science

Animal testing suspended at Spanish lab after ‘gratuitous cruelty’ footage


Regional officials in Spain have temporarily halted all activity at an animal testing facility after the publication of undercover footage that appears to show animals being taunted, smacked, tossed around and cut into with no or inadequate anaesthesia.

Since 2000, Madrid-based contract research organisation Vivotecnia has carried out experiments on animals ranging from monkeys to mini pigs and rabbits for the biopharmaceutical, chemical, cosmetic, tobacco and food industries. The facility has in the past secured funding from the EU and Spanish authorities for its projects.

Footage, published on Thursday by Cruelty Free International (CFI), shows what the organisation alleges to be “gratuitous cruelty and abuse”, appearing to show scissors being used to decapitate young rodents, dogs being thrown by the scruff of the neck into boxes or cages, and technicians shaking and swinging rats vigorously. The group said the footage was taken by a whistleblower who worked at the facility between 2018 and 2020.

On Sunday, Madrid’s regional government said it had suspended all activity at Vivotecnia after an inspection team visited the facility and confirmed “signs of animal mistreatment”.

After the footage was viewed on Thursday, an inspection of the facility was immediately ordered amid concern that the behaviour shown appeared to violate Spanish legislation regarding the treatment of animals in experiments.

“After verifying the facts, the research activities at the centre were immediately, temporarily suspended, and a ban was put in place on carrying out any new projects involving animals,” the regional government said in a statement. Officials are also in contact with police animal protection services in the event that any of the findings from the facility could constitute a criminal offence, it added.

The animals found at the facility are now under the care and supervision of the regional government and are being looked after by an on-site veterinarian.

The graphic footage, which appeared to show fully conscious rats having blood drawn out of their eyes and a staff member scrawling a “face” on the genitals of a male monkey, drew swift reaction beyond Spain’s borders. The EU has provided €630,000 (£550,000) since 2010 to fund two projects at the facility.

“What we see in the video reveals unacceptable animal welfare standards and a violation of many requirements laid down in the EU directive 2010/63/EU – the most stringent legislation in the world for the protection of animals used in science,” said a European commission spokesperson. The EU directive stipulates that the suffering of animals used in experiments be kept to a minimum, that animals are used only when there is no other alternative, and that the number of animals used must be kept to a minimum.

“The commission expects the Spanish authorities to investigate the matter in full and clarify how this situation was allowed to happen,” the spokesperson added.

The European Animal Research Association, an advocacy group whose stated aim is to inform people of the continued need and benefits of the use of animals in research, said it had viewed the footage “with deep concern”. While it called for the unedited footage to be released, it said in a statement that the footage “reveals examples of unacceptable animal welfare standards applied to a number of different animal species”.

Footage published by Cruelty Free International
Footage published by Cruelty Free International shows what the organisation alleges to be ‘gratuitous cruelty and abuse’. Photograph: Cruelty Free International

Across Spain, the footage provoked condemnation from both animal rights campaigners and researchers who work with animals. Biotechnologist Lluis Montoliu wrote on Twitter of his “indignation and complete rejection of the unacceptable images of animal mistreatment shown in this video”. In a follow-up tweet, he added: “There can be no shortcuts in animal experimentation. Their use in science is a privilege that we must manage responsibly.”

By Sunday, an online petition calling on authorities in Madrid to immediately shut down the facility had collected more than 224,000 signatures, while several animal sanctuaries and shelters said they stood ready to take in the animals at the facility.

The chief executive of Vivotecnia addressed the footage on Friday. Andres König said in a statement: “I viewed with deep concern the images and videos that were recently published in the media, images that have left me shocked and dismayed.”

He described some of the images as “especially appalling” to him, as they violated the company’s written protocols, adding: “I sincerely believe that these images do not truly demonstrate the day-to-day reality at Vivotecnia during our 21 years of existence. Yet, even if this is an isolated occurrence, it demands that we take strong measures to prevent this from ever happening again.”

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