Animal rights movement. Rant. Best avoided.

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.
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I am so glad I'm not the only one who's spotted this. Getting people to move animal experiments abroad is the worst possible solution.

I'm afraid I eat meat, but I do my best only to eat organic meat, which I hope means it hasn't been too badly treated on it's way to my plate.
This is fair. I'm not trying (on this occasion, at least . . . ) to make people feel bad about eating meat. But as a nation, we're happy (which I think we are) with that, then we should view other aspects of our dealings with animals with a decent sense of proportion.

Ah well. People and nations will act logically and rationally only when all other options have been xhausted. Apparently that's called Katz's law, although confusingly "one over the square of the resolution of each element expressed in lp/mm added togeather gives you one over the square root of the resolution of the system" is also Katz's law. I don't know if they're the same Katz or not.
I fear the trouble is that to campaign against HLS, one only has to stop doing experiments on cats in one's own bedroom. To campaign against carnivores one has to actually give up bacon sarnies. Although I suppose you can get some mileage out of the idea that to eat an animal you can kill eat humanely; to experiment on one means it may well suffer for some period of time.

I eat meat, and am willing to take responsibility for the idea that animals have to die for that. I can also respect a vegetarian's point of view. The people I want to poke in the eye are those who eat meat so long as it isn't identifiable as part of an animal - a nice hermetic pack of steak or chicken breast is fine, but a whole cow or chicken revolts them.
It's a counter productive process. I used to see those stickers with pictures of tortured beagles and skinned monkeys and think it was a terrible injustice. Now I think that the people handing them out are probably ignorant and possibly malevolent. (Which is also an unfair characterisation as I'm sure some of them are clued up and most of them are well-meaning).
I agree with you about the animal testing moving elsewhere and the abhorrent tactics of the animal welfare terrorists.

On the subject of carnivorousness (sp.) I am happy to confirm that animals eat other animals all over the place and in many cases the victims take a very long time to die and are in considerable stress during their last gasping moments.

Humans are the only meat eating species that actively tries to ensure the death of its prey is reasonably quick and painless.

Having said that, humans are remarkably bad at KEEPING the animals during their lives, which is why I, whenever possible, eat organic.

I'd rather be a free range sheep than a gazelle on a lion infested plain.
well, I endorse cosmetic testing on goths. I've done consumer trials myself, and I know it's helping humanity, because they give one human, me, cash. It's also taught me how long my skin would last without sunblock in Death Valley at noon (five minutes to go lobster-coloured) and allowed me to nod knowingly at the Mighty Boosh's joke about 'this sunscreen's brilliant- it's tested on goths'...

Maybe someone can enquire if these 'militant animal rights' types also voulenteer for human medical research?
Maybe someone can enquire if these 'militant animal rights' types also voulenteer for human medical research?

You beat me to that one. It's a comment I make to them every time I get accosted in the street by animal rights protesters.
Another good thing to ask an animal rights protester is whether they ever have, or would ever potentially, use a drug which had been tested on animals. Like it or not, just about all of us have benefitted from such drugs at some point even if we don't remember it.

It's easy for a protester to say they wouldn't use such drugs, but when faced with a life-or-death situation I'll bet they forget their morals and take the drug.

What we have to remember is that in UK law, animal testing for cosmetics is already banned, and testing for medicinal drugs is actually COMPULSORY, so no matter what the protesters do to stop animal testing, all they're doing is forcing the pharmaceutical business to test abroad. It's really pointless. The argument that the suffering of animals to bring drugs to market that prevent the suffering of humans is a perfectly valid one. Especially when the human benefitting is yourself or a loved one, right?
Yes, the use of drugs usually comes up, right after I ask whether they've ever had any dental work. It seems to have calmed down a bit in Cambridge these days (or maybe I'm just blind) but I get very frustrated with the outright lies that they often used. They will always point out that (other) animal models are not as useful as human models, but at least one person refused to believe that drugs were actually tested on human before release.

Something which has just occurred to me... I wonder what their take on the use of animal models for the testing of vetinary medicine?
good point there Baz, I always find it amusing how products such as dog toothpaste or cat shampoo sometimes have "not tested on animals" on the packet!

Anti-Vivisection activists should all be forced to join a human drug trial program before they're even allowed to join the campaign
Anti-Vivisection activists should all be forced to join a human drug trial program before they're even allowed to join the campaign

Even so, they shouldn't be allowed to use drugs tested on animals. A good deal of medical research can't be done on humans, at least not live human adults. For example, one way of finding out what genes do is to knock them out, one at a time, in mice, and see how the mouse embryo develops. (You have to use an embryo, not an adult organism).

There's also the economic aspects. Britain cannot compete on price with countries like Vietnam where factory workers get paid 50p an hour. We've got to go into high added value industries such as biotech. Call be selfish if you like, but I personally wouldn't want to live in the sort of country where typical wages were 50p an hour.
Nowt I can see to disagree with there...
I agree, though I generally try to say simillar things in a calmer tone (pissing off the activists by calling them 'fuckwits' tends to have the same effect they have on me when they rant and rave). I've been strongly committed to animal welfare causes for a long time, and the stalls for HLS campaigns tend to be particularly guilty of diliberately misleading with doctored/out of date photos in my experience. I strongly believe that raising public awareness on the facts is the way to go - it's not like they're not shocking enough.

I'd love to see a far more vegetarian society, with an end to intensive farming for any animal product, particularly as it's so much easier to be veggie these days. But earlier I was reading some stuff about campaigns for vegetarianism at the turn of the last century, and to be honest it sounded like it was more of a hot topic then than it is now.
It is usually politic to be politer, yes. And usually I am. This wasn't really aimed at convincing anyone, though.
I have a somewhat smaller rant about HLS's posters. They've taken to standing outside the Disney store in Cambridge with gory posters of animals in the middle of operations. Yes, operations are gory, but that doesn't give any indication of how the animals are treated when they are conscious and it makes me want to stand next to them with a picture of a person in the middle of an appendectomy and the caption "End human medicine now! Let all humans die of preventable illness!" - except then that takes me onto the second point for which I may have to construct teenagerish verbless sentences.

Pictures of cut up cats. In front of the Disney store. With small children inside, who aren't emotionally equipped to deal with images like that and have made and can make no informed consumer choice toward or away from animal testing or anything else the campaign is involved in. It's an ineffective and useless way to put their point across and I think this particular group are only doing it because they want people to think, ooh, how brave and radical they are, upsetting small children, I want to be involved and pay my subscription and look hard too. I'm glad it pisses you off too.
the devil's advocaat that i drank wants me to say that their headline-grabbing tactics raise awareness of the issue, and also that some life choices deserve punishment.

i also know most of the counters to these statements, so don't feel you need to bother ;)

Yeah, agreed. I guess the problem is that becoming really good veggie cooks and inviting their friends round doesn't allow them to feel like they're guerrilla warriors fighting for justice, though.

I've been more and more frustrated with the woolly-mindedness of much of the green movement over the past 10 or 15 years too.
No, I'm afraid I turned on just in time to see that article finishing.
Well you missed their spokesperson repeatedly shouting down Krishnan with meaningless rhetoric, refusing to answer most of the questions, trying to subvert the interview into an opportunity to repeat slogans, being surly and intimidating, wearing a terribly scruffy outfit and generally doing the most dreadful PR job resulting in a premature termination of what might have been an opportunity for a worthwhile discussion.
Charming. I only saw him being thanked for coming, which I guess would have been more a matter of form than feeling.
Quite apart from anything else, I think guilt-tripping people doesn't generally tend to work. Obviously this does raise issues about how you spread the word about things which *are* important, rather than just preaching to the converted all the time.