Animal Research and the 2015 UK General Election

On May 7th 2015 the British voters will flood to the polls to determine the next Government (which for the second time in a row is likely to be a coalition). The political landscape has changed a lot since the 2010 election resulted in a Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition, with the rise of several smaller parties including the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Scottish National Party (SNP). The negotiation process of forming a coalition will mean that smaller parties can make demands on the largest parties (Conservatives and Labour) to secure a coalition agreement.

In the last week the parties have released their manifestos, outlining what they promise to do over the next five years if they are elected into Government. Many of the manifestos have specific pledges relating to the use of animals in medical and scientific research (which is supported by around two-thirds of the British population).

Nature and the Guardian have analysis of what the parties and their  manifestos say about science in general, so this article will concentrate on policies specific to regulation of animal research.

UK General Election 2015

The Conservatives Conservative animal research

The Conservatives (or “Tories”) are the larger of the two parties in the 2010-15 ruling Coalition. Their manifesto’s only mention of animal research says:

“We will encourage other countries to follow the EU’s lead in banning animal testing for cosmetics and work to accelerate the global development and take-up of alternatives to animal testing where appropriate.”

This fits the business-focused Conservative messages. The Coalition Government’s 2014 Delivery Plan on “Working to reduce the use of animals in scientific research“, which called for the UK to “develop an international strategy towards the eventual eradication of unnecessary animal testing of cosmetics products, adopting a science-led approach” (2.2.3).

The Labour Party Labour animal testing

Labour is the second largest party in British politics, currently neck and neck with the Conservatives. Their manifesto mentions hunting, protecting dogs and cats, and defending the UK ban on hunting with dogs, but does not mention animal research explicitly anywhere. Separately, Labour released a manifesto called “Protecting Animals“, signed by the Labour leader which expands on the main manifesto, but similarly lacks any specifics on animal research.

During their previous term in government, which ended in 2010, Labour established the National Centre for the 3Rs, and implemented legislation to stop campaigns of harassment and intimidation against scientists by animal rights extremists.

The Liberal DemocratsLiberal Democrats animal experiments

Traditionally third party in British politics, the Liberal Democrats (or “Lib Dems”) were in Coalition with the Conservatives during 2010-15. The last two Home Office ministers in charge of animal research – Lynne Featherstone and Norman Baker, have both been from the party. Their manifesto states (p82):

“Liberal Democrats believe in the highest standards of animal welfare. We will review the rules surrounding the sale of pets to ensure they promote responsible breeding and sales and minimise the use of animals in scientific experimentation, including by funding research into alternatives. We remain committed to the three Rs of humane animal research: Replace, Reduce, Refine.”

Under the 2010-15 Coalition, funding for the National Centre for the 3Rs rose from £5.3 million to over £8 million. The manifesto also uses the word “minimise” rather than “reduce”, so as not to focus on baseline figures, but on the 3Rs – preventing a repeat of confusion over terminology surrounding early Coalition pledges.

The Scottish National PartySNP animal studies

Buoyed by the Scottish Independence Referendum, the Scottish National Party (SNP) look to be mopping up almost all the Scottish seats in (the Westminster) Parliament, and will likely become the third largest party. Their manifesto promises “further animal welfare measures” but does not specifically mention animal research. They separately promise to increase funding for Motor Neurone Disease, which would likely involve animal studies.

While no other party is likely to reach over 10 seats in parliament (of 650 seats), the following parties are still worth mentioning (of these, only the Democratic Unionist Party (in Northern Ireland) is likely to get over 5 seats).

United Kingdom Independence PartyUKIP animal testing cosmetics

UKIP are a relatively new party at the far right of the British political spectrum. While their polling suggests them getting around 10-15% of the vote, they are unlikely to get more than 3 seats in parliament. Their anti-EU platform means they believe that the UK “can only regain control of animal health and welfare by leaving the EU”. Their manifesto calls for:

  • “Keep the ban on animal testing for cosmetics;
  • Challenge companies using animals for testing drugs or other medical treatments on the necessity for this form of testing, as opposed to the use of alternative technology;
  • Tightly regulate animal testing.”

It would appear that UKIP are trying to put in place the existing UK regulatory system. As Chris Magee, from Understanding Animal Research, says:

“these aren’t bad policies – but we know this because they have been working effectively for at least the last 29 years.”

The Green PartyGreen party ban animal experiments

The Green Party have recently surged in British politics, but are unlikely to make gains beyond the single seat they currently hold.

Their manifesto reads like it was written by the animal rights group, the BUAV:

  • “Stop non-medical experiments, experiments using primates, cats and dogs. End the use of live animals in military training.
  • Stop the breeding and use of genetically altered animals.
  • End government funding of animal experimentation, including any that is outsourced to other countries.
  • Provide greater funding for non-animal research methods and link funding to a target for developing of humane alternatives to animal experiments.
  • Increase transparency and ensure publication of all findings of animal research, including negative findings.
  • Introduce a comprehensive system for reviewing animal experiments and initiate a comparison of currently required animal tests with a set of human-biology based tests.”

Four of these pledges have analogues among the BUAV pledges, and it would similarly result in the end of over 80% of animal experiments in the UK. Quite simply, this policy is a disaster for human and animal health. Interestingly, both the leader of the Green Party (Natalie Bennett), and their only MP (Caroline Lucas), have both signed the BUAV’s pledges.

Plaid Cymru 

This party will be contesting all forty parliamentary seats in Wales. They are likely to come out with up to five of them (they currently have three). Their manifesto pledges:

“[T]he introduction of a European-level Animal Welfare Commissioner and adoption at all government levels of the new and comprehensive Animal Welfare law to end animal cruelty.”

The Democratic Unionist Party

Contesting seats in Northern Ireland, and likely to win 5 – 10 seats (currently holding 8), their manifesto does not mention animal research but says:

“[We want] a UK wide charter for animal protection.”

Some predictions (from April 22nd) on the number of seats parties will win. 326 seats are needed for a majority

Some predictions (from April 22nd) on the number of seats parties will win. 326 seats are needed for a majority

Animal Rights Election Activism

There are also various animal activist groups which are working to convince parliamentary candidates (PPCs) to put in place new regulations for conducting animal studies. Those that have contacted candidates include:

The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) are focusing on household product animal tests (which will be banned from October 2015), and reforming Section 24 (which is already underway).

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) are running their “Vote Cruelty Free” campaign, which asks candidates to make six pledges which would effectively destroy British medical and veterinary research. These include bans on GM animals, on “non-medical research” and on the use of cats an dogs.

Animal Aid are calling for an end to all taxpayer money used to fund research involving animals – thereby denying the National Health Service of many future treatments.

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