Debate Magazine

UK Plc Responds to Animal Rights Activists Disrupting Experimental Research

By Philosopher's Beard
Apparently British animal rights groups have had a great deal of success with internet and letter campaigns persuading almost all air and sea transport companies into the UK from carrying live animals intended for experimental research (BBC news). The way they achieved this seems quite interesting in itself, but it is the response of the UK establishment that had me laughing out loud.
The activists are targeting the companies peripherally involved in the industry they want to stop. This means that they have (finally) mastered the basics of capitalism:
1) Interdependence: capitalism is networked - it is a complex system of interdependencies
2) Indifference: the people and companies on whom we are indirectly dependent have no particular interest in us or what we do.
They realised that if a company makes 0.00001% of its profits moving live mice around, then when it starts receiving letters saying that this is evil it will do a calculation and find that that little money isn't worth that much public disgust. And sure enough, the transport companies folded one by one, apparently without any direct or implied threats of violence or illegality on the part of the activists. It's hard to see what's wrong with this campaign, when both the activists and companies are behaving voluntarily, ethically, and legally.
Nevertheless UK plc has seen the big picture and responded apoplectically. The scientific establishment says this is a matter of "intimidation" by "extremists". How so? Does writing letters disapproving of the ethics of a certain activity now count as a form of violence? (Someone should tell Amnesty International.) Or, to put it another way, are they saying to animal rights activists that they are not allowed to peacefully express their views in any way that might possibly have any effect? Because this is quite a peculiar view of democracy in general and individual liberty and civil society in particular.
The funniest thing is where the science spokesman says that unless the campaign ends and they are able to buy their research animals cheaply from abroad, "we can see a potentially massive impact on the collaborative nature of research, and which will slow research progress". In terms of intimidation, in this new extended sense of the word, this sounds to me like a threat: give us cheap animals to experiment on or we'll stop curing your diseases.
But it gets stranger still. The rhetoric of the government's righteous indignation toggles without a shred of irony between nationalistic and humanistic arguments.
So on the one hand David Willetts, the minister for science, says things like this:
The use of animals in research remains essential to develop new treatments and drugs, improve our understanding of disease and prove the safety and effectiveness of drugs and chemicals before they go forward for human trials.
Of course animal rights activists dispute this claim, but I won't get into that because it is in any case quite beside the point. Just because some part of that research might not take place in the UK, does not mean that it won't get done (in some other lab in the big wide world). This is just a standard line that is repeated whenever anyone makes any kind of criticism of animal experiments, whether or not it is relevant.
The real concern of the government is the interests of UK plc in particular, not humanity in general. The government seems to have chosen the 'life sciences' industry - the "jewel in the crown" of the UK economy as David Cameron put it recently - for special treatment in their strategic industrial policy .
What UK government is listening to is corporate Big Pharma, and this is what they say:
It's a major problem, a problem of great significance" according to the ABPI's chief executive Steven Whitehead, "this research must not be allowed to go anywhere else. We have the intellectual capacity, we have the industrial capacity, we have a supportive government committed to life sciences, and we want this discovery work to take place here
In other words, the issue is not whether or not life-extending medicines get created, but whether UK plc wins the science race and makes the profits out of it.
There appears to be a scientific-government-industry complex here, which perceives its interests as the interests of the UK. Britain has a habit of this - before 2007 it was finance that was UK plc's "crown jewel". In this peculiar view of free markets, the voluntary and legal actions of diverse market actors are to be seen as illegitimate (intimidation) and an attack on the national interest. As for the intellectual grounding for this position, the Cameron government seems to have fallen for the oldest business economics trick in the book, the claim that economic growth depends on international trade which depends on 'out-competing' other countries.UK plc responds to animal rights activists disrupting experimental research

You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

Add a comment