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Georgia Straight: Vancouver Activists Questioned on Animal Research

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Stop UBC Animal Research activists question UBC experiments on animals

By Matthew Burrows

Publish Date: September 15, 2010

A spokesperson with a new animal-rights group says he refused to dissect worms in a high-school biology class.

And Brian Vincent, a member of Stop UBC Animal Research, told the Georgia Straight that he predicts “public outrage” when people learn the full extent of UBC’s animal-research program, which is funded by taxpayers.

A feature in the Ubyssey student newspaper in January 2008 claimed that every year UBC’s many animal-care centres distribute about 100,000 creatures, large and small, to dozens of UBC-affiliated research projects.

“I think UBC likes to pride itself on its reputation,” Vincent said at a Kitsilano coffee shop. “This could sully the very reputation UBC has worked very hard to establish.”

John Hepburn, UBC’s vice president of research, told the Straight this is “actually not true”.

“There have been public-opinion surveys done on the use of animals in research, and there has been no shortage of information about invasive research on animals, and it is a 60- to 70-percent approval rating,” Hepburn said by phone.

Regarding the 100,000-animals figure, Hepburn said that was a “reasonable estimate”. He also confirmed that UBC is responsible for about “10 percent of the health-research enterprise in Canada”.

Stop UBC Animal Research spokesperson Rita Mashinsky asks if we need an animal charter of rights and freedoms.

A major barrier to greater public awareness, according to Vincent, is the university’s lack of openness about what it is doing. However, he has rallied support around the issue, and during the summer he unearthed one researcher’s published experiments on cats, going back from 2008 to about 1980. The researcher stated in his papers that he had “implanted electrodes into cats’ foreheads, brains, bones behind the eyes, and neck muscles”, and at one point performed surgeries on cats and inserted titanium screws in their spinal columns.

Hepburn conceded about the UBC experiment, “That was invasive research, yes.”

Rita Mashinsky, also a spokesperson with Stop UBC Animal Research, told the Straight, “This is beyond our comprehension. This is what we call the epitome of sadism, and this is permitted. It’s legal, and there is funding for it. I think the main point here is—the bigger picture of it is—why is the public so unaware of what is going on behind closed doors?”

Hepburn countered that UBC has an “open research policy”.

“So research that is done at UBC has to be openly published,” he said. “So we don’t do secret research.”

Vincent said he wants an end to all animal research at UBC, but he initially wants assurance from UBC that its researchers have stopped experimenting on cats. He said UBC will not go on record and confirm this.

“I can say that we’re not doing it right now,” Hepburn responded. “But the difficulty with doing that is, I don’t want to imply that we’ll never do it again, because animals get used in research for valid scientific reasons.”

Every year in Canada, approximately two million animals are involved in research, according to information contained in an on-line manual of the Canadian Council on Animal Care, which regulates research on animals. Vincent said that this is up from about 1.8 million in 1998.

“It’s [UBC is] at the forefront of that [upward] trend.”

Earlier this month, the European Union voted to ban the use of great apes in animal testing following two years of debate in the European parliament. Vincent said this is all the more reason for UBC to do the right thing. On September 22 from 7 to 9 p.m., his group, which has approximately 200 members, will hold a public meeting at the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation building at 2150 Maple Street in Kitsilano.

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