Richard E Grant blasts ‘cruel’ UK university in scathing letter demanding it stops animal testing on rats
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Richard E Grant has joined calls to ban a controversial form of animal testing after writing a scathing letter to a UK university demanding an end to the “horrific” practice. The Hollywood star waded into the row over forced swim experiments on rats which has seen universities facing growing outrage from campaigners.
The test involves putting the rodents into inescapable beakers of water and then timing how long they struggle to swim before floating to the top to survive. The Withnail & I, Doctor Who and Star Wars actor has now penned a letter slamming the University of Bristol - urging them to stop the “cruel” tests.
The university is said to carry out the experiment more than any other British university, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). BAFTA-winning actor Grant, 65, who is appearing at the Bristol Hippodrome theatre this week, has now joined PETA in calling for an end to the rodent behavioural test.
He said: “My career has taken me everywhere from Penrith to a galaxy far, far away. And while I’ve experienced some absurd things on my travels, even I couldn’t believe it when I heard that the forced swim test is still used at your university.
“I can only imagine how terrified rats must feel as experimenters put them into inescapable beakers of water, in which they paddle frantically in search of an escape – pawing at the sides of the beaker and diving to the bottom – but to no avail. Once experimenters have finished subjecting the animals to this cruelty, they kill them.”
The test is designed to see how effective antidepressants are but PETA and other animal charities claim the science is flawed. Several universities have agreed to no longer conduct the test and the Government has been urged to ban it altogether.
The Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey star adds in his letter: “The science doesn’t add up. It makes no sense for the university to continue to use an experiment that is both distressing for animals and irrelevant to humans.
“I’ll be in Bristol this week – performing at the Hippodrome – and I hope I can tell my fans that the University of Bristol will no longer use the forced swim test.”
Over 15 companies and more than a dozen universities, including King’s College London, have said they don’t intend to use the forced swim test in future. More than 50,000 people – including actors Sir Mark Rylance and Joanna Lumley and Mayor of West England Dan Norris – have urged University of Bristol to follow suit.
A PETA spokesperson added: “The test has also been criticised on welfare grounds and because of its irrelevance to humans. Trying to understand the fundamental human biology underlying stress and anxiety by forcing rats to swim in a beaker of water is doing a disservice to those suffering with mental health disorders.
“Imagine what an exhausting and distressing experience this must be for the animal: spending your life trapped in a cage, then being forced to take part in an experiment that intentionally causes you stress, only to be killed at the end of it.”
A University of Bristol spokesperson said previously: “We recognise there are differing views about the use of animals in research, including some concerns around whether it is ethical. The University of Bristol has a successful track record of translating scientific discoveries into real-world advances.
“Wherever possible we rely on non-animal methods for example computer models, cells grown in the laboratory or human volunteers. When these methods are not suitable to address the scientific gaps, and therefore only when absolutely necessary, we use animals in research to improve our understanding of health and disease in both humans and animals.
“This includes cardiovascular and cancer research, diseases associated with infection and immunity and, in the case of forced swimming, significant advances in the treatment of depression and other stress-related illnesses.
“We are committed to a culture of openness and transparency regarding the research carried out here at Bristol, ensuring the animals are treated with compassion and respect. We keep up to date with the latest thinking on all aspects of research using animals (including advances in welfare) and have robust and thorough ethical review processes in place for every project.”
Grant is kicking off his A Pocketful of Happiness book tour in the city, which he penned following the death of his wife Joan Washington in 2021.
The letter in full reads:
My career has taken me everywhere from Penrith to a galaxy far, far away. And while I’ve experienced some absurd things on my travels, even I couldn’t believe it when I heard that the forced swim test is still used at your university, more than at any other university in the country.
I’m writing to join my friends at PETA and the countless supporters and studentswho have already urged you to see sense and stop using this horrific test. I can only imagine how terrified rats must feel as experimenters put them into inescapable beakers of water, in which they paddle frantically in search of an escape – pawing at the sides of the beaker and diving to the bottom – but to no avail.
Once experimenters have finished subjecting the animals to this cruelty, they kill them. The scientists at PETA tell me that the forced swim test is used in an attempt to understand stress-related mental health conditions in humans.
But the science doesn’t add up. These experiments are actually hindering the development of successful treatments for human conditions. It makes no sense for the university to continue to use an experiment that is both distressing for animals and irrelevant to humans.
King’s College London and major pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and GSK have all said they will not use the forced swim test following discussions with PETA entities, and I hope to hear that the University of Bristol will be next.
I’ll be in Bristol this week – performing at the Hippodrome – and I hope I can tell my fans that the University of Bristol will no longer use the forced swim test. Thank you for your attention to this important issue.
Yours sincerely, Richard E Grant.