ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

Date:  27 November 2000


Despite the rather tabloid style of these articles, the import is clear for both the use of animals in experimentation and the risks to the human population: “When viruses cross the species barrier, you cannot predict what will happen.”

Check out ngin’s new ANIMAL GENETICS section and the new GeneWatch UK briefing series “Biological Weapons and Genetic Technologies”

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1.    GM animals used in bizarre weapon tests - Mail on Sunday 26.11.00
2.    FRANKENSWINE! - Anger as mutant pigs slaughtered -- Sunday Mail  26.11.00

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- Mail on Sunday, 26 November 2000

Scientists are infecting genetically modified animals with deadly diseases in bizarre new experiments.

Researchers at the Porton Down biological weapons site have used hundreds of GM mice in a bid to find vaccines for lethal superbugs which could be used against British troops.  The Ministry of Defence claims that the experiments using animals which have had their DNA changed to alter their immune systems could eventually save soldiers’ lives.

New figures reveal that  978 genetically modified mice have been experimented on at the Wiltshire facility over the past five years, with 259 being used last year alone. Liberal democrat MP Norman Baker said:  ‘These experiments reveal an alarming escalation of activities at Porton Down. More and more  animals are being used for more and more dubious purposes.’

Jan Creamer, director of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, said:  ‘Porton Down should be shut. These experiments are particularly disgusting.’

The MoD is concerned by the potential threat of genetically modified germs.  Scientists warn it will  ultimately be possible to create an ‘ethnic destruction’ germ which would attack the genes of a particular race.

A spokeswoman for Porton Down defended the research. She said: ‘It’s to protect the UK. These experiments will help us find vaccines against diseases which could potentially be used against our servicemen.’

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2.    FRANKENSWINE;  Anger as mutant pigs slaughtered for secret human transplant work - Sunday Mail - 26 November 2000, by John Nairn (Exclusive)

MUTANT pigs secretly reared in Scotland were butchered in controversial transplant research, the Sunday Mail can reveal. Horrified neighbours of a Highland farm where the so-called Franken-swine were bred demanded a government inquiry last night.

They were kept in the dark as the genetically modified pigs, which posed the risk of introducing new diseases to humans, were bred in great secrecy at Clashnabuiac, near Alness, Easter Ross. The hearts, kidneys and livers of the swine were implanted into baboons and monkeys during contro- versial research condemned by animal rights campaigners.

The pigs were used by scientists working for Cambridge-based Imutran as they battled to perfect animal-to-human organ transplants. But the work carried out on Imutran’s behalf by Huntingdon Life Sciences prompted the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to warn Imutran that the research could pose health risks to humans.

The Clashnabuiac pigs were “humanised” through genetic modification to make their organs less likely to suffer tissue rejection in humans. Local residents were alarmed yesterday to discover that the pigs bred at the farm were not destined for the butchers, but were specially bred for vivisectionists.

Alness councillor Carolyn Wilson said the guidelines must be changed so neighbours are warned of similar work. She said: “The people there played their cards very close to their chest. “But they should not be doing that sort of thing without people knowing. “If you were going to make pottery, you would have to get a change of use from the council so neighbours would have an opportunity to object. “The same thing should apply here.

“With all the fuss on the Black Isle, near us, about growing GM crops, there’s obviously a lot of feeling about this kind of thing.”

John Robins, of Animal Concern, echoed calls for greater public consultation. He has called on the Scottish Executive to introduce laws allowing them to monitor places like Clashnabuiac. He said: “The scientific community laughed at us at first, but it’s now widely feared this technology could create a bridge allowing diseases to cross the species barrier, creating an illness for which humans have neither immunity nor medical treatment.”

Thousands of pigs and monkeys are estimated to have died in animal-to-human transplant research in the UK. The Edinburgh Roslin Institute, famous for cloning Dolly the sheep, recently decided to end pigs-for-transplant research. Its Professor Ian Wilmut recently said: “I think the concern is mainly unknown viruses. That’s the frightening thing.”

Five years ago, the UK Government banned clinical trials of pig-to-human transplants because the organs could contain retro viruses which might infect the patient. Less than two years ago, UK researchers identified a new retro virus in pigs that, although harmless in the animals, had infected human cells in laboratory conditions. Dr Clive Patience, a virologist at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said that this virus, or others, may be transferred to patients who receive pig organs. He added: “When viruses cross the species barrier, you cannot predict what will happen.”

But private firms poised to make vast profits from the success of such transplants are lobbying hard for clinical trials.  Some are moving research to countries with less strict controls. Imutran, an industry leader in the controversial field, recently announced that it would be moving research to the US.  The news came three months after Clashnabuiac piggery closed.

We contacted Imutran and were told: “We are unable to discuss details. This is so that we do not jeopardise the safety of our staff, our animals or facilities. “All our research studies using animals are regulated and licensed by The Home Office and all animals used for research reported to them. “The company also regularly publishes the results of its scientific research.”

David Whiteside, a well-known pig farmer, who ran Clashnabruiac Farm, was out of the country and unable to comment. He was given an OBE in June for services to the pig industry. Last night a spokesman for Novar Estates, who own the farm, refused to comment. SNP Rural Affairs spokes-man Fergus Ewing said:  “Yet again, we seem to have been kept in the dark and the Executive must make sure that we are aware of, and monitor, any similar projects and not just leave this to the Home Office in London.”

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