The footage was shot at the Laboratory of Pharmacology and Toxicology (LPT), a contract testing laboratory near Hamburg, Germany, and relates to its toxicity testing for pharmaceutical companies.
The investigation, organised by animal welfare organisations SOKO Tierschutz (based in Germany) and Cruelty Free International (based in the UK), involved getting someone employed at the facility in December last year. This undercover investigator worked there for four months, filming with a hidden camera.
WARNING – GRAPHIC IMAGES
“It’s a nightmarish prison”
The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to the undercover investigator, who remains anonymous. An electrician by trade, the investigator has adopted a vegan lifestyle but is “not an activist”.
I heard that LPT was looking for jobs so I seized the opportunity; if you are involved in animal welfare activism you won’t pass the background checks. I knew it would be hard, but I thought somebody had to do it, to bring out the truth. I wanted to uncover the information that people need; I believe it’s not right in a democracy to keep entire industries shrouded in perfect secrecy.
So I started work there as an animal technician assistant. My job was to feed, clean, restrain and transport animals, and to help with the testing.
The experience was extremely shocking. It’s like a strange, secret world. The suffering, the hundreds of bored dogs barking, the monkeys in battery cages… It’s a nightmarish prison.
The people I worked with had mainly come from different professions. They’d been butchers, mechanics, and there was one guy who’d been a musician in the military. Many of them had a Russian background. There was only one educated, qualified animal technician. People didn’t seem to care about what was going on.
Finally, after four months, I told them I'd found a better job. They seemed fine with it, and even gave me a good reference for my CV.
I regularly think about what happened. I’ll never forget what I’ve seen. But it was worth it; now the whole world knows and is thinking about this cruelty.
“What we found enters the territory of criminal activity”
The LPT is one of the most secretive labs in Germany. Finally, in December last year, we managed to get an investigator inside.
Undercover footage from an animal testing lab is very rare, and this is some of the best quality I’ve ever seen. Normally you see standard animal cruelty, which is sanctioned by animal testing laws. But what we found enters the territory of clear criminal activity.
In animal testing, a lot is allowed by law, but there are some restrictions. European law on animal testing [editor's note: the European Directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes] is clear that cages should be of a certain size. In this case, a lot were significantly smaller than this size.
In Section 17 of the German Animal Protection Act, it says inflicting considerable pain on a vertebrate is punishable by three years in prison. In the footage, you can clearly see a worker smack a monkey’s head against a door frame, and there are plenty of other examples of considerable suffering being inflicted.
We also potentially discovered an even more serious crime – fraud. It appears the lab had an animal die, and they falsified the records to pretend it didn’t. We believe this to be the case because the number tattooed on the chest of one of the monkeys didn’t match the label on its cage. Our undercover worker asked colleagues about it, and they said, “That’s just how we do things here; it died, so we exchanged it.” That’s extremely dangerous because the death of this animal could be a side effect of the drug being tested! If it’s swept under the rug, it could corrupt the whole study.
The newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which broke the story, reported that the facility was once fined €300 for introducing new dogs without permission. The facility was also subject to regular unannounced inspections, though Mülln is doubtful.
It’s our strong suspicion that facility managers know in advance about inspections, and make sure conditions are acceptable when they arrive. Facility managers seem to have social contact with inspection authorities.
The EU has introduced legislation based on the “3 Rs” [to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals used for research], but it’s not working. More animals are being killed and more are being tested on. I worked in a lab in 2003, and I took undercover footage. There’s hardly any difference between that and what we’ve just seen. That’s what took my breath away.
“Toxicity testing is like this across the board”
At least 115 million animals are used worldwide in testing every year, and Germany and the UK are in the top ten of the most animals used. Unfortunately, toxicity testing like you see in the video is like this across the board.
The industry is in crisis. The failure rate of drugs tested on animals is 90% [editor’s note: currently 90% of drugs fail in clinical trials on humans, despite extensive animal tests suggesting that these medicines were safe and effective], which would suggest that animal testing is near useless. But it’s a static situation; there’s a general malaise among drugs companies, so they continue to use animals, rather than investing in developing alternatives.
The problem in the EU is that the EU’s legislation on animal testing says that if there’s an alternative method, companies should use it. But it doesn’t tell them they need to develop an alternative.
Both LPT and the European Union Reference Laboratory for alternatives to animal testing are yet to respond to a request for comment.
Article by Peter O'Brien (@POB_journo).