Will Lord Winston's medicinal labelling bill get off the ground?

British fertility expert and science communicator Lord Robert Winston has introduced a Bill in the House of Lords that would require all medicines that have utilised animal testing in their development to be labelled as such.

Lord Winston
Lord Winston

Previous attempts to introduce labelling have failed in the face of strong opposition from the UK Department of Health and pharmaceutical companies, who were concerned that a declaration on animal research on labels may deter some patients from taking medicines.

But Robert Winston says the new mood of openness on animal research within the scientific community and government (reflected in the Declaration on Openness that was launched at the Science Media Centre in London last October) that this is the right time to place this issue back on the agenda.

Lord Winston said of the labelling Bill:

“The Bill is designed to produce transparency, and to make it clear that it is virtually impossible to receive any licensed pharmaceutical whether it be a sleeping pill, painkiller, fertility injection, cancer drug, or vaccination without stringent tests using animals first.  There are a very few exceptions like aspirin, almost the only one I can think of.  It is designed to show the hypocrisy of those who try to pretend to unknowing members of the public that animal research can be abandoned.  It is designed to help the pharmaceutical companies to ‘put their head above the parapet’.  It is also designed to show how rigorously animal research in the UK is regulated; more than any other jurisdiction. But more than anything it is designed to re-open this debate.

Wording of the Bill:

The text of Lord Winston's Bill
The text of Lord Winston’s Bill

Despite the push for openness, the Bill is still likely to face opposition from members of the House swayed by the arguments of pharmaceutical companies.

Animal testing is a touchy subject everywhere, but particularly so in the UK. Last month, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection revealed had been running an undercover operation in the labs of Imperial College, London, secretly filming scientists in what the Union claims were breaches of the regulations and abuse of the animals they were working with. Imperial is investigating the lab as a result.

Lord Winston sparked controversy earlier this month when he admitted he had deliberately discriminated against job applicants with first-class university degrees.

He told school students in London recently:

“I know scientists who are amazingly stupid. And in my laboratory I have appointed scientists on the whole that didn’t get first-class honours degrees, deliberately, quite specifically, because, actually, I would rather have young people around me who developed other interests at university and didn’t just focus entirely on getting that first.”

Lord Winston was recently made a patron of Gravida, New Zealand’s national Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE).

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