Mr. President, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of everyone at the Norwegian Reference Centre for Laboratory Animal Science and Alternatives in Oslo, l wish to extend my deepest gratitude to the award panel for selecting us as winners of this year’s GlaxoSmithKline Laboratory Animal Welfare Prize. Over the years l have admired the achievements of past prizewinners, and we are truly honoured to be placed among them. I hope it does not appear churlish that l am not able to be with you in person today. By the time the prize was awarded l had already made the final arrangements for an intensive FELASA category C course in laboratory animal science and welfare for thirty researchers, that started at our Centre this morning. Many of these participants have flown in from other cities in Norway, for the course. Although we are increasingly offering course modules using our video conferencing equipment, there is obviously no substitute for the physical presence of a lecturer, as this videotape so clearly demonstrates! These courses take a great deal of our time, and over 800 researchers have participated in them since they became mandatory in 1998. I would like to thank all those who have contributed to the work of the Centre. There is a well-known saying in Norway that can be roughly translated as “no-one mentioned, no-one forgotten”. However, in the context of a UK award it would be downright rude not to mention two colleagues in particular: Tim Morris and Paul Flecknell. We have had many fruitful discussions over the years, they have offered sound advice and supported the NORINA database and other projects, and they have been key speakers at scientific meetings in the Nordic countries. I would also like to thank the many UK organisations that have sponsored the NORINA database: Laboratory Animals Ltd., LASA, UFAW, the RSPCA, AstraZeneca, the Dr. Hadwen Trust and the St. Andrew Animal Fund. Last year’s prizewinner, Sarah Wolfensohn, was one of the AAALAC inspectors who spent two days at the Centre in 2001 when we first applied for accreditation, and this too was a very valuable experience. In two years’ time l will have lived as long in Norway as l have in England where l was born and bred. Being a British citizen in a non-EU country lying literally on the fringe of Europe, that tends to be bundled with the rest of Scandinavia as one rather exotic neighbour, offers interesting perspectives on all our efforts to advance laboratory animal welfare. The development and implementation of the Council of Europe’s Convention ETS 123 is a good example of this. A Norwegian veterinarian, Stian Erichsen, was chairman of the Committee of Experts that finalised the text of the Convention from 1982 to 1985, and Norway was the first country to ratify the document in 1986. Stian was also Norway’s representative to ICLAS for over 30 years and its President for 6 of them. Norway now uses more research animals per capita than any other country in Europe and numbers are rising. However, 97% of these are fish, reflecting Norway’s interest and competence in aquaculture. This poses our research environment in Norway with many questions whose answers are not necessarily found in other laboratory animal science centres in Europe. In many ways our present knowledge on fish welfare can be likened to the state of the art on mammals when Russell and Burch published their Principles of Humane Experimental Technique in 1959. Revision of the Convention’s Appendix A, which contains detailed guidelines on the husbandry of research animals, is therefore of the utmost interest to Norway. Likewise, the definition of an animal in the EU directive, and whether larval forms are to be included, has enormous bearings on animal research in Norway. Fish welfare is an area where Norway will hopefully be seen to be an important contributor, both in research and commercial settings. The Veterinary School has recently allocated funds to both a Chair in Animal Welfare and to a senior research post in fish welfare to attend to these challenges. Both positions are closely linked to the work of our Centre. Although Norway’s human population is small (4.2 million), we are spread over a country that has a length equivalent to the distance from London to the Greek islands. We benefit from the transparency that exists in a small laboratory animal environment, aiding implementation of the three R’s, but we sometimes need to use unorthodox methods to keep in touch. The mission of the Norwegian Reference Centre is therefore threefold:
- to be a national centre of competence within the field of laboratory animal science.
- to provide facilities, animals and knowledge of laboratory animal science for quality controlled research and teaching. Indeed, the Veterinary School’s mission statement states quite clearly that all its teaching is to be research-based.
- to participate in the international efforts to refine or replace animal experiments, in agreement with the ideals embodied in the three R's of Russell & Burch.
The advent of the Internet has revolutionised this work. It is therefore not surprising that the NORINA database is one of the projects for which we are best known. NORINA contains information on over 3,700 audiovisual aids and other alternatives to the use of animals or animal products in teaching and training, at all levels from Junior School to University. These products are not just being used as replacements in teaching, but also as training aids for researchers and technicians alike in laboratory animal facilities. To quote Russell & Burch: you may well need animals on the night as it were, but models will do very well at rehearsals. But we are using our webserver, which incidentally was donated to us by Laboratory Animals Ltd., for much more. Many of our teaching materials (compendia, slide series and factual information on laboratory animal science, including an electronic tour of the Centre) are available there. Indeed at this moment l am probably lecturing on the pro-contra arguments around animal research, using this website and its links to the RDS website as one of my examples. When Norway implemented the Convention’s requirement for mandatory training for researchers and technicians, we decided at an early stage not to create a “lost generation” of older researchers who were exempted from this training. This meant that we sent several hundred researchers on mandatory 3-day courses in laboratory animal science and welfare, including a written exam. It is difficult to say what was more intimidating: lecturing to 130 of these at a time, realizing that they had a total of well over one thousand years of experience with animal research, or preparing for this speech where l can’t, either, predict your reactions to what l’m saying! As Churchill succinctly said: I am always willing to learn, but l don’t always like being taught...
On a personal note, l remember well a conversation l had with Lord Soulsby, who was Dean of the Cambridge Veterinary School when l trained. I told him of my plans to emigrate to Norway and asked his opinion on the ethics of leaving the country after 6 years of British education (of which, incidentally, l believe laboratory animal science constituted 2 hours of lectures). He gallantly reminded me that the veterinary profession is very much an international network, where knowledge is exchanged freely regardless of territorial boundaries. I would like to think that the GSK award illustrates that this particular vet has succeeded in ploughing back some of his education into the international laboratory animal field. In conclusion, l feel that this award confirms that we are on the right track, namely trying to educate researchers and technicians alike to look at research animals and their needs in the light of the three R’s of Russell & Burch. So much of the world around us is geared to human needs, and the animals in our care pay all too often a high price for this. It can be a salutory experience to halt awhile to reflect on the responsibilities that rest on our shoulders when we use sentient beings in research. And there is no guarantee that the animals look upon us in the same way that we regard them. I would like to renew our thanks for this award, and close with another quote from Winston Churchill on that subject:
Dogs look up to us, Cats look down on us, But Pigs treat us as their equals.
Thank you very much.
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