Response from Beverley Midwood to Appeal

Doug Paulley received Beverley Midwood's response to his appeal to the Information Commissioner on 1st March 2010.

Dear Mr Paulley,

The University has been advised by the Information Commissioner’s Office that you have raised a complaint in respect of your Freedom of Information request made on 13th February 2009.

The ICO has advised us that your complaint concerns items 2, 4, 8 and 10 of the response to your original request.

In respect of items 2 and 4, the University has formally refused to provide information on the suppliers of animals and animal tissue and maintains this refusal.

In item 8 you asked for information about what alternatives for use of animal materials have been considered and why they have been discounted. The ICO has advised us that you were not happy with the initial response provided and so I am now providing further information about this. The answer covers the University’s overall approach to teaching and research involving animals.

Our Animal Use Statement states that the Open University is committed to the principles of Replacement, Reduction and Refinement (the 3 Rs). On each research project it ensures that the number of animals used is minimised and that procedures, care routines and husbandry are refined to maximise animal welfare. The University is committed to the development and use, where relevant, of methods not requiring the use of animals such as computer modelling and human clinical research. It has developed CD-Rom based experimental investigations, for teaching purposes; for example, SXR374 uses virtual live animals.

In practice this commitment to the 3Rs means that anyone planning to carry out research using animals is required to obtain prior approval from the Animal Ethics Advisory Group (AEAG). The Group is made up of lay members as well as scientists. As part of the project approval process, the proposer is required to make a submission to the AEAG which includes explanations on why the animal has been chosen rather than an invertebrate species or an experimental system not including animals. Each proposer is required to sign a declaration that includes the following words:

“I have considered the feasibility of achieving the purpose of the programme of the work (project) by means not involving regulated procedures on animals protected under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and, in my opinion, no such alternatives would achieve the objectives of this project.”

The AEAG has the power to agree or veto the proposal or to request changes or clarifications. Where suitable alternatives to animals have been identified, the proposer is not required to make a submission to the AEAG and so the information on projects where this has happened is not held in a readily available record.

I hope this provides you with sufficient information in respect of this question.

In respect of item 10, you asked how many and which animals are kept on Open University premises, why are they kept and in what conditions are they kept. The University originally provided a short answer to your question and refused the number of animals. We would like to expand our previous answer by making the following statement:

Animals are only kept on University premises for the minimum duration required for the programme of work. Animals are kept in accordance with Home Office Regulations, which require that the University adheres to the highest standards of care and husbandry. Home Office inspectors make unscheduled visits to ensure that the standards and being met and maintained. For information on the Home Office regulations please see the Home Office science and research Code of Practice Part 1.

As for the numbers of animals kept on premises, this does vary over time, from week to week, and I have been unable to locate this information in a summary format that is retained. The animals numbers used for research purposes is the most suitable alternative that is recorded and I understand this was provided to you by the University Secretary.

I hope that this provides some further information that is useful and please contact this office again, should you have any further questions about the Open University.

I have sent a copy of this email as a letter by first class post today and I have also included the minutes of the Animal Ethics Advisory Group, which I omitted to send you earlier. I apologise for this omission.

Yours sincerely,

Beverley Midwood
Senior Manager - Legislation and Information
Information Office, Strategy Unit
The Open University