Animal testing: the real question

Friend or food?

Research on animals is a thorny issue – the average person would rather not think about it, even if they do accept that it’s a key part of our efforts to tackle worldwide health problems like heart disease and cancer. At best it’s seen as a necessary evil.

Others would disagree. Animal rights groups will be happy with the news this week that the EU is strengthening its laws protecting the welfare of lab animals, but they argue that animals should never be experimented on for human benefit.

In an ideal world I would agree with them. But I don’t think anyone who’s been affected by a life-threatening illness could honestly say they wouldn’t sacrifice an animal to save their own life or the life of someone they love.  We don’t live in an ideal world, and I think the arguments against animal testing are pretty weak. What puzzles me is how the same people who are concerned with the welfare of lab rats can ignore not only the suffering of humans who need life-saving treatments, but also the suffering of the other big group of animals used by humans – the ones we eat.

It’s true that many animal rights activists take their beliefs to the logical extreme – following vegan diets and certainly not wearing leather. But there are plenty of far less militant people who would say they hate the idea of testing on poor defenceless creatures, while at the same time tucking into a bacon sandwich.

It certainly makes things easier if you can disconnect the food on your plate from live animals in a field. But it’s completely crazy to live in a ‘nation of animal lovers’ where there’s public concern over animal research and virtually none over the fact that we kill animals and eat them for pleasure.

I’ll admit that the welfare of farm animals has become a much bigger issue over the past few years. But this debate ignores the most important question of all – is it right to kill animals for food? Imagine if someone said to you, ‘I’m going to kill you, cook you and eat you, but don’t worry, you’ll only be fed on organic food and you won’t suffer when I electrocute you and then cut your throat.’ That doesn’t sound like a high level of welfare to me.

I’m a vegetarian (can you tell?), but I think animal research is essential. There’s no other way to develop new treatments for diseases that cause horrendous suffering to humans. Eating sausages, on the other hand, does not strike me in quite the same light. Where is the moral imperative for killing animals to eat them? We don’t need to eat meat to survive (I’ve managed fine for the last ten years). And farming is responsible for far, far more suffering than experiments on animals.

I honestly believe that eating meat is something future generations will look back on with disgust. It’s completely hypocritical to be concerned by animal research and yet still eat animals. More people need to put their money where their mouth is and start realising where they can really make a difference in animal welfare.

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