose it. Hans Ruesch always said, “Without exposing a crime to the public, you're never going to stop it”. So we have to expose exactly what is going on and then say to the public: Do you want to be party to this? Do you want to fund this with your taxes? That's part of the battle. The other difficulty especially in the UK is this obsession with secrecy. The Freedom of Information Act came into effect in 2005 with respect to animal experimentation. I can tell you that the Home Office simply laughs in your face when you try and obtain information from them about animal experiments using the Freedom of Information Act. They simply say, ‘Sorry we have this information but we can't give it to you because of the activities of a small group of people who may endanger the safety of the researchers and institutions.'
All this talk about transparency I'm afraid it's not happening and if it is happening then it's not happening fast enough. I would say transparency is a good thing but it's like passing a law which sounds good but it's unenforceable.
Abolitionist: If a call for transparency existed and was applauded by animal advocates who's to say that the mighty interests in maintaining animal experimentation would not impose such stringent conditions on the experiments and/or what is allowed to be viewed that a fair and objective appraisal would be impossible.
There will always be an attempt to cover up as much as possible. George Bernard Shaw said that "Those who won't hesitate to vivisect, won't hesitate to lie about it as well." I can tell you that I have had very little success in the UK when using the new Freedom of Information Act to try to find out basic information about animal research.
Abolitionist: If an obligation of transparency existed and corporations were interested to show the public that their activities were "for the public good" would this open up a Pandora's Box for activists?
Experience shows that corporations such as the pharmaceutical industry have their own definition of what constitutes 'transparency'. For example, they have consistently kept secret the negative results of clinical trials, in order to boost sales of a new drug. As long ago as 2000, the Declaration of Helsinki - the mouthpiece of the World Medical Association - called upon all those involved in clinical research studies to 'come clean' by publishing all of their data - the good and the bad results. However, only recently has massive public pressure and media exposure of the marketing tactics of drug companies forced them to publish more data in the public domain. I say 'more' and not 'all' of the data, because they are experts at damage control and covering up – we still do not get all the information we need.
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