The Animal Lab Protest

2006-01-15

in Oxford, Politics, Science

Police at Broad Street and Cornmarket

When I walked across central Oxford to return The Life Aquatic, I found the city suffused with a very heavy police presence, on account of the protest that was held today against the Oxford animal lab. Presumably, that was also the reason for the 10m tall, metal-covered and razorwire-topped fence around the lab construction site itself that I saw yesterday. While it’s always a bit unsettling to see hundreds of police officers, this group was much less intimidating than most I have seen. Firstly, they were all in reflective yellow. While I am sure there were other officers dressed in civilian clothes, it is still much more reassuring to see patrols of twenty yellow-jacketed officers with faces uncovered than the black riot gear clad police forces that I’ve seen in Seattle, Washington D.C., Prague, and elsewhere. Secondly, while in North America they would have been bristling with automatic weapons, here they were visibly armed with nothing more than pepper spray and low-profile batons.

With regards to the cause of the protest itself, I’ve said before that I think it’s a misguided campaign: and not only because of some of the objectionable tactics that have been employed by protesters.

While animals do have some level of moral considerability, that does not automatically preclude the moral legitimacy of animal testing for medical purposes. Obviously, it’s not a thing that should be done lightly or capriciously and efforts should be made to minimize both how much such testing takes place and the level of suffering inflicted in the course of it. For the foreseable future, however, animal testing will be a necessary part of medical research and development. There is a balance that must be struck between the development of things like new medicines and surgical techniques, their thorough testing, and the decent treatment of animals. Already, Britain has in place rigorous protection for laboratory animals. British animal labs are inspected more than ten times a year, usually at unannounced times: much more often than in most countries. 85% of medical experimentation in Britain is conducted on rats and only 2% of all procedures cause “severe pain or distress.”

The Oxford animal lab is also a particularly poor target for public anger, given that it is meant to consolidate existing Oxford labs rather than provide new capacity for animal experimentation. Partly, the move to consolidate has been motivated by the property destruction that has become an unwelcome feature of the protest campaign.

Indeed, that protection extends far, far beyond that extended to the millions of food animals that are slaughtered here annually, as well as elsewhere in the world, to provide for the tables of British consumers. Like other developed countries, Britain has an industrial meat industry that I am certain would shock and appall most consumers if they had a good sense of how it operates. The fact that 75% of American poultry inspectors refuse to eat chicken should be indicative of something. Those concerned with animal welfare should pay greater attention to what they buy and eat, before moving to condemn practices that are necessary for the advancement of important humanitarian goals.


  • As Spencer pointed out on his blog, The Globe and Mail – bastion newspaper of the centre-left in Canada – has given its endorsement to the Tories. It is looking more and more like we’re headed for a Harper government. This is a prospect I find very worrisome.
  • Lots of IR people are apparently going to the James Bond bop at St. Antony’s tonight. (Roham is on the poster.) For my part, I feel more like reading, especially after the enormous eight egg veggie omelet I cooked and ate with Nora.
  • Neal is leaving China tomorrow. I wish him a safe journey back to Vancouver.
  • Going to http://photo.sindark.com/ automatically forwards you to my Photo.net page: where I post my more successful attempts at photography.
  • This FAQ for Canon EOS cameras has some really good information in it, presented in an accessible manner.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

B January 14, 2006 at 9:23 pm

For an alternate take, here’s a website run by those opposed to the lab.

Personally, I am closer to your position. The point is to minimize how much of this happens, not stage hopeless public protests.

Decision Canada 2006 January 14, 2006 at 9:30 pm

We have a prediction for your riding:

North Vancouver (Incumbent: Don Bell)

This riding to me is what I call a “False Alarm”. In this case, voters are saying this will be a super close race. On election night, that will be proven wrong, and Don Bell will walk away with a large chunk of the Tory vote because of Silver’s flip-flopping views on many important issues.
Prediction: Liberal

Anonymous January 14, 2006 at 11:09 pm

The North Vancouver landslide evacuation alert has been lifted. Just thought you would like to know.

Anonymous January 15, 2006 at 2:19 am

If you haven’t already seen this, I am pretty sure you will find it fascinating:

PostSecret Blog

Milan January 15, 2006 at 2:21 am
Anonymous January 30, 2006 at 3:36 pm

For an unknown reason, your blog is now beating BBC stories about the protest in Google rankings.

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