HC Deb 21 March 2000 vol 346 cc494-5W
Mr. Baker

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what procedures have been put in place to ensure that overbreeding of animals at Porton Down is minimized; and if he will make a statement. [115272]

Dr. Moonie

This is a matter for the Chief Executive of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. I have asked the Chief Executive to write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Sir John Chisholm to Mr. Norman Baker, dated 21 March 2000: I am replying to your parliamentary question about the animal breeding programmes at Porton Down since the laboratories are part of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA). As I explained in my letter to you on 19 January 1998 the animal species currently bred at Porton Down are mice, rats, marmosets, rhesus monkeys and a few pigs. Apart from the unusual circumstances arising in 1994/95, when 94 marmosets had to be culled, there has been no excess breeding of non-human primates. Any surplus pigs, as I explained previously, are sent to market. As you know, the independent Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (AWAC) which reviews animal care and welfare arrangements within DERA addressed the issue of animal breeding during the period of its last report (31 October 1998–1 November 1999). In particular, the breeding of mice and rats was considered as this leads to the largest surplus. The Porton strain of mice and rats has been used for many years and the outcome of current research programmes relies on the accumulated background data derived from these strains. For this reason, the preferred option is to continue the rodent breeding programme at Porton. The alternative would be to purchase mice and rats from a supplier, which would mean carrying out additional experiments to produce base line data for the different strain. The scientists at Porton are, of course, mindful of the need to minimise overbreeding in this area. Porton maintains a small number of breeding pairs of mice and rats to supply ongoing research programmes. The number of breeding pairs in the colony is adjusted to meet the estimated demand of the research programmes. Research programmes, however, are not entirely predictable and on occasions there may be an urgent need for animals. Estimates for animal use are regularly reviewed. To an extent research programmes are adjusted either by bringing forward an experiment to use a surplus or, in the case of a shortage, utilising smaller groups over a longer period or by widening the weight range where possible. The Committee was satisfied overall that the animals bred at Porton are well cared for and only culled when necessary. The AWAC report also pointed out that all culled rodents are donated to wildlife sanctuaries to feed wild birds and so are not wasted. I hope that this is helpful.