Austrian scientists have defended an experiment in which pigs were buried alive in snow, after animal rights activists succeeded in halting the project.
The two-week experiment involved 29 pigs, and was intended to investigate how people survive in avalanches. Some pigs were buried completely and suffocated, whereas others were covered up to the neck and allowed to freeze to death.
When news of the experiment got out, animal rights organisations denounced it and threatened legal action: "The scientists should bury themselves, and their colleagues can then analyze the results," said The Austrian Association of Animal Protection.
But the Faculty of Medicine in Innsbruck and the Institute for Emergency Medicine in Mountain (EURAC) say the experiment complied with regulations and had the approval of the Committee on Animal Experiments of the Ministry for Science and Research of Austria.
"The 29 selected pigs for the experiment were housed in a stable officially certified and approved by an international commission of experts. On the day of initiation of the experiment, animals are given a dose of narcotic, "said Hermann Brugger, director of the new Institute for Emergency Medicine in Mountain EURAC and professor at the Faculty of Medicine of Innsbruck.
The purpose of the study was to determine the influence of bubbles on the oxygen and carbon dioxide content in the air avalanche victims breathe, and so to obtain estimates of the chances of survival.
"None of us scientists would agree to make an experiment of this kind, if not convinced of its usefulness to save lives," says Brugger.