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Animal testing details kept secret by Sussex

Out of 73 UK universities, the University of Sussex is the only one to have refused a Freedom of Information request detailing its use of animal testing.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) heavily criticised the University for not revealing the number, species and purpose of the animals used

in experiments in 2013 and for being “deliberately obstructive and preventing this information being in the public domain.”

The BUAV claim the University is legally obliged to provide the Home Office with these figures each year.

The University has confirmed it does have this information but is withholding it under section 38 of the FOI Act on the grounds of concerns over the health and safety of its staff and students.

Students’ Union welfare officer Rianna Gargiulo said: “I suspect that the University does not want to have to reveal the identity of certain staff members or students who have used animals for research purposes.

“I think there is little evidence, however, to refuse giving numbers even if the University feels that it would be unsafe to reveal identities or departments.”

When The Badger contacted the University for a further response, a spokesperson said: “We have nothing further to add to the FOI response and stand by the position outlined in that response.”

Section 38 of the Act exempts the disclosure of information that would, or would be likely to, endanger the physical or mental health of any individual or endanger the safety of any individual.

In a statement from the BUAV, they said: “There has to be a causative link between release of the information in question and the creation of, or increase to, a risk to safety. None is possible here.

“By disclosing this basic information, appropriately anonymised, there is simply no risk which can justify [the] university’s reliance on section 38.”

The exemption of section 38 is qualified, meaning that before deciding whether to withhold information, arguments for the public interest on the information must be considered.

Michelle Thew, CEO of the BUAV, said: “There is widespread concern over the use of animals in research but an informed debate cannot take place under a veil of secrecy. The research industry has made claims of late over its commitment to transparency and openness and yet we have encountered closed doors at Sussex University under a clause which simply does not stand up.

“The public has a right to know what animals are being used in research and why.”

A third-year psychology student, who wished to remain anonymous, said the withholding of the information was “strange” as she spoke exclusively to The Badger about her experience with animal testing in her dissertation.

She revealed that she and her lab partner, with the oversight of a PhD student, use around 25 mice to test their association between receiving treats and responding to sound.

She said she is aware that there are a lot more mice as well as rats in the science labs that are used for student experiments.

She said the conditioning that is done to her mice is “not stressful or painful” and explained that for two hours a day prior to working with the animals they held and handled the mice so they would become comfortable with them.

She also said she believes the animals are put down “quite quickly” by slowly increasing the amount of carbon dioxide that animals breathe in to initially send them to sleep before they die. Gargiulo added: “I think perhaps what might be best is for students to challenge why the University sees a necessity in undertaking harmful research on animals, rather than launch- ing attacks on individuals, as [the BUAV’s] response suggest they assume this might happen.”

Jessica Pitocchi

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