This week's instalment of Foreign Correspondent ran a story about some extremist animal activists and their passionate views on scientific and medical testing on animals. Always a subject that can get people talking; so I thought I'd have a go.
I'm not going to get too narky, but I do want to point out the difference between "animal testing" and "animal cruelty" - a distinction that many smelly dole-bludger extremist protesters don't seem to make. There is no question in my mind that some researchers are unnecessarily cruel when testing animals, and I'm sure there are plenty of existing, legally accepted testing methods that could be made more comfortable for the subjects. But saying that testing on animals itself is cruel is like saying that all doctors are murderers because some of them have negligently killed people. It's ok to say this: I support animal testing but I do not support animal cruelty.
One piece of viewer feedback on the ABC TV site suggested that, instead of testing poor animals, we should be getting into human stem-cell research with gusto. Which brings me to my first question - how do such people think we reached the point we're at with stem cell research and other scientific advances - by testing on crash test dummies?
Another tactic that the 'extreme' animal activists appear to employ (like a lot of people who prefer to panic than to read up on a subject) is to phrase things as if there are no conditions to animal testing, and it's all black-and-white. One of the protesters on the program was shouting the slogan, "What if it was your dog???" when there are no circumstances in countries like the UK (where the protest was happening) and Australia where anyone's pet would be considered for testing. Unless somebody dropped into a lab and said, "here's my Poodle - I don't want him any more, please do whatever you want with him" and signed a release. Sure, puppy dogs are adorable. But if somebody said to me, "You have two choices - I can test this procedure on your doggy or on your baby", I'd be kissing Fido goodbye. This brings me to my second question - would these protesters be quite so vehement if the tests were performed on funnel-webs and slugs?
Another example of the black-and-white view is to phrase questions like, "Do you think it's OK to break the backs of hundreds of mice?" No doubt the activists would like us, and the people who passively accept their flyers in the street, to think that researchers grab handfuls of mice and snap them in half with their bare hands. Which brings me to my final questions:
1. Is it OK to put hundreds of mice through a painful, disabling procedure for no good reason? No.
2. Is it OK to break the backs of mice humanely and with pain control because it directly relates to research that might enable a person who can't feel their feet to walk to the shops one day? Yep.
Could you live with yourself if Fluffy suffered for science?