Blocking the transport of research animals helps no-one

Lab mouse

A lab mouse (image by Rama)

Once again it looks like misinformation about the use of animals in research is triumphing over the facts. Otherwise it’s hard to explain why ferry companies and most airlines are refusing to bring lab animals into the UK for use in research. They’re under pressure from animal rights campaigners and I’m willing to bet they haven’t heard both sides of the story.

So I’m relieved some scientists and people who have benefited from animal research are speaking out. Blocking research in the UK, where legal protection for lab animals is the toughest in the world, will only move it overseas where regulations are less stringent. This approach could actually increase animal suffering rather than reducing it.

Unfortunately it’s still rare for scientists and research organisations to speak out. It’s a thorny issue, but the facts need to be made clear – you can’t have a debate with only one voice.

On a Radio 5 Live phone in this morning, even one animal rights campaigner was confused, saying that animals were being caught in the wild and shipped into the UK. This is completely untrue – the animals being brought into the UK for research have been bred in special facilities and have never lived in the wild. Another person against animal testing claimed that ‘drugs are only 40% effective’ – this isn’t just wrong, it’s meaningless.

Luckily, a scientist and other callers affected by serious illnesses such as cancer and Parkinson’s were on hand for some much-needed perspective. One woman had had electrodes implanted in her brain to treat her Parkinson’s symptoms – a procedure that was developed using animals.

Robin Lovell-Badge, from the National Institute for Medical Research, also pointed out that scientists do have compassion for the animals involved in their work. It’s just that they believe the severe suffering of thousands of humans with life-changing diseases outweighs the usually minimal suffering of animals used in research.

Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion in this particular argument. But it’s shocking that most people are exposed to so little information about where medical advances come from and why animal research is still necessary.

And it’s always worth remembering that most of us are prepared to kill animals that are pests in our houses (such as rodents like mice and rats, the animals used in over 80% of research in the UK), and happy to eat them any time it suits us. If we’re able to accept these ‘uses’ of animals, how can we object to using them (under strictly controlled conditions) to relieve severe human suffering?

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