Ruling

19582-23 Understanding Animal Research v Daily Mirror

    • Date complaint received

      7th December 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 19582-23 Understanding Animal Research v Daily Mirror


Summary of Complaint

1. Understanding Animal Research complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “BORN IN CAPTIVITY FOR LAB TEST HELL”, published on 7 March 2023.

2. The article, which appeared in print on pages 6 and 7, reported on video footage that “appear[ed] to show” dogs “bred for laboratory testing” being housed in “small cages covered with excrement”. The article continued by stating that “[a]s many as six dogs can be seen in some cages, with little bedding and just a few toys”. The article included stills from the video footage, and also contained a text box headed, “the smoking pooches” that stated “in 1975, The People ran an agenda setting story about beagles forced to inhale cigarette smoke […] some of the 48 beagles were expected to smoke up to 30 a day”. This was accompanied by a black and white image showing this experiment.

3. The article also included quotes from named television and film personalities who gave their reaction to the footage. One was quoted as having said: “[i]t is absolutely heartbreaking to see the sadness in these beagles’ eyes. I’m appalled that this prison torment for dogs is legal in the UK”. A second individual reportedly said the footage showed “a view of hell”. The article also quoted a “veterinary professor” who had viewed the footage and said, “[t]here were no outside runs visible, very few toys and very little environmental enrichment. The floors were covered in excrement […] the dogs could not avoid standing on contaminated surfaces. These dogs deserve caring homes, rather than these dirty environments”.

4. The article also included a debate in response to the question: “Should we experiment on animals?”. The respondents to this question were the complainant arguing in favour and an individual from “Americans and European Medical Advancement” arguing against experimenting on animals. This individual arguing against animal research said the following:

"new drugs on animals does not make those drugs less likely to harm humans: animal models have misled scientists in the past and this has resulted in human deaths. Penicillin stayed on the shelf for over a decade because the rabbits Alexander Fleming tested it on led him to believe it would be ineffective in humans. Scientists were misled about the way HIV enters the human cell because of studies on monkeys. The polio vaccine was delayed by decades because the way monkeys responded turned out to be very different from the way humans reacted. An immense body of empirical evidence has supported the position that animal models offer no predictive value for human response to drugs and disease. But perhaps more importantly, recent developments have significantly increased our understanding of why animals have no predictive value for human response to drugs or physiological processes associated with human disease or injury".  

5.The article also appeared online in substantively the same format under the headline “EXCLUSIVE: Horrors of puppy factory as beagles kept in faeces-covered cages in a ‘view of hell’”. The online article included a video which showed footage of the dogs being held at the testing facility.

6. The complainant said it was inaccurate to report, “recent developments have significantly increased our understanding of why animals have no predictive value for human response to drugs or physiological processes associated with human disease or injury”, and “an immense body of empirical evidence has supported the position that animal models offer no predictive value for human response to drugs and disease”. It said testing on animals clearly held predictive value for determining the effects of potential treatments and medications on humans.

7. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to report the dogs were “born in captivity”. It said the dogs were born in a separate whelping enclosure, which had facilities to support whelping and nursing. It also said that the headline’s use of the word “’hell’ should “be in scare quotes because the lab tests are 75% mild and no reasonable person who’d actually visited a UK lab or MBR would describe it thus.”

8. The complainant said the article omitted other photographs of the facility that he believed to be more reliable, which were taken by a breeder working at the testing centre. These photographs showed the enclosure in its entirety after it had been cleaned. The complainant said the video included in the online version of the article was also inaccurate for this reason.

9. The complainant said it was inaccurate to report “[s]cientists were misled about the way HIV enters the human cell because of studies on monkeys” because HIV and SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) enter cells in the same way and chimpanzees can die from HIV. Similarly, the complainant said it was inaccurate for the article to claim that the “polio vaccine was delayed by decades because the way monkeys responded turned out to be very different from the way humans reacted”. The complainant stated there were multiple polio vaccines, and none were delayed by animal studies.

10. The complainant also said that the article inaccurately claimed that “[a]nimal models have misled scientists in the past and this has resulted in human deaths”. The complainant said it is normal for models to fail occasionally and scientists always prepare for this. The complainant also said the article inaccurately reported that “testing new drugs on animals does not make those drugs less likely to harm humans”. The complainant then said interventions that had failed animal safety tests were 100 per cent less likely to harm humans – given the treatment would not progress to further stages of testing – and therefore would not harm humans.

11. The complainant also said the article was biased, in breach of Clause 1. It said that the opinions of celebrities against animal testing outweighed the alternative view that believed in the benefits of animal research, and further noted that the celebrities had not actually visited the facility they were commenting on. It also said that the article did not include a response from the medicine’s regulator, which rendered it inaccurate.

12. The complainant said the article‘s reference to an experiment involving dogs smoking was inaccurate, as such an experiment would now be illegal. The complainant believed the article suggested this was what a typical experiment looked like today. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to refer to the quoted professor as a “veterinary professor”, as his actual job title was “Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics”. The complainant also said that the article included the opinions of the professor without making clear that he had spent a significant proportion of his professional career campaigning against animal research. Finally, the complainant said it was inaccurate for the article to focus on testing on dogs, as they comprised just 0.1 per cent of research animals.

13. The complainant also said the comment it had provided in response to the video footage showing the testing centre and the centres use of dogs had instead been used to create a debate column, arguing for the merits of animal testing against a professor. It said it would have provided a different comment had it known the intended use, and its use in this context breached Clause 1. The complainant also said the debate portion of the article included a further inaccuracy, as it claimed that “penicillin stayed on the shelf for over a decade because the rabbits Alexander Fleming tested it on led him to believe it would be ineffective in humans”. The complainant said penicillin was delayed due to difficulties in its purification and production, rather than due to testing on rabbits.

14. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1, nor did it accept it was inaccurate to print a claim from the “veterinary professor” stating “recent developments have significantly increased our understanding of why animals have no predictive value”. It said this was his opinion, and this opinion was supported by a report he had written. It provided the report to IPSO, and highlighted excerpts of the report which it said supported the professor’s opinion. The report said: “animal models are not predictive for humans vis-à-vis drug testing and disease research”. It also quoted from a book called Animal Models in the Light of Evolution, which said, "despite their extensive use since the early 1980s, the predictive validity of animal models for HIV infection in humans remains questionable.”

15. The publication did not accept it was inaccurate to report that “an immense body of empirical evidence has supported the position that animal models offer no predictive value for human response to drugs and disease”. It cited a scientific report, written by the “veterinary professor” featured in the article, which said the following:

“[T]he rabbits excreted penicillin in their urine so rapidly Fleming did not think the drug would be effective. A believer in animal models being predictive, he assumed that humans would react like rabbits. This mistake cost lives! Unfortunately, the same mindset is still costly lives. It is thinking of this nature that delays personalized medicine and cures. Animal models are not predictive for humans vis-à-vis drug testing and disease research.[...] This is one of the problems with using animals to predict human response. If you had been Fleming, Florey or one of the other scientists, which species would you have believed? The dead cat? The rabbit that metabolized penicillin so rapidly? The guinea pigs and hamsters it would have killed had it been tested on them? Or the mice on which it worked?”

16. The publication said the focus of the article was the conditions at a specific testing facility; it was not a comprehensive report of the advantages and disadvantages of animal testing in general. It also said the footage and images used within the article had not been distorted as suggested by the complainant. Regarding concerns about the accuracy of the phrase “born in captivity”, the publication stated that the article was not focused on the conditions the dogs were born in, but the conditions the footage showed. Therefore, in the context of the article as a whole, this phrase was not significant.

17. The publication also said it was not inaccurate to report that “penicillin stayed on the shelf […] because the rabbits Alexander Fleming tested it on led him to believe it would be ineffective in humans”. The publication again referred to the report by the “veterinary professor” quoted in the article, and highlighted an excerpt. This said that, when penicillin was “given systemically, the rabbits metabolized it too rapidly and led Fleming to believe it would be ineffective for humans when administered systemically that is by mouth or intravenously” [sic] and that, as a result, he did not proceed to test the medication on people, delaying the discovery of its effectiveness in humans.

18. The publication said it had explained to the complainant prior to publication that the article would be comprised of its full response divided across the main piece and a first-person opinion piece. It said it had also given the complainant the opportunity to amend their comments prior to publication, which the complainant did not dispute.

19. Regarding the article’s claim that “scientists were misled about the way HIV enters the human cell because of studies on monkeys”, the publication provided a link to a post on PETA’s website which it said supported the article’s claim, describing experiments on monkeys as leading to an “incorrect interpretation”. The publication also provided more information from PETA; this said that, as researchers did not “detect the viral replication in the monkey’s blood, they concluded that the poliovirus affected the brain directly after entering the body through the nose”.

20. The publication did not accept it was inaccurate to report “animal models have misled scientists in the past and this has resulted in human deaths”. It provided a link to a phase 1 study of a monoclonal antibody in which healthy volunteers were infected with life-threatening illnesses despite earlier tests on primates. The publication said this study demonstrated the inadequacies of animal testing, and demonstrated that such tests had indeed resulted in life-threatening illnesses.

21. The publication also said it was accurate to refer to the quoted professor as a “veterinary professor”. It said it had seen the complete list of his qualifications, and this showed he was a qualified veterinarian and that his full job-title was “veterinary professor of animal welfare”. The publication further said that including the opinions of celebrities and others in its article did not render it inaccurate, and any negative views of animal testing had been balanced by the complainant’s response. It also said it was not obliged to seek the input of the medicine’s regulator, and not doing so did not render the article inaccurate in breach of Clause 1.

22. The publication also said the article’s reference to the 1975 study was not inaccurate. It said the article had made clear the experiment had taken place in 1975, and there was no suggestion that similar experiments were currently ongoing. It further said that the complainant had not indicated that the facts of the experiment itself had been inaccurately reported. Finally, it also said the reference to “hell” in the headline was supported by the text of the article, as one of the celebrities quoted had described the footage as a “view of hell”. However, as a gesture of goodwill, it agreed to amend the online headline to place the word “hell” in quotation marks.

Relevant Clause Provisions

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator. 

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

23. The Committee first considered if reporting that “recent developments have significantly increased our understanding of why animals have no predictive value for human response to drugs or physiological processes associated with human disease or injury” breached the terms of Clause 1. The publication said the sentence was the opinion of the “veterinary professor”, rather than a statement of fact, and was supported by the report he had written. However, while the claim was attributed to the professor, whether there have been recent scientific developments is demonstrable and quantifiable, rather than purely a matter of personal interpretation. Instead of being able to produce examples of recent progress in this area, none of the matters relied upon by the publication could reasonably have been said to qualify as recent developments. Clause 1 (i) stipulates publications must take care not to print inaccurate information. The publication was not able to demonstrate it had taken any steps prior to publication to verify this claim. The Committee therefore considered it had not taken care not to publish inaccurate information in line with its obligations under Clause 1 (i).

24. Additionally, the publication was not ultimately able to support the statement concerning recent developments and the Committee considered it inaccurate for the reasons noted previously. Where the claim was being used to further the article’s central argument, that animal testing was unnecessary and cruel, it was a significant inaccuracy and therefore in need of correction. Once the publication became aware of the error, in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii), a correction was required. As no correction had been offered, there was a breach of Clause 1(ii) on this point.

25. The Committee then considered whether the publication had taken care not to report inaccurate information in reporting “an immense body of empirical evidence supported the position that animal models offer no predictive value for human response to drugs and disease”. The Committee considered that the publication had taken care by relying on the “veterinary professor”; an expert with relevant credentials who had also provided his own research into this topic. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1(i) on this point. However, the Committee also acknowledged that, while there was some support for this position, the publication had only provided one report to support the article’s claim that “animal models offer no predictive value for human response to drugs and disease”. As such, the Committee did not find the publication able to demonstrate it was accurate to report there was “an immense body of empirical evidence”. ­This was a significant inaccuracy where the claim was being used to further the article’s central argument: that animal testing was unnecessary and cruel. As no correction had been offered, there was a breach of Clause 1(ii) on this point.

26. The Committee then considered whether the video footage was inaccurate. The complainant objected to the footage because it did not show the usual conditions of the testing facility – he said it should have shown the whole enclosure, when it had been cleaned. Newspapers have the right to choose which pieces of information they publish, as long as this does not lead to a breach of the Code. While the complainant would have preferred the facility was shown to its best advantage, he did not dispute parts of the enclosure had at one point, appeared as it was shown in the footage. Additionally, the article made clear that it was reporting on the conditions shown by the footage included in the online version of the article, screengrabs of which also appeared in both versions. Similarly, reporting the dogs were “born in captivity” was neither inaccurate nor misleading where it was not in dispute that they had been bred for the purposes of testing. Regardless of where exactly they had been born, they had still been born in captivity, rather than in the wild or in a domestic setting. There was no breach of Clause 1 on either point.

27. In relation to the omission of other images of the testing centre at different times, the use of other animals in the testing process, and a comment from the medicine’s regulator, the Committee again noted that newspapers are entitled to select what to publish as long as they take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information. Where the article was clear it was reporting on what could be seen in the footage and set out who had commented on this footage, it was not inaccurate or misleading to not include further images, information about other animals, additional quotations or comments from the regulator. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. The Committee also noted that articles do not need to be balanced; the press are entitled to have and share a specific point of view, and to campaign. In such circumstances, concerns that the article was biased against animal testing did not, in and of itself, represent a breach of Clause 1.

28. Regarding why penicillin had “stayed on the shelf” for more than ten years, the Committee considered this to be an area of debate among experts in the field. Both the publication and the complainant had provided supporting information showing Alexander Fleming had withheld his research on administering the drug systemically and that he had also been limited by the manufacturing methods available to him. Where there was a level of ambiguity surrounding this historical event, and debate among informed experts, the Committee was not in in a position to know exactly what had occurred. Where the publication had provided a basis for its reporting, on balance, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

29. The publication had provided a basis for its claim that "scientists were misled about the way HIV enters the human cell because of studies on monkeys”; the evidence provided by the publication suggested that developing a treatment for the virus had been limited by the tests scientists were able to conduct. The publication had also provided a basis for the claim that “animal models have misled scientists in the past and this has resulted in human deaths”: a past study had shown volunteers developing life-threatening illnesses despite earlier tests on animals indicating that these would not occur. Likewise, the publication supported this claim with a scientific report which argued animal testing had led to the delay of the polio vaccine and so had taken sufficient care over the accuracy of this claim. There was no breach of Clause 1 on any of these points.

30. The Committee then considered the inclusion of a reference to previous animal testing coverage from 1975. The article reported that “in 1975, The People ran an agenda setting story forced to inhale cigarette smoke […] some of the 48 beagles were expected to smoke up to 30 a day”. The year during which the experiment took place was clear, and there was no indication that this experiment or any similar ones were currently ongoing in the UK. Where the date of the coverage was made plain, it was not inaccurate or misleading to reference this past coverage. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. The Committee also considered that the reference to “hell” in the headline was not inaccurate, where it was clearly an allusion to characterisations by the publication and a celebrity of the conditions in the farm. The complainant was entitled to dispute this characterisation, but that did not mean that the publication had breached the Code by sharing its view and the view of others on the conditions shown in the video. There was therefore no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

31. The Committee did not identify any inaccuracies regarding the presentation of the complainant’s comments in a debate format. The article was not a detailed assessment of the history and purpose of animal testing, but reported reactions of named individuals to specific footage, as well as a brief overview of the potential value, or lack thereof, of animal models. The complainant did not dispute that his comments had been made in favour of animal testing and so there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Finally, the Committee considered whether it was accurate to refer to someone in the article as a “veterinary professor”. The individual was a qualified veterinarian and a professor of animal welfare. As such, it was not misleading to refer to him as a “veterinary professor”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

32. The complaint was partially upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial action required

33. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication; the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

34. The Committee found it was significantly inaccurate to claim there was an “immense body of empirical evidence” showing animal models did not offer predictive value, and to report “recent developments” also proved there was no predictive value to animal testing. The publication was unable to demonstrate either of these statements were accurate; it was only able to produce one piece of evidence demonstrating animal models did not offer predictive value rather than the “immense body” referred to in the article, and did not produce any material that referenced recent scientific developments in the area. However, the inaccuracies appeared briefly within the body of the article and were based on comments provided to the publication by a trusted source with relevant experience and credentials. Therefore, on balance, the Committee considered a correction was the appropriate remedy. The correction should acknowledge the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record, which is that – while some studies have cast doubt on the predictive value of animal testing, other studies show the contrary.

35. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. The print correction should be published in the publication’s usual Corrections and Clarifications column.

36. As the article also appeared online, the publication should also publish the correction online. If the publication intends to continue to publish the online article without amendment, the correction on the article should be published beneath the headline. If the article is amended, the correction should be published as a footnote.


Date complaint received:  21/06/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  08/11/2023


Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.