TCS Daily

Animal Crackers

By Florence Heath - August 12, 2004 12:00 AM

The recent spate of animal rights incidents in Britain was perfectly timed to coincide with the government's upgrade of its anti-animal rights terrorism laws. Recent news reports have shown the strong and growing influence of animal rights extremists in Britain. Apart from the usual terror tactics used against employees and anyone remotely connected to Huntingdon Life Sciences, activists have more recently targeted shareholders from Montpellier, the company due to build a new research laboratory in Oxford. Threats of "prompt action" from extremists brought the project to a screeching halt and resulted in a 19 percent drop in share prices.

Indeed, this kind of situation is not unusual in Britain, where the Animal Liberation Front and its various spin-offs have been making life hell for ordinary people and their families under the banner of preventing animal cruelty. Their actions have even forced many people to go into hiding. It has been estimated that threats from anti-vivisection militants have been costing the country £1 billion per year in lost investments and special protection costs.

This situation is not about to change. In fact the industry is terribly unstable at the moment and many pharmaceutical companies and research laboratories are considering pulling out of the country. GlaxoSmithKline, for one, employs 6,000 research scientists in the UK, which represent almost half of its entire research force. However, companies are having to spend tens of millions of pounds to help protect their employees, buildings and animals, instead of investing more into life-saving research. With a quarter of the world's top 100 drugs discovered in Britain, providing safe, reliable premises for research is important both for those suffering from incurable diseases and for the British economy.

The guerrilla war led by animal rights activists has often been portrayed as a fight against the cruel treatment of animals. However, what facts really show is that due to both strict legal guidelines and human decency, especially in pet-crazy Britain, animals in British research labs are treated like kings and queens. Except for very rare incidents of malpractice, where the perpetrator has of course been relieved of his duties, and which have been used as propaganda by the ALF, animals are well-looked after. Researchers feel safe in the knowledge that the 12 rabbits being used for their asthma research are having a lavish £1,000 per month spent on them and that the dogs trying out their new cancer cures are being fussed over daily by their caretakers, who are terribly sad to lose them when the final experiment results are needed.

However, for many animal-lovers, research on animals, even when helping with life-saving cures, not just for humans but for sick animals too, may not seem desirable. But consider the alternatives; safe testing of medicines requires many levels of trials, both on animals and on humans. The main use for animals are the base-line toxicology tests legally required before any further development of the medicine.

One way of getting round animal use, of course, would be to use humans. Although some may volunteer, many of these experiments require a post-mortem to observe the effect of the medicine and would therefore not be very desirable for most. Short of relying on concentration camps for patient supply, this is not a viable option. In fact the only possible long-term alternative would be the use of stem cells, allowing most tests to be moved over from animals to cells and thus almost removing the need for animal testing. This should and will be developed but is not a current option as much more investment is needed to expand this area. Unfortunately many badly-needed funds are currently being spent mending windows broken by animal rights extremists.

In the face of such apparently obvious choices one may wonder why protesters still resort to such destructive methods. But the roots of the actions are often not as clear as they may seem. Recent comments by Jerry Vlasak, a major player in the movement, may shed some light on the thought process of many extremists. Mentioning research scientists, the heart surgeon claimed that "five lives, ten lives, 15 lives could save a million, two million, 10 million non-human lives". Although he now claims these remarks were taken out of context, one of the movement's main tactics has been suggestion.

Stronger than suggestion though, is a "boot camp" for activists, where Vlasak is due to speak. This is being planned in Britain to "educate" young people concerned about cruelty to animals. Although joining and helping the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPA) with its first-class job in saving animals from daily cruelty would seem to be a straightforward option, those joining the training session will be absorbing Vlasak and Co.'s anti-life concepts and most probably carrying out further offenses. The question is whether the government's amendments to current law, which happen to coincide with last month's problems in Oxford and include toughened measures against stalkers, will be enough to punish and discourage young people with a lot of energy but little value for human life.

The author, a geologist, was awarded a Charles G. Koch Fellowship in 2001 and has worked for the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) in Washington DC. She is currently co-founder and outreach director of the TaxPayers' Alliance in the UK.


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