Guest Post: Manchester protests miss the point

Today’s guest post is from Patrick Smith, a PhD student at the University of Manchester, UK. He discusses an upcoming animal rights demonstration in his city, which is taking place as part of World Day for Animals in Laboratories (Part of World Week for Animals in Labs).

This Saturday (23rd April), Manchester Animal Action are hosting the World Day for Animals in Laboratories. Over 200 activists plan to march from Piccadilly Gardens to the University of Manchester campus, where they will lay white flowers at University buildings to protest what they see as the inhumane treatment of animals.

Ironically, this protest has prompted a lockdown of the University buildings, meaning many students and researchers may be unable to check on their animals over the weekend. I know that some students may feel intimidated by the protest and won’t feel safe going in to University on Saturday. Hopefully others will refuse to be cowed by the threat of such activism.

An advertisement for Saturday’s march. Note the image of a chimpanzee – a species banned from use in research in the UK since 1986

An advertisement for Saturday’s march. Note the image of a chimpanzee – a species banned from use in research in the UK since 1986

After speaking with some of the protestors on social media prior to the demonstration, I’ve become aware of how much misinformation is spread amongst AR activists, especially regarding the University of Manchester. I wanted to make clear how much the University is doing to ensure the humane treatment of animals and reduce the use of animals in research.

The UK has some of the strictest regulations surrounding animal research in the world. Performing research on animals has to pass ethical review, a multi-stage process that requires researchers to prove that the research is necessary, minimises the suffering of animals and is scientifically sound.

The University of Manchester adheres to strict national guidelines, as its animal research policy makes clear. Like many UK research establishments, the University of Manchester is extensively involved with the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), an organisation that aims to ensure all animal research is a last resort, and is carried out with care and scientific rigour. As part of the University’s relationship with NC3Rs, all researchers must also adhere to the ARRIVE guidelines, which aim to ensure the accurate and responsible reporting of animal research findings.

All animal researchers at the University are fully trained on a rigorous Home Office course, and the University employs full time animal technicians and a veterinary surgeon to ensure that animal welfare is a top priority. Animals are housed in social groups and in stimulating environments, and constantly monitored for health and wellbeing. The University states that it “permits the use of animals in scientific procedures only where there is no reasonable alternative available”.

Within the research units themselves, all these guidelines are followed strictly; anaesthetic and pain killers are administered according to ASPA (Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act) guidelines; “All procedures must be carried out under general or local anaesthesia unless administering the anaesthetic would cause more suffering for the animal than the procedure itself or would be incompatible with the purposes of the procedures”. The only times anaesthetic is not given to animals is where the procedure is very mild (i.e. taking blood samples), or where an experiment won’t work with anaesthetised animals (i.e. running a maze). The vast majority of potentially painful procedures are carried out with extensive pain relief.

Image of mice courtesy of Understanding Animal Research

Image of mice courtesy of Understanding Animal Research

Animal rights activists are still upset with the University’s research. I encountered some who were offended by the idea of even minimal animal suffering, saying that “any suffering is too much”. This is actually a reasonable statement; if you believe that any suffering (animal or human) is terrible, then it makes sense to perform animal research where there are no alternatives available. The medical advances made due to animal research are undeniable, and unfortunately some animals have to suffer minimally for us to reduce worldwide suffering.

I have been accused by AR activists of being speciesist; putting human rights above animal rights. But to employ a utilitarian philosophy, where we want to reduce the amount of future suffering in the world, it is immoral to not undertake animal research. Allowing victims of disease to face immeasurable future suffering, when an animal model could potentially save them, seems cruel. Don’t patients deserve to feel hope from knowing researchers are using all scientific methods available?

The AR position is easy to understand; they think animals are suffering needlessly. But in the UK, and at the University of Manchester, animals are only used in research when there are no alternatives available, and where significant medical progress can be made. Animals are treated better than most animals in the world, especially those in the meat industry.

I understand that seeing animals suffer is heartbreaking. But it’s something that has to be done to fight cruel diseases and save lives. I know that many animal researchers and technicians are animal lovers and deeply care about suffering. They want to see an end to suffering wherever possible; and that is something that can be achieved with responsible, humane animal research.

Patrick Smith
PhD student at the University of Manchester

41 responses to “Guest Post: Manchester protests miss the point

  1. Geoff Johnson

    The usual lies trotted out by someone who thinks testing on animals is acceptable. I’ve read these pre-prepared comments so many times over the years it’s obvious that you’re all taught the same response when confronted with the truth.

    • Patrick Smith

      I can assure you there’s no secret course in responding to animal rights activists. The responses are so formulaic because the truths are so simple.

  2. Great read. The problem with the animal rights lobby is anyone who understands animal research can see that the protest groups are basing their arguments on a series of lies and misconceptions like the ‘9 out of 10 drugs tested on animals’ facepalm (corrected somewhere on this site) or the half baked ruminations of Ray Greek and therefore refuse to get involved.

    This means animal rights organisations become silos of people who don’t know what they’re talking about all sitting around agreeing with one another’s factually incorrect interpretation of the world and if anyone who knows what they’re talking about tries to educate them, like the not-for-profit scientists on this site, they accuse them of being a corporate shill. Who they WILL listen to however are those who have a financial interest in stoking their beliefs…

    • Thank it, dtm, for finally verbalizing this line of logic.

      Thank you, Patrick, for this article. The public needs to see more like it.

  3. Amanda carroll

    Dumbstruck by this distorted logic from a PhD student. You need to do better research and read Dr Greek!

    • James Champion

      I, on the other hand, am quite proud of this PhD student. A student that can see the reality of what happens in research is enlightening. I also admire his bravery to stand up and say something in support of this field, knowing full well that less educated and irate people will respond with insults and rudeness. Implying that he is somehow less intelligent for his logic is insulting and evidence of that lack of knowledge you have Amanda.

      • How patronising James, how old is Patrick, 10?
        Brave, get a grip.
        There have been many, many examples of researchers abusing the animals in their care and indifferent to their suffering.
        Would you like me to share them with you?

        • There has been an atypical handful over literally 30 or 40 years. I could show you pictures of a plane crash, but that doesn’t make them common or likely.

      • Patrick Smith

        Thanks James! Means a lot.

    • Dr Greek isn’t a scientist so probably not good source material. His ideas have been regularly disproven, most recently last year by the European Commission, and only seem to make sense in the first place if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  4. James Champion

    Emma Emma Emma. I am so glad you feel animal research is not scientifically viable. I am also glad you feel so strongly about this conviction that you have refused to benefit from medications, vaccines or any other medical advance that was developed with the help of animal research. Although I am sure that is not the case with you or with most misled animal rights folks. And Jax Lord, your magnificent use of exclamation points and name calling definitely drives home your point. Shame on you. Please remember, we are all humans that want to make this world a better place. The fact that some of us support animal research while others do not, doesn’t make one person evil nor saintly. All this stone casting is making want to wear some Kevlar. One can express their views without degrading their debate counterpart.

    Please note, animal research would not be where it is today without the intense and excessive push from ranting animal rights groups. Your harsh perception of how research and medicine actually work, drives us even harder to be transparent and productive with our utilization of animals in research, which most of us wish could be replaced with non-animal models.

  5. Great article Patrick, it’s good to let people know how well regulated animal research is in the UK, and how important to medical progress.

  6. This article is wrong on so many levels. Mr Smith forgets that animal experiments are NOT scientifically viable for research into human disease and drug testing (see Dr Ray Greek’s speech), as well as curiosity-driven research which there is plenty of.

    It’s not just about the ethics; animal testing has only 31% success rate and it is dangerous for humans and non-human animals. Just look into AstraZeneca and how many people they’ve killed with their tested-on-animals drugs. Animal. Testing. Does. Not. Work.

    Places like Stopford Bulding, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK etc. harm animals with YOUR money – so be very, very careful whom you’re giving it to.

  7. This is complete and utter nonsense. Students worried to change me to uni? Uni on lockdown! Really? Sounds like you’re doing all the scaremongering here! Animals are not ours to use abuse and kill! Not in any capacity! You conduct cruel and pointless experiments, you are a sadist! How could anyone with an ounce of compassion hurt a defenceless being? Shame on you.

  8. Patrick, notice the event is ‘World day for Animals in Laboratories” and it is therefore legitimate to use a picture of a chimpanzee on our posts, since as I’m sure you are aware they are still used in experiments outside Manchester.

    • Chimps are used in the US and Ghana (both in decreasing amounts). This rally is in the UK. It is clearly misleading for many who read it.

      • Not really, it say’s ‘world day’ on the banner, does it say Manchester? No.
        It only seems to be misleading for you and Patrick.

        What is misleading is Patrick giving the impression that people who love and care for animals are prepared to inflict pain and suffering on them.
        I don’t think so.

        • Manchester is the 5th word on the banner…..

          • You’ve used a photo of the banner for the Manchester event but there are other protests & marches happening all over the world.

          • This article is about the event in Manchester
            The picture is from the banner for the event in Manchester
            The banner for the event in Manchester uses a great ape
            Great ape tests have been illegal in the UK since 1986. Indeed no European country uses great apes.
            We pointed out this as misleading because it’s misleading.

        • I love and care for animals. Yet I stick needles into them every day. I inject alkaline substances into their muscles to make them lose consciousness. These substances definitely cause some pain and suffering. Sometimes these animals already have serious problems, such as broken bones. Sometimes they are suffering from conditions like diarrhea. Sometimes I can tell something’s wrong with them, but I can’t tell what – and I stab them and take some of their blood away for testing.

          I am a veterinary surgeon.

          You may say that what I do is fine, because I am doing it for the benefit of the animal. However, sometimes I perform major surgery on perfectly healthy animals and take out some of their organs so they can no longer reproduce. In the case of a male cat, this can be for the animal’s benefit; granted (it will dramatically drop the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and blood-borne illness cause by fighting) – but mostly it’s just done for the benefit of the population of animals of that species.

          Tell me what I am doing is wrong, because I inflict temporary pain and suffering on the animals. Go on. Tell me that I don’t love and care for animals. Tell my 13 year old border collie who I refused to put down because she was ‘no good with sheep’ – and was privileged to have as my companion for 11 years before spleen cancer got her last summer.

          The drugs I use, the vaccines I give, the painkillers I prescribe – I want all of these to be tested on animals to make sure they a) work and b) aren’t dangerous, before I give them to your pet. I can’t see any way of doing this without testing them on animals in laboratory conditions first.

          And that’s before I start talking about the stuff that doctors give to my children.

          People who love and care for animals have to be prepared to inflict pain and suffering on some of them. It’s not misleading, it’s just the way it is. I’m glad there are strict rules to keep it all to a minimum, but that minimum has to be there.

  9. Great article and I applaud your openness.

  10. Wouldn’t this logic suggest using human test subjects…harm a few, save 1000s…..overall reduction in suffering?

    • Patrick Smith

      Yes, but human research is even more highly regulated and expensive. As such it would take a lot more time and effort. The benefits of using models such as the zebrafish include their brief lifespan and potential for genetic manipulation, facets not present in human testing.

    • Juan Carlos Marvizon

      This is a valid point, Boodle. That’s why I and a lot of other people reject Utilitarianism as a foundation for ethics. There are some rights of an individual human being, like the right to life, that cannot be taken away for the benefit of others. However, I do not think that these basic human rights should be extended to animals. On the contrary, utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer, one of the creators of the animal rights movement, thinks that animals should have rights. This creates a number of problems, the first of which is: which animals? Because animals are not just dogs and cats and monkeys. They are also rats, snakes, roaches, mosquitoes and sponges. Are we going to give them all the right to life? Then we’ll have to live with mice and roaches in our homes and let mosquitoes infect us will all kind of nasty diseases. And if we pick and choose among the animals, on what basis do we do that? At the end we’ll have to base the choice on something like “sentience” or consciousness. But, on that base, it is clear that humans belong to a separate category from other animals, not because we are more intelligent, but because we have a series of characteristics, like extended consciousness, theory of mind, empathy, appreciation of beauty, sense of fairness and many human-specific emotions that give us a higher moral status over animals. We deserve to be treated better than a dog for the same reason that the dog deserves to be treated better than the ticks he has in his ears.