Animal Aid

National Demonstration against Wickham Laboratories

Posted 9 September 2013

On Saturday 7th September, Animal Aid’s scientific consultant Dr Adrian Stallwood travelled to Gosport in Hampshire, to a national demonstration against Wickham Laboratories. Here is what he said:

‘It should go without saying that what goes on in laboratories like Wickham is absolutely, totally wrong. Much of the reason why it continues, in my opinion, is that our society is not yet properly developed in a moral sense. We are clever, sure enough, but when it comes to ethics and compassion, we are surely little more than idiots.

For a caring society would renounce the mass poisoning and suffering of sentient creatures as clearly so unacceptable that such activities would simply be placed off limits. A caring society would therefore make more than utterly feeble efforts to replace animals in medical research and testing – because it would have no choice. But whilst travesties like Wickham are permitted – worse, legally required – there is no drive to find alternatives. Animal cruelty has become the easy, lazy option, and the law is an ass.

To me, it is a measure of how truly lost places like Wickham are, when they can proudly display on their website images of rabbits in barren, sterile cages, peering out between the mesh bars like prisoners on death row. They clearly regard sophisticated, beautiful and vulnerable animals as just so many laboratory tools, to be used and then discarded.

Everyone who knows and cares for rabbits is aware of how fragile and emotional they can be, how clever they are, how wonderful their pair bonds and friendships. They make very poor ‘pets’ if not given high standards of welfare, and I dread to think how they must feel in the confines of a laboratory, and how much agony (both physical and mental) they must endure during their ordeals. Like other prey animals, they hide their distress from a casual or disinterested gaze, often until they are very sick.

I have never spent much time with mice, but I know people who have, and Animal Aid researched the issue for a recent report. It is clear that mice are intelligent, complex and sensitive, and suffer horribly in laboratory environments.

Industry apologists for places like Wickham say people keep ‘pets’ in similar conditions to our animals, what we do is not worse. Whilst it is true that some individuals persist in keeping lonely, neglected rabbits in prisons called ‘hutches’, most are not routinely poisoned, restrained in stocks that resemble torture devices, made deliberately ill and then summarily killed.

Another inane comparison is with livestock farming. People eat meat, they say, often from battery pig or chicken farms. Our animals are better looked after than these poor creatures. But if the standard of debate has reached such a nadir that we must resort to comparing levels of wickedness, then our society must step back and assess just how low it has sunk.

I’ve been called a hypocrite, both as a person for using drugs tested on animals, and as a doctor for prescribing them. But the simple fact is that those of us who are conscientious objectors to animal experiments are given no chance to sensibly exercise that right. Animal testing is legally mandatory. Opting out would mean no medical treatments for us personally, and in my case, leaving the medical profession. If a parallel set of medicines for all these ailments were developed without using animals, then it would indeed be hypocrisy to use the others. However, only the most desultory, cynical lip service is currently being paid to replacing animals in medical research and testing, meaning objectors have nowhere to turn in this monopoly of cruelty. Treatments developed in the past have used animals – but why must this be our perpetual, never-changing roadmap to the future? The lack of progress in halting these experiments is both a rejection of animal suffering, and a rejection of the rights of those citizens who wish to exercise an ethical choice, as is possible with cosmetics or food.

Finally, it is undoubtedly depressing to be campaigning for animals in laboratories right now. The number of procedures is again rising year on year, and this Government’s attitude to animals is the most despicable I’ve ever lived through. But in hard times, we must hold the line. If we become overwhelmed by lack of progress, and give up, who will be left? If nothing else, we can bear witness, hoping that one day, these abuses will end. We have to hope that day will eventually come.’

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