So. They're having a go at nurseries now, are they?
I parted ways with the animal rights movement nearly a decade ago when they discovered Huntingdon Life Sciences and decided that whining was more fun than trying to change things. Does that sound harsh? Well, it ought to. That's the point at which the movement - a movement with a long and honourable history - collectively took leave of its senses.
Those of you who know me even vaguely will I'm sure be aware that I've been vegetarian for the last fifteen years or so and am anything but shy about using this to claim (spuriously or otherwise) the moral high ground. So let me just say that, as a vegetarian and incessant moralist, whenever I see some self-appointed moral paragon wittering on about the evils of some particular animal house or breeding establishment, I get a strong urge to stab them in both eyes with a bicycle spoke.
The aim of their campaign, it seems obvious to me, should be to reduce (possibly even to zero) the number of animals who suffer in experiments. A noble goal, obviously, although there are sincere disputes over whether the experiments are actually necessary in spite of the suffering. No matter - the key point here is that the movement has decided to run a campaign which in spite of being shrill, aggressive, intimidatory and at times downright barbaric, would not achieve that end even were they to succeed.
Does this sound like the act of a bunch of self-obsessed self-righteous arseholes to you? It certainly sounds that way to me (and if it takes one to know one, I'm certainly in a very good position to know one).
Harsh? Undoubtedly. But justified, in my considered opinion.
"So, Graham", I hear you asking, "why exactly would their campaign fail to achieve anything of any importance even should it succeed?"
Because they are primarily trying to close down particular establishments rather than reduce the number of tests. The one would have no impact on the other. Closing down Huntingdon Life Sciences would have exactly zero effect on the number of animal experiments, because people would source animals elsewhere or have the experiments done abroad. So every breeding house in the country could be shut down tomorrow and the only tests that would be affected would be the academic ones. Safety testing on animals is only done when it's required by law to get regulatory approval, and the pharmaceutical industry is multinational - in both cases the companies would simply up sticks to continental Europe or the States. Where, as is repeatedly pointed out, regulations covering the welfare of lab animals are much weaker.
Do you see any great gain there? I don't.
Universities would do less animal research, it is true, but that's a relatively small proportion of the total (which is lower than people think anyway) and a fair amount of that would resite abroad too - not, though, absolutely all of it as I think would be the case in my previous examples. The overall impact of the success of the campaign to close down animal research would, therefore, be minimal, due to the breathtaking parochiality of those behind it. I'm reminded of certain nationalists I had vague experience of some years ago (I don't remember whether they were associated with the SNP or with fringe nationalist parties - you did realise that we have eccentric fringe political parties of our own up here, didn't you?) who were very against all sorts of things that it was good to be against, but seemed to simply want them out of Scotland rather than wanting them to stop happening. Similarly, complaining about the poor wee animals does not in itself reduce the number of animals suffering - the most it's likely to do is make them suffer in a different country. I hope they find it some consolation that they get experimented on away from the British weather.
There are, of course, sane and sensible people pushing more more research into reducing the need for these experiments (or even - shock horror - talking about the regulations that demand and govern animal experimentation), but they're vastly outnumbered by the squalling brats who give the whole movement a bad name. And when I say outnumbered I do mean that. It isn't a case of there being a few bad apples - these people are the majority of the activists. When I see a stall on the street, I don't see a sensible poster calling for a sensible response to the situation, I see posters calling for HLS to be closed down and I see people who sincerely believe that that would make some sort of difference. They need to get a clue. Obviously I would give them all one - each! - if I had any to spare, but I think I lost mine down the back of the sofa some time ago while deworming the cat.
The average peron in the UK apparently eats about a dozen and a half animals per year. Not whole, obviously, but as an aggregate. That's over a billion animals. About 450 000 tonnes of fish are brought to shore in Britain per year (and maybe a fifth of that amount is caught but thrown away before landing). As a nation, we are apparently fairly happy with this situation. Obviously I could go into the big vegetarian rant here, but I'm not going to. Fill it in yourself if you're desperate to hear it - I'm sure you all know how it goes. It's a much bigger issue, though, and one far more deserving of people's time and energy.
Animal experiments are currently running at about 0.3% of the number of land animals eaten (and, incidentally, that's down from about 1970, when it was half that again), and a much smaller fraction if you include the poor cuddly doe-eyed fish. In animal welfare terms, experiments are a minor side-issue, and in ethical terms, they're actually easier to justify than carnivory. Nobody in this country dies because they have a specific need for a sausage sandwich, but plenty of people die through lack of understanding of disease or through inadequate treatments. Someone at the back is about to start complaining that animal experiments aren't a good guide to human disease - well, I'm afraid you're wrong. They're not perfect, and it's easy to point out cases where they've been misleading, but lack of perfection does not prove uselessness. Even some of the commonly-given examples, such as the case of the polio vaccine, are wrong (animal experiments were and are crucial to developing vaccines).
If pressed on this, activists will say that people should be vegetarian. Fair enough. But if they wanted to make a difference they would try to promote vegetarianism (by . . . quietly setting a good example, maybe, or becoming really good cooks and inviting their friends round for dinner) and say incidentally if pushed that animal testing was bad too, because in the grand scheme of things animal experiments are small beer. This doesn't matter, though, because as far as I can tell the appeal of this campaign is that it makes people feel good and involved, rather than that it's aimed at making a difference. It's poorly thought-through, poorly organised and badly targeted. It makes my heart sink every time I see it, because these people are my natural allies and I want to like and respect them and what they're doing, but I can't.