MoD defends using shot pigs in military training
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has defended allowing military surgeons to practise on live pigs that have been shot to replicate battlefield injuries.
The MoD said the training, which takes place twice a year in Denmark, gave surgeons "invaluable experience" and "helped save lives on operations".
Animal rights group Peta called for an end to the "barbaric" exercise, saying surgeons could use human simulators.
It could not be justified "medically, ethically and educationally", it said.
RSPCA spokesperson Klare Kennett said: "The practice of shooting and injuring pigs for Army surgeons to practice their skills on is abhorrent and shocking.
"Pigs are intelligent animals and most people would be appalled by this, especially as there is an alternative available which does not involve harming any animals."
The UK government suspended the training courses in the summer of 1998 after they were brought to the attention of ministers who said they had not been aware of them.
The courses were reinstated after a government-commissioned study found that "no equally effective alternative" could be identified and that it was "entirely appropriate and, indeed, necessary" for military surgeons to go through the training.
During training courses, the animals are heavily anaesthetised - both before being shot and throughout exercises - and are attended at all times by veterinary staff.
The MoD says they are later killed humanely.
The department was responding to a report in the Mail on Sunday which said British surgeons treated 18 pigs that had been shot at a three-day training course earlier this month in Jaegerspris.
The pigs were tranquilised and shot at close range "to damage organs but not kill the animals", the paper said.
Peta says that "life-like human simulators that 'breathe' and 'bleed' in realistic battlefield scenarios have been shown to better prepare doctors and medics to treat injured humans than animal laboratories".
Peta's UK associate director Mimi Bekhechi said "the overwhelming majority of the UK's Nato allies do not shoot, stab and dismember animals for their military training exercises".
She condemned the MoD's decision "to ship out members of the armed forces for deadly and cruel exercises in Denmark", saying they would be illegal if conducted in the UK.
The MoD says that, while it would not be illegal to carry out similar training in the UK, the Home Office would have to give its approval on a case-by-case basis.
"This training provides invaluable experience, exposing our surgical teams to the specific challenges posed by the injuries of modern armed conflict," a spokesperson said.
"This training has helped save lives on operations and by participating in the Danish exercises we minimise the overall number of animals used."