Over 150 animals have been rescued recently from a prestigious university, putting the spotlight back on animal trials that fly below the radar. And this, despite the Centre having rules to prevent cruelty towards animals used in research and ensure good laboratory practices.

A central regulatory authority, the Committee for Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA), approved the rescue of about 159 white mice and rats by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India from the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research (JIPMER), Puducherry. The animals have since been taken to a sanctuary in Maharashtra, following the rescue recently.

Acting on a whistle-blower complaint, Dr Ankita Pandey, PETA India’s Science Policy Advisor, told BusinessLine, that CPCSEA approved the rescue after they were alerted to gross violations of animal protection laws at the medical institute. These animals were “illegally bred and used for unauthorised experimentation”, alleged the animal welfare group.

BusinessLine reached out to JIPMER Director and Dean on the development. A response is awaited.

Meanwhile, PETA has submitted “evidence of legal violations and cruelty to animals at JIPMER to the CPCSEA,” it said. The organisation has urged the CPCSEA to take action against the university “as per section 19 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), 1960, prohibiting  the person or institution ‘from carrying on any such experiments either for a specified period or indefinitely’,” said Pandey, involved with the rescue. According to the Act, criminal penalties also needed to be initiated for violation of CPCSEA directions, she added.

PETA said the original complaint alleged that rats and mice were overpopulated and confined in crowded boxes, fed contaminated food etc,, violating CPCSEA regulations. Further, they alleged that the animals were subject to mutilating procedures and killed. CPCSEA had sent JIPMER a show cause notice demanding “the illegal experiments be stopped immediately and warning of legal action”, PETA said.

To clean up laboratory practices, CPCSEA has proposed a national registry on “Experimental animals”, to map their numbers and use by researchers. It also put out a list of over 300 establishments whose registration with CPCSEA had been cancelled.

Alternatives to animal testing

Pandey hoped the rescue would encourage institutions to use non-animal methods in experimentation and teaching. The FDA Modernization Act (US) is paving the way for alternate testing methods (instead of using animals) to check the safety and effectiveness of a drug, she said.

Former CPCSEA member Dr S Chinny Krishna pointed to the international demand for India’s pharmaceutical products during Covid-19, which would not have happened if companies did not have good laboratory practices. And this would not have been possible without “the cleaning out of the labs” by measures taken by Mrs (Maneka) Gandhi, CPCSEA etc, between 1996 and 2010, he explained.

The pursuit of progressive science is seen in initiatives in Europe, the US and in institutions like the Johns Hopkins University’s Centre for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT), he said. “India as a land of Ahimsa, should be a first in the field,” added Krishna, a former ViceChairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India.