I have been a vegetarian since I was a teenager, and I wear plastic rather than leather shoes. I do this because I believe that animals have a rights, and that it is wrong to kill animals simply for pleasure.
I do not regard this as a purely personal choice: I would readily vote for a political party which was committed to making it a criminal offence to eat an animal for pleasure.
Even so I would have no hesitation in eating an animal if my life depended on it. To say that animals have rights is not the same as saying that they have the same rights as humans. (I would also have few qualms about a group of people killing and eating a fellow passenger in a shipwreck if there is no other way to survive. Rights can be trumped by other rights.)
I believe that the qualitities that attract moral consideration – essentially, consciousness and especially self-consciousness – are present in many animals but are more significant in humans than in guinea pigs and rats. I believe that a human being has a more signficant claim on our moral attention than a guinea pig.
I today signed ‘The People’s Petition‘ supporting the use of animals in medical research in the UK. The petition says
‘I believe that medical research is essential for developing new medical and veterinary treatments. I understand that finding safe and effective treatments and medicines requires some studies using animals.
I believe that medical research using animals, carried out to the highest standards of care and welfare, and where there is not alternative available, should continue in the UK.
I believe that people involved in medical research using animals have a right to work and live without fear of intimidation or attack.’
I do not support animal testing for cosmetics. But I believe that the good to mankind of medical research far exceeds the harm done to animals. I understand that animal models are not perfect measures of the risk and benefit to humans, but they are not, as the critics would have us believe, useless. They provide essential information that saves millions of lives and reduces suffering and disability. Even as a committed member of the vegetarian jihad, I therefore support the controlled use of animal testing.