If you are one of mother earth’s warriors who think that humans are just a burden to this planet and less worthy than cockroaches, then this post is not for you, nor is it if you are a creepy little creature that enjoys the infliction of pain.
I don’t know anyone –anyone- who enjoys performing experimental work with animals; I certainly try to avoid it. However, experiments with animals are an invaluable tool for science –specially biomedicine- and almost any single major achievement in medicine that has led to an improvement in standards of living relayed on animal work of some kind.The common flow of research goes from cells to animals to humans. Sometimes it is impossible to use cells; many times it is not safe to move from cells straight into humans.
Last week I received an email from the central animal facility informing that the Sunday Times was planning to run an article criticising animal work atImperialCollege. The article “wouldn’t mention names” but “could rise concerns” about animal welfare. A clandestine video was filmed inside one of the facilities* by an animal rights activist who got a job as a technician.
I have seen the video and I chose not to post it here; it can be easily found in the web anyway. I chose not to post it here not because I don’t want people to see it but because what it shows is unnecessary. Of course there is blood in it, as there is blood in any surgeon operating table, as there is blood during the delivery of babies, as there is blood in a slaughter house**. The fact that there is blood in it doesn’t make the activist’s claims truer. And their objective is clear: The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) wants to stop animal research completely, not to improve it, not to regulate it even more, they want to stop it.
The BUAV’s video focuses on what is done to animals (rats and mice) without mentioning why it is done. The entire pseudo-documentary is flawed, for example: it shows mice on a treadmill and comment: “mice are run to exhaustion and given electric shocks when they stop running”. Fair enough mice are forced to run, but the reason for it may be researchers studying a muscle wasting condition, or ways to improve recovery after trauma or ways to treat diabetes or how the brain works. We will never know what scientists were trying to achieve, it is not said in the video. But you can rest assured that THERE IS NO WAY that you can do this in a UKuniversity “just for fun”. In the future tens of thousands of people may benefit by the suffering of those mice. But BUAV’s activists care very little about the sufferings of millions of two legged creatures without feathers that can talk.
Recently, scientists have successfully produced artificial kidneys using stem cells. Those kidneys were transplanted into rats and worked like kidneys (1). Was there no suffering? No blood on those experiments? Certainly there was. But the suffering of these few animals will someday provide relief for tens of thousands of people with kidney failure.
In addition to the unnecessary display of necessary blood the video raised true awareness about some issues:
Two imbeciles claiming that they were good at writing projects allowing them to do whatever they wanted to lab animals, for example. Anyone involved in animal research knows that this is impossible. Projects are scrutinised by committees before approval, committees formed by scientists who are not idiots and by technocrats that will enforce the book to the last comma. But even if they were good at deceiving committee members: What would they gain? Will they take all the burden of going to the animal facility, changing all their clothes, passing through many barriers, paying astronomically high animal maintenance fees and risk being caught just for something they could easily do in their basements? Clearly they were two blokes bluffing in front of a girl (the infiltrated animal activist). The life of some male scientists is just sad.
Other issue was a poor chap -who clearly didn’t have much idea of what he was doing- confessing to someone -that was supposedly there to help (a technician!)- that he didn’t have much idea. Unfortunately for him that person was not there to help; she was an undercover BUAV’s activist.
Other issue: someone was not sure about the difference between mild and moderate pain (who is?). Here we have an important legal problem: Licences to work with laboratory animals explicitly state the level of pain that a researcher is allowed to cause. But what is mild and what is moderate cannot be precisely determined and relies in philosophy more than in science.
For any rational common-sense-driven person these problems do not justify the abolition of research with animals. The narrator’s comments are malicious and support an ideology that is anti-scientific and anti-human; its message is not that we should improve animal research practice but that we should stop it altogether. Despite the fact that research with animals has helped to extend our life span more than 3 times in the last few hundred years, they want to stop it. Despite the fact that we live with much less pain; despite the fact that we live much more comfortably, they want to stop it. Despite the fact that some things, simple things such as sun screens, cannot be tested in other way, they want to stop it.
If you chose to see the video (you just have to Google “ImperialCollege” + “British Union for the Abolition for Vivisection”) and if you have never worked with laboratory animals in theUK, you will see blood, but think:
There will always be blood in an operating table. Experiments that cause distress to animals have as ultimate goal to reduce both human and animal pain in a much bigger scale. The vast majority of scientists are not monsters that enjoy the infliction of pain. All work with animals is closely regulated and approved by committees. Committees are formed by knowledgeable people, not idiots. If someone is acting wrongly he or she will ultimately be detected and dealt with. Finally, if you are over 25 years old: without animal research you would have a 1 in 4 chance of having died already -in excruciating pain- of tuberculosis or some other infectious disease like our 19th century ancestors. Don’t allow fundamentalists to deceive you by showing you distressing and out-of-context pictures. You can campaign against electricity, against cars, against life-saving surgery with that method. Each project involving research with animals needs to be analysed on an individual basis, considering costs and benefits, and this is what happens every time.
* The video is a close encounter of the blurry type. Opinions among my colleagues regarding the site where it was filmed are divided; some even think it is a fake; I think it is real.
** I am old enough to remember bloody pieces of meat on a butcher’s bench; you don’t see it anymore in supermarkets.
1. J Am Soc Nephrol. (2012) 23:1857-1868.