A recent survey revealed that nine out of 10 Brits do not know that beer is made from barley, and one in 10 believe that rice is grown in the United Kingdom.1 Exactly where they think the paddy fields are located was not recorded. This ignorance illustrates the growing disconnect between the city-dwelling majority and the countryside in terms of food production.
A further disconnect is revealed in the changing attitude toward animals in the United States. "I think there is an urban prism through which people now view animal life, and it has had the effect of raising the moral status of animals in the eyes of Americans," Franklin Loew, former dean of Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, Mass., has said.2 This cultural shift poses a threat to using animals for experimentation in the future.
It is but one of a number of factors that conspire to undermine the widespread acceptability of using animals in research. Loss of connection combined with syrupy sentimentality is putting animals on a par with people, extending parity to the point of giving animals "rights."2 These ideas go much further than ensuring the proper treatment of animals and could be developed to preclude experiments on animals altogether.
The antivivisection movement itself is a factor--not the mindless, violent minority who arguably do more harm than good for their cause, but the passionate, and I believe misguided, majority. Passion, right or wrong, can shift public opinion. The tactics of antivivisectionists are designed to shock and disgust the public, and the steady drip feed of "hideous and appalling suffering undergone by animals" in the name of research is bound to have an effect, particularly on young people who identify with a principled stand.
Scientists need to reclaim the moral high ground. Experiments are conducted on animals for human (and animal) welfare. They are an absolute necessity, and they are conducted under stringent safeguards of animal well-being. There is nothing to be apologetic about.
Researchers must be more forthright. Engaging in dialogue with activists in search of mutual understanding or a middle ground is dangerous. Antivivisectionists simply have no interest in weighing the benefits of animal research, and the net effect will be, according to Stuart Derbyshire, "to add to the ratcheting down of animal experimentation, and to the palpable public suspicion that animal experiments are cruel and unnecessary."3
What is desperately needed is political leadership. In Britain at least, the government has paid lip service to the importance of science, but the necessary backup, the unequivocal support for experiments on animals, has been lacking. Protection against intimidation and harassment--making it an offense to demonstrate outside people's homes and removing the defense of "reasonable grounds" for sending hate mail--has helped address the "evil extremists." Now an active, positive campaign in favor of animal research, from the Prime Minister down, is required.
Richard Gallagher, Editor
1. "British confused about their food--new campaign gives it to them on a plate," British Farming, April 14, 2003; available online at www.cobritishfarming.org.uk/lat_confused.html
2. R. Worthington, "Surgery opens debate at veterinary schools," Chicago Tribune, Nov. 4, 1990.
3. S. Derbyshire, "Animal research: A scientist's defence," March 29, 2001; available online at www.spiked-online.com/Articles/0000000054FD.htm