The ears are cute, the eyes appealing. But these rabbits will die after enduring tests for body-care products. According to Government figures for 1986, 10,101 experiments were carried out on live rabbits in Britain by putting substances into their eyes.
ANIMAL cruelty is a subject almost certain to raise the hackles of just about everyone. Take fox hunting, that quintessential, centuries-old, image of the English countryside. Objections to it are so strong that individuals travel large distances to disrupt the meetings, organisations like The League Against Cruel Sports buy up tracts of land in order to prevent hunting on it, forming natural refuges, and various councils have banned it on the land they own. Both the hunters and antis (pinks and sabs respectively) accuse each other of unspeakable disregard for nature in highly accusatory language, their positions seemingly immovably entrenched.
The problem is, of course, that coming to some decision about fox hunting means making, basically, an emotive choice and not a rational one. What one sees as his personal freedom another sees as some sort of monstrous imposition. So it is possible for any political party to make a rational statement about the animal rights issue, to make this 'definite law'?
In 1979 Lord Houghton formed the General Election Co-ordinating Committee for Animal Protection, which promised to, 'bring animals into polities'. And it worked: the Labour Party, for instance, pledged to eventually ban blood sports if it retained power. Some had misgivings, however, for the policy had (as is the usual case with the Labour Party) been decided by a small, vociferous lobby whose definition of blood sports also included, rightly or wrongly, fishing. Angling clubs up and down the country were aghast and urged their (largely working class) members not to vote Labour. Needless to say history records that the Labour Party lost the election. It's even harder to see how the Tories could ban grouse shooting without biting the hand that fed them.
Could we do better? Well, the first thing is to realise that there is a difference between that which is done with a private responsibility and that which is done in the public name. The fact that opinions do differ means that by promising to ban blood sports we run the risk of being dictatorial, totalitarian even. The hunt sabateurs either do not make this distinction, or, in their anger, choose to ignore it. That is their choice - but it is no way for a political party to act, as the Labour Party found to its cost.
Morally reprehensible or not fox hunting is a private act that actually kills very few foxes per year, it is only its high public profile that makes it such a target. The future of bloodsports will probably depend upon the level to which we can inculcate into our offspring a respect for nature (based upon a respect for their own dignity probably). But what about vivisection - which takes place behind closed doors, in secret and (most importantly) in the public name. Is it possible to make a rational decision about that?
Vivisection literally means 'cutting alive', and it is fairly well known that live animals do get cut up to further our scientific knowledge, manufacture drugs, and test various products. These experiments are generally excused on the grounds of a higher public good, justifiable as animal lives verses human lives as it were - and because of this apparent rationality everybody seems to accept it. The Home Office encourages this view, going so far as to publicly state in unambiguous terms, 'the infliction of pain on experimental animals only avoids becoming cruelty if it is compensated for by the consequential human good, which must be serious and necessary, not frivolous and dispensible'. Since the Home Office is the body that is responsible for the issue of licenses needed for such experiments it must be assumed that it believes those experiments actually performed are necessary. But are they, and does the government really believe what it says, if not does it know what it is talking about?
Let's take LD 50 tests as an example. The name stands for Lethal Dose 50% and is defined by the Home Office as 'a numerical index which gives some information about the acute toxicity of chemical substances'.
It works by feeding some new product to a group of captive animals until half of them die, at which point the toxicity is established. The animals are generally rats, though birds, fish, monkeys and dogs are also used. The survivors are either destroyed or used in the next set of tests.
The procedure was worked out in 1927 to test newly discovered 'wonder drugs' such as insulin, but the products tested nowadays vary enormously from furniture polish and shampoo to pet food and candles. In fact everything has to be tested before it is allowed onto the market.
Now, although the law makes manufacturers carry it out for our good in accordance with the Home Office directives the test is known to be perfectly unreliable. This is because animals vary widely in their reaction to each and every substance. Penicillin is poisonous to guinea pigs, for instance, while sheep are fairly immune to arsenic. Morphine, used as an anaesthetic on man, produces the opposite effect, manic, almost demented behaviour, in cats and mice. Moreover since it is used only to establish how poisonous something is if you ate it, it cannot indicate how bad it might be for you in the long term. Nor does 'acute toxicity' measure the cumulative effects of two or more products taken together.
The legal wrangle over Thalidomide stems from the fact that the makers of the drug, Distillers, followed government guidelines at every stage in its development. Therefore, they argue, the fact that it did harm a lot of people (the drug was responsible for at least 10,000 malformed babies) is the government's responsibilty not theirs. The same story applies to Opren, Eraldrin, Debendox, Isoproteneral, Pheniformin etc. These last two drugs alone were responsible for an epidemic killing 3,500 people and causing 1,000 deaths annually respectively.
This is not to say that the companies want to see the LD50 test requirements overhauled to protect themselves and their customers - far from it. In an astonishing revelation William McMillian, when director of the Chemical Industries Association, insisted that they wanted to see the number of chemical experiments reduced adding, "but where you have a substance which is being exported, and governments and transport agencies require a number to fill in on their little bits of paper we're saddled with LD50".
In other words the drugs industry would prefer to dump their chemicals on the market untested!
No wonder, then, that when some years ago, Israeli doctors went on strike the official death rate dropped by half. Likewise in Columbia, some time after, when the decline in mortality was 52% during a 52 day doctors strike.
Apologists for the drug companies and Home Office point out the eradication of disease in our cities and then claim a victory for technology, science and the march of progress. The implication is that the new drugs can only enhance our lives even more.
Needless to say this is stretching the truth to breaking point. Most of the killer diseases were wiped out through better sanitation, cleaner drinking water and healthier homes. The death rate for TB in the mid 19th century was around 4,000 per million head of population. When, as a result of animal experimentation, the BCG vaccination was developed the mortality figures were already down to 500 per million. Likewise with diseases associated primarily with infant mortality, measles, diptheria and the like, the death rate had already fallen to nine-tenths before the introduction of antibiotics. It is worth noting that even with all our new drugs the incidence of TB still went up with the arrival of disease-laden Asians (in Bradford, in fact, there was something of an epidemic). Clearly, if public health were the vital factor in establishment thinking, immigration barriers, and not new drugs, would have been the order of the day.
Many of the new products pumped out by the drugs industry are, in fact, designed to cure side effects of the very drugs they make in the first place. Some 15% of the hospital beds in Britain are occupied by victims of this syndrome. Of the 45,000 drugs on sale throughout the world today it is reckoned that only 200 or so are of any real benefit to us as a specie. Bearing in mind the diversity of that specie and the ailments that it suffers then the actual number per race is probably fewer.
The sad fact that human good, in the eyes of the manufacturers, really means human goodies, which means profit. And the even sadder fact that the thousands of new chemicals being marketed every year following the same test route as Thalidomide hasn't made the government go rushing back to the drawing board, makes a mockery of their 'human good' argument.
Arguably however, the biggest victim is science itself. Because of the whole situation many people are distrustful of not merely doctors but science as a whole. This should not be the case at all, for the LD50 tests represent a travesty of scientific methodology. Real science would be represented by the perfection of cell culture technology, for instance, which could be used to replace the animals and provide a surer test medium for the public. There can be no doubt whatever that a nationalist Britain must outlaw all animal experimentation, making the companies use the alternative test procedures that exist already or that they will be made to develop with some of their profits.
The way forward, towards some definite law regarding animal cruelty, lies in restraining the greed, truth-twisting and irresponsibility of the drug companies and the Home Office alike, yet freeing true scientific research into protecting us all - including the laboratory animals.