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.
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.
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.
PhD student at the University of Manchester