Opinion: Human rights? Don’t forget animal rights…

 

It wasn’t a passion for human rights that attracted me to the Liberal Democrats, but animal rights.

Five weeks ago, I hadn’t even registered to vote. I’d given up on politics, but something about this election spoke to me and I suddenly wanted a say, rushing to get my name down just before the deadline.

But who to vote for?

I thought about what mattered to me. Animals mattered to me. We share the earth with them, yet often they come off worse in that deal. Their freedom’s been compromised. They need protection – more than often from us.

So, I got on the case. I e-mailed all the main parties, asking what they were doing to protect and promote the welfare of animals. The Lib Dems were the first to get back, highlighting the progress they’d made while in government. Working with farmers, retailers and consumers to ensure full compliance of the EU’s ban on battery cages; pressing the European Commission to properly enforce a ban on sow stalls and promoting EU rules to support a humane and sustainable farming system for animals across the board.

And it wasn’t just about livestock. The Lib Dems had been calling for a ban on the use of wild animals by circuses for over a decade. In April 2013, they introduced draft legislation that would have implemented such, yet resistance from the Tories meant it didn’t become law. Norman Baker pushed for the Government to review Section 24 of the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, poorly-worded legislation that lacked transparency regarding the use of animals in research. And, perhaps best of all, they successfully introduced a ban regarding cosmetic testing in the UK, Lynne Featherstone also announcing, during her time as minister, that an additional ban regarding animal testing for household products would follow later this year.

[Update: Thanks to Tom Holder for pointing out an error. Labour introduced a ban on cosmetic testing in 1998, although we supported it in our manifesto.]

It was a track record that encouraged me not just to vote Lib Dems, but to actually join the party. You see, there is still a lot to be done, and I want to help do it. Campaigning to replace all animal testing with more humane and effective alternatives; ending puppy farming; combating a surge in dog fighting as well as the worrying trend in dog theft, locally – the two believed to be related.

So, I e-mailed HQ. I had noticed that while there are party working groups to protect and promote the welfare and rights of just about every human interest group out there, there were none for animals. I proposed we set one up and offered every help in doing so. I contacted my local party, offering to help with research and policy work, gathering more info and contacts to further this important work within our own community, and I’d be more than happy to lend a hand in any other area, were it deemed helpful.

You see, we can’t stop now. The great work that’s been done needs to continue. For one thing, we need to ensure that it doesn’t get undone by the Tories, such as the hunting ban set to be repealed this year in the Commons (with its big Liberal Democrat sized hole).

So as we look at human rights, let’s not forget the rights of the animals we share this great planet with. Let us all agree, as fellow member Leanne Jones stated in her recent Voice piece, ‘that every human and animal deserve the equal right to live a free and healthy life.’ And let us work together to achieve that.

* Wayne Simmons is a journalist, novelist and dog walker from Northern Ireland, now living in Cardiff. A former Lib Dem, who co-founded the LD Animal Welfare group ((http://www.facebook.com/groups/LDAnimalWelfareGroup), he is now a member of the Animal Welfare Party (http://www.animalwelfareparty.org). Find Wayne at his blog (www.waynesimmons.org).

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19 Comments

  • If it was clear that the Lib Dem’s were the only choice for animal welfare and that became widely known, coupled with policies that were still very reasonable (not pushing to make everyone veggie, just sensible, practical rulemaking for improving animal welfare) then I could see this could be a really good avenue to explore further.

    The animal welfare lobby are probably the most successful political campaigners around – yet they have no parliamentary platform. In my local city you can be sure to encounter them any day of the week somewhere, it’s been that way since I can remember. A well thought out campaign based on “we could actually implement these ideas if we had some MP’s” might persuade some people that the party is the only choice for them.

  • Conor McGovern 19th May '15 - 12:59pm

    We should definitely look at expanding on our policy in this area. Freedom can’t just apply to one species, surely?

  • When it comes to animal research I appreciate the Lib Dems for taking a sensible, evidence-based, policy. Many of the scientific community was aghast at the ridiculous policies by The Green Party to effectively ban large swathes of animal research crucial to ongoing medical and veterinary developments. Instead we took the sensible line of supporting (including with additional funding) the 3Rs – replacement, refinement and reduction of animals in research.

    On a factual note. We did not introduce a ban on cosmetic testing on animals – Labour did that in 1998, though our manifesto supported such a move. Similarly the EU marketing ban on cosmetics (which came into effect in 2013) was based on legislation from around 2004 (that created a process for a future ban).
    We did, however, introduce the ban on household products that will come into effect in October (the big work on this was actually back in around 2011 when in Government we stopped granting new licenses for household product testing on animals).

  • Chris, Conor, thanks for your thoughts.

    Interestingly, there is a political party dedicated entirely to Animal Welfare: http://www.animalwelfareparty.org/

    I found out about them a few weeks back from an interview Andrew Neil conducted on Daily Politics, and they came across really well. They said that a central aim of theirs is to encourage larger parties to adopt parts of their manifesto within their own and offered every assistance in achieving such. Perhaps they would be a good liaison for the Lib Dems in broadening their own policy with this regard?

    Tom, thanks for the factual amendment. You’re completely right – I’ve misread the info, there.

    Editors, in light of Tom’s correction, if you wanted to make a quick amendment to the last few of lines in paragraph 6, I’d suggest the following:

    ‘And, perhaps best of all, while fully supporting the existing EU ban regarding cosmetic testing in the UK, Lynne Featherstone also announced, during her time as minister, that an additional ban regarding animal testing for household products would follow later this year.’

    Thanks again, all.

  • It’s not “animal testing”; it’s “animal research”. Research makes up much more of the animal usage in this country than testing and banning all animal use in research is not far off banning biological and medical research. Let’s make absolutely no bones about this: the absolute, overwhelming majority of all medical advances in the last hundred years were critically dependent on animal research and there’s absolutely no prospect of this ceasing to be true in the coming decades.

    Banning animal research would have a huge human cost in terms of lost medical benefits; and it would devastate biological research in this country. We already have a intrusively strong system of regulation surrounding animal research in this country, do not make the mistake of believing that further restrictions will not do real harm. The moral case for continued animal research is very, very strong.

    Politically, if the Lib Dems want to abandon hope of regaining the strong support among academics they once enjoyed, adopting ridiculous anti-science policies like pushing for a ban on all animal research is a great way to go about it.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th May '15 - 5:54pm

    Recently I was thinking how do we justify such poor treatment of animals on a massive scale and I came to the conclusion of survival. It is not just selfishness when it comes to things such as medical testing and possibly nutrition.

    Having said that, we do need to look out for animal rights too. I sometimes think vegetarian meals “taste better” because I don’t feel as guilty when eating them. However, I still eat a lot of meat.

    Regards

  • Jack, I’m not a scientist and would struggle to discuss things on that level. However, there are many charities and research organisations set up with the sole aim of reducing/ removing the need to use animals in research, many coming from a scientific perspective as well as animal rights perspective:

    http://www.frame.org.uk/

    http://www.drhadwentrust.org/

    http://www.nc3rs.org.uk/

    Part of the problem, as you rightly say, is the existence of legislation (particularly within the EU) that insists upon testing on animals for passing products as safe to use, even where pretty much everyone in the industry agrees it’s totally unnecessary. This group:

    http://eurogroupforanimals.org/

    … works to remove such legislation.

    I am interested to know, though, why your post reads so aggressively. What is it about this subject that riles you so much?

  • Eddie, thanks for your thoughts, sir. And, you know what, I’ve only really started to dig into the whole animal rights topic, myself, so definitely not any kind of veteran.

    I guess it’s working with dogs every day for the last few years. Seeing first hand how different one is from another, how they’ve their own personalities and emotions. I had been pescatarian for most of my life but went vegan about a year ago after learning about some questionable working practices within dairy farming.

    But I’m no Pollyana. While it’s fairly easy to limit the amount of animal product you consume, I’ve found it incredibly difficult to eliminate such completely. Walking dogs for 6-7 hours every day requires a good pair of walking shoes and I’ll be damned if I can find a pair that aren’t leather. Not to mention the bicycle I use to travel from one client’s home to another: tyres are made using animal product.

    It is an interesting point that Conor made earlier, about how freedom shouldn’t be limited to one species only – I agree whole-heartedly. In fact, an American friend of mine, who would describe himself very much as Libertarian, recently talked to me about that very thing. He had been so zealous about liberty for humans all his life, it kind of just seemed like a natural progression to him to start thinking about similar rights for animals. I think the case for animal rights is perhaps even stronger as, within a world predominantly designed by us, for us, animals are more vulnerable than ever.

    But I don’t want to preach and really don’t want to guilt anyone reading this article. It’s just food for thought, right?

    (That friend, by the way? He’s taken to a ‘mostly vegan’ lifestyle. Cutting down consumption of meat and dairy, but not ruling out).

  • Using animals for research and hunting are trivial issues in comparison the problems caused by human use of animals for food. Not only is at least 18% of global warming caused by animal husbandry but in additional the abuse of antibiotics in animal rearing is putting their efficacy in treating simple human ailments at serious future risk. Moving towards a plant-based diet is the most effective thing any individual can do for animal rights, and for the future well-being of the planet.

  • Craig Morrison 19th May '15 - 11:04pm

    Wayne, excellent article. I have been vegetarian for 20 years and after watching a Netflix film called Vegucated I went vegan a year ago. Animal welfare is close to my heart and an excellent reason to join the Lib Dems. I am a new member as well and not sure how the whole working group thing works but I would be interested in getting involved.

  • Evan Harris 20th May '15 - 7:47am

    In reply to Tom Holder, with regards to the 3Rs (Refinement, Replacement and Reduction) policy which is supported by all parties and interests groups except animal rights hardliners, I ask whether it is time to sacrifice alliteration for clarity and sincerity.

    The “reduction” policy is actually a policy of minimisation. The numbers of animals being used in research is going up. For good reasons: the volume of research (medical and vetinarary) is increasing, more animal models of human disease are being found, more transgenic models are beings used and breeding pairs are included in the figures; etc.

    The policy is to minimise. While one day the numbers might reduce, that has not happened for years and so each year – for the sake of alliteration – the public is misled, expectations are raised and anti-viv activists given a reason to complain.

    In addition, it is time there was an acknowledgement that a “holistic” policy would embrace Education (about the real nature and benefits of animal research) and improving Transparency of the process (which was made secret to protect from animal rights activists’ disruption and from animal rights terrorists actions).

    That makes RRMET. Maybe while ditching the alliteration we can find a nice acronym that satisfies those who think policy should be based on marketing tool.

  • Craig, we watched that show too and it was a big factor in our going vegan, too.

    Another one to recommend, from the dietary benefits of a vegan lifestyle, solely, is Forks Over Knives. Little drier than Vegucated but still a good watch.

  • @OP – use of animals in research is utterly indispensable. Beyond the fact that some fields almost inherently need animal models (neuroscience, developmental biology etc) they are essential for the drug pipeline and the EU is correct to insist on them. Particularly for product safety – ultimately a strip of tissue in a tube won’t tell you if your drug causes liver failure…

    “Alternatives” are put forward that are actually nothing of the sort. In vitro studies can’t give the information animal studies give (as they are not whole organisms) and computer models are so far off being a replacement that it’s laughable. Modeling a cell is a massive pipe dream, let alone an animal. It really is a choice between accepting scientific research on animals or accepting medical research grinding to a halt and incurable diseases remaining incurable. You can’t have your cake and eat it, I’m afraid.

    I’ve kept this brief but I would stress to add that what I’m saying is 100% the scientific consensus, it might be painful to reappraise your views but dispensing of animal research would have huge costs.

  • @Wayne: “I am interested to know, though, why your post reads so aggressively. What is it about this subject that riles you so much?”

    Unlike you, I am a scientist – a geneticist working on microbes to be precise – and many of the people I know work on animal research. This riles me up because the argument is so depressingly one sided. There is a non-stop slew of anti-science rhetoric from the animal rights side yet the simple reality that animal research has been utterly vital in allowing huge steps forward in medical science and has a enormous positive impact on people’s lives is rarely commented on or reported. Let me make this very clear: almost without exception, every news story you see about a new drug or treatment relies on animal research. Without that research it wouldn’t have happened. The people doing animal research today are, without doubt, the good guys.

    As Duncan points out above, and I won’t repeat, there is no current alternative to animal research and there is unlikely to be at any point in the near future. Even in the longer term future, animal research will always have to continue to some extent or another if Biology is to continue to exist as a research discipline.

  • In response to Evan Harris.

    I do agree the word “reduction” has misled much of the public, and given animal rights groups a club to beat scientists around the head with. Minimize is a better word for sure, though the decades that the 3Rs has been around (Russell & Birch wrote about them in 1959) and its entrenchment in regulations makes it a challenge to change (not that that should necessarily stop us).

    I’m not so sure on your E and T – I think any future “3Rs” should be strictly a good-welfare-good-science concept. While openness and education are essential, they are also a separate issue (in my mind).

    Also – great to have you discussing this still – you’ve done such fantastic work supporting the scientific community through some very difficult times over the last 20 years or so.

  • Jack, the only person on this thread talking about good guys and bad guys… is you, sir!

    And yes, I may be but a lowly dog walker and hack but there are certainly plenty of scientists opposing animal research as far as I can tell.

    This group are of particular interest as they appear to approach the issue purely from a scientific/ evaluative/ safety perspective:

    http://www.safermedicines.org/index.php

    Also interesting to see their review of the latest 2015 manifestos and the startling fact that Labour seem to be the only of the major parties not to mention animal research at all.

  • Well, at the end of the day the alternative to testing new drugs on animals is to test them on people. The safer medicines organisation makes a case for that – in the end drugs ARE tested on people, through volunteers in clinical trials.

    But there are a lot of stages in the development of a new drug, or especially class of drugs, and we should pay attention to people like Jack when they tell us how important animal research is…

    If Liberal Democrat policy ever became banning all use of animals in scientific research, I would have to resign…

  • This piece, like many on animal rights, takes a very narrow view, only really considering the use of animals by humans, specifically livestock, medical research, (human) product testing and circus’s. Probably because these are the most obvious. However, if you truly believe ‘that every … animal deserve the equal right to live a free and healthy life.’ you would also address the protection of wild animals, such as those that will be displaced by house building…

  • @Wayne. First, for full disclosure, I should say I do a lot of science comms surrounding the animal research issue – so I’m not without my prejudices. I did this for years on a voluntary basis, and for the last few years I’m paid to help discuss it and open up the issue.

    Groups like FRAME, DHT and (particularly) NC3Rs do some fantastic work on trying to develop replacement technologies (NC3Rs also work on ways to reduce and refine animal research which is just as important). They are usually clear that animal research cannot currently be replaced, but do have different opinions about how likely full replacement is (and timescales). NC3Rs are truly a fantastic organisation. They are government funded and I hope any future Lib Dem manifesto explicitly promises to support them.

    Safer Medicines Trust are anything but a science organisation. They have argued that animal research could already be replaced, that animals have not benefited human health, and many other things which are rejected by any serious scientific organisation. Lately they are rebranding to pretend they have no position on animal research (but they have “serious concerns”).

    There are indeed a handful of scientists opposing animal research – they are a tiny minority. A Nature poll in 2011 found that 91.7% of biologists thought animal research was “essential to the advancement of biomedical science” (63.1% strongly agreed; 3.3% disagreed, of which only 0.7% strongly disagreed; 5% neither agreed nor disagreed). Other polls show even higher rates of support among the scientific community.

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