On animal testing

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.

22 thoughts on “On animal testing”

  1. For me, the problem is that animal testing is an industry in which people stand to lose jobs, money and vested interests if the amount of testing is reduced and welfare standards are improved. Not that I care about the people who make money from it, but it does create a conflict of interest in a lot of cases.

  2. Spot on, Owen.

    I've been a vegetarian for 40 odd years now, and would never harm an animal. But virtually all the major medical advances of modern times owe something to animal testing. Can't manage plastic shoes though – by the way, what do you run in? I'd imagine you'd want to avoid something stitched together by exploited children in Cambodia…

  3. I am puzzled by the ethics of vegetarianism.  Clearly to many intelligent and moral people eating meat, fish and so on is morally unacceptable (although I think a part of the objection may be aesthetic as much as moral):  while other people, equally fastidious in their ethics, genuinely can't see anything wrong with eating fish and meat, while of course acknowledging that animals reared for eating should be treated humanely (if that's the word) and killed in a way that minimises their fear and pain.  I'm in the latter camp myself.

    I also find it a little hard to reconcile the vegetarian position with acceptance of animal testing for the benefit of humans.  Killing animals for eating and subjecting them to medical tests designed to help develop drugs for humans both seem to me to entail accepting that animals are of a lower order of self-awareness and consciousness than humans and that humans are entitled to use them for the benefit of humans provided that in using them (for either purpose) the amount of pain inflicted is kept to a minimum and is commensurate with the human benefits sought (so, e.g., no animal testing for the development of cosmetics, and probably no battery hens for their eggs or meat).   So now we have Sally in one camp (against animal testing, for eating meat);  Owen in another (against eating meat, for animal testing); and me in a third (in favour of both, with suitable qualifications).  Yet I'm sure all three of us think seriously about right and wrong and try to live decent lives… 

    Yet I'm reluctant to accept that all these moral issues are purely personal and subjective.  Maybe it's just that I love my roast beef and Yorkshire pudding so much that I have convinced myself that it's all right to kill cows so that I can go on eating them.  Humanely, of course.


  4. In a famous thought-experiment, Peter Singer once wondered what would happen if an alien race landed on earth, equipped with a level of consciousness and self-awareness far surpassing our own.    Would they be entitled to conclude that, because the consiousness of humans was less than theirs, that they were entitled to eat humans for their pleasure (very good with apple sauce, etc)?  In other words, is it merely the relative position that entitles one species to eat another?  Or do we think that our level of consciousness provides us with moral worth – and hence entitles us to protection from being eaten for the pleasure of others – whether or not a superior consciousness exists?

    There is no difficulty reconciling this with my views on animal testing.  We have to test drugs, either on animals or on humans. I would rather test them on animals – it is the lesser of two evils.  But we do not have to eat meat.  (If we did have to, then I would be willing to accept it.)

  5. Religious believers (who don’t include myself) presumably regard their God as possessing a self-awareness, consciousness and moral sense surpassing those of the humans that he himself, or she herself, created;  and they also seem to believe that (whether for that or some other reason) this entitles God to manipulate and control humans in whatever  way he/she fancies — and also to choose not to control them but rather to leave them to their own nefarious devices.  Whether this entitlement extends to God actually eating humans (even if he/she chooses not to exercise that particular right) is unclear: presumably it goes with being all-powerful.  But in fact, rather puzzlingly, religious — or rather Christian — practice seems to recognise the right in reverse, the faithful actually being allowed to eat their God.

    Apologies if this doesn’t add much light to the debate.

    1 June 06

  6. I don’t eat meat and I’m glad hunting with dogs has been banned. But I eat fish, wear leather shoes and support drug testing on animals up to a point. I am aware of my lack of consistency, but this perhaps is an area where emotion rather than logic tends to dominate.

    Let me try, anyway, to explain. I don’t eat meat because even in a relatively humane country like Britain there will inevitably be some cruelty, intentional or not, in the rearing and slaughtering of animals. But I think the main reason I don’t eat meat is, as Brian has suggested, an aesthetic one. I just don’t like the thought of putting dead flesh in my mouth.

    I’m glad hunting with dogs has been banned, partly, true enough, out of sympathy with the hunted animals. But the main reason is to do not with the hunted but with the hunters. As Owen has said, killing animals, or even harming them, for fun is unacceptable. If you take pleasure in killing animals you diminish your humanity. Let’s not hear any humbug about keeping the foxes down. Hunters hunt because they enjoy it.

    How come, then, that I eat fish and wear leather shoes? I eat fish principally because it makes life easier. I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t, but it’s a compromise if you like. Some might call it hypocrisy. Same with leather shoes and other animal products. Even vegans have to strike a compromise by eating at all. If a pig has rights, doesn’t a fly? And if a fly has rights, doesn’t a bacterium? And if a bacterium, doesn’t a cell? And if a cell has rights, doesn’t that collection of cells called a cabbage also have rights?

    Animal testing? I’d rather we didn’t have to. But people are animals too.

    If you have to choose between great suffering by one species (people) and a limited amount of suffering by others (monkeys, dogs, mice), what else are you to do?

    I cannot, incidentally, accept Sally's position. If you think it's wrong to experiment on some animals for the benefit of others (people), then isn't there an even greater wrong in killing and eating them? We need to experiment on animals to prevent disease and death. We don't need to eat them to live.

  7. To be intellectually consistent, a vegetarian would have to lie down and die, motionless. Just batting your eyelids kills micro-organisms – which have just as much a "right to life" as any human, presumably. Putting one foot in front of the other slaughters them on a Maoist scale. I tried it for two years as a way of losing weight (on the basis that I had never seen a fat vegetarian). It didn't work for me – after two years I was seeing one in the mirror every day.

    Owen replies: Nonsense. That problem would only arise if you thank that all life has equal moral worth.  As is clear from the discussion, I do not.  I believe the life of a human is worth more than a monkey, and that is in turn worth more than a sheep.  I think microorganisms have a worth that is small enough to be negligible.  But I do not lazily conclude that because humans have more worth than a sheep, that sheep have no moral value and that humans are entitled to eat them.

  8. I can't see that being intellectually consistent is any way to go about deciding on your diet. Vegetarians, in my experience, don't choose to eat as they do out of an "animals have the right to life" argument, but because they deplore the industrial processing of creatures to provide sustenance for humans. They also (or at least this applies to me) have felt quite smug in recent years as BSE, Foot and Mouth, CJD and Fast Food Nation have highlighted the inherent dangers of the western carnivorous diet.

    I speak as a fat vegetarian, who has just gained great satisfaction from killing a bluebottle…

  9. Rob

    I find it hard to understand your willingness to accept a lack of intellectual consistency.   I believe that my vegetarianism (and my support for controlled drug testing on animals) is intellectually consistent.  I believe that animals have morally relevant claims (not "the right to life" as you put it, but rights nonetheless) which mean that we should not kill and eat them for pleasure.  

  10. You appear, Owen, to define moral worth as belonging to those species that possess, in varying degrees, consciousneness, and in particular self-consciousness. The higher the degree of consciousness, the greater the moral worth. Isn’t that just saying that we are better disposed to creatures that are like ourselves? But how do we know  that snails or buffaloes or amoebas don’t take a similar view? You will argue that lacking our degree of consciousness they could not possibly reflect on these matters, but where is the evidence for that? Maybe they have different kinds of consciousness. We think we are special, but I’m not so sure. For we remain perpetually hanidcapped in our inquiries by the belief that man is the measure of all things.

  11. Baralbion

    It seems to me that you are (intentionally?) conflating two separate issues:

    1. is it coherent to believe that consciousness might be a basis on which to apportion moral worth? 

    2. would there be general agreement to that?

    It is possible that the principle might be correct, but that it might not command universal or even majority support.  When the Constitutional Convention agreed in 1787 that slaves should count as "three fifths" of a person they may have reflected majority opinion at the time, but they were wrong then and they would be wrong today.   

    It is possible for the majority to be wrong about a moral choice: I believe that it follows that moral statements are objective statements about the world, not merely subjective statements about how we feel about the world.

    So you are right that snails might take the view that the posession of antennae is a vital determinant of moral worth; or that ants might judge that the ability to form cohesive social groups should be given more weight.  They might outnumber those who think that self-consciousness is important. But that is no reason for agreeing. Weight of numbers does not affect the validity of the argument – or the truth – one way or the other.

    But your cenral point is correct: there is a risk that we will be unduly influenced by our tendency to be well-disposed to creatures like ourselves.


  12. Owen – my "intellectually consistent" remark was aimed at Tom Paine. Personally, I think vegetarianism is entirely intellectually consistent, and outdoes any justification for the eating of meat. I think TP was adoptiong the usual jibe addressed to veggies – why do you wear leather shoes etc? (Answer: because I don’t eat shoes).

  13. I'm only 13 and i think animal testing… is well i can't really decide i've been looking up different things for my English Project but like you said it's horrible for cosmetics why should innocent animals die so we can look pretty… But then i'm in between with saving humans lives. On Peta.org there is a video of what the technicians do to animals and i can say it mortified me.

    Animals deserve to be treated with respect and anyway scientists have said there are different ways of testing things… why not use them… it's probably because it's expensive to use.

  14. Owen

    Certainly, the majority view is not always right, but then nor is the minority view. My point, I think, was just that the anthropocentric view is not the only one. Nor, indeed, is the geocentric or even the cosmocentric one. There may be a standpoint somewhere of which we can have no conception. The religious might perhaps call that God’s view. Oh dear, sorry for coming so far from your original post.

    And, Abbie, some good points well put.

  15. I think Owen’s view is fair enough – that killing and causing harm for pleasure is wrong, but doing so out of necessity is ok. I do eat meat – but I am completely against factory farming – personally I think all animal products should be from huamne systems (e.g. free range) and organic. I also support animal testing (not cosmetics obviously – but we don’t test cosmetics on animals in the UK anyway).

    Just want to say to Abbie and everyone else for that matter – don’t believe all you see and hear from PETA and similar groups. I used to be totally against animal testing because of the stuff I’d seen from various animal rights groups. It was only when I saw it for myself that I realised the reality was totally different. I won’t say there haven’t been bad technicians, but most of us do what we do because we like animals and want to look after them as best we can. British labs really aren’t as bad as they’re made out to be.

  16. I think eationg meat is ok, and i feel the same for animal testing. animal testing is or future for success, and where would most of your medications and vaccinations be if it wasnt for animal testing. im a strong morals person…but i think that humans matter way more than little creatures that are meant for eating or used by us.

  17. Hello, unknownperson

    It makes no sense for you to say that "little creatures" are "meant for eating".  Meant by whom?  You are simply turning your back on the moral decision.  If you think there is a reason why it is OK to kill and eat an animal, desspite its capacity to feel pain, but not OK to kill and eat a human, you need to explain why, not resort to meaningless claims about what creatures are "meant" for.


  18. hey i am not a vegetarian bur i  am pretty much against animal testing. But recently i have been doing a debate on it and an essay which requires both for and against so i have been thinking is it that bad after all well no. i think this because what we are doing really is sacraficing a few animals for a cure that can help millions of people across the world, which has already been done. I am still against but i think they should just keep the tests to a minimum and only carry them out for medical purposes and NOT COSMETIC!!

  19. Amimal testing for cosmetics is wrong! most of the time we react differently to the animals they test on anyway and alot of tests are only 37% accurate. If animals dont use the cosmetics, its unethical that we should wish them such fear and such agony to test on them! I became a vegetarian when I was only 4 years old (which so many people don’t belive but i cross my heart it is the gods honest truth) and ever since then, i have refused to own anything that is real leather, real fur or has been tested on animals. I belive so strongly that animals shouldn’t be tested on that for cleaning products, I actually started to make my own because I wasnt 100% sure that the products I would be buying haddn’t been tested on animals. I don’t see how anyone could just accept animal testing!

  20. i think that animal research is good. would you rather have us be tested! you could be dead right now if it weren’t for animal research!  they mostly use mice, rats and rodents. the animals that most people don’t like.the animals are breed and raised and a place just for animal testing! i think its right for scientist but not KFC of anything else. i think its ONLY right for medical purposes!

  21. I happened on this post while searching this blog for the term “vegan”. I agree with your point about expediency being a factor that could result in a moral decision to eat an animal. However, I am not so sure that the argument can be extended to support animal testing. I am a “newbie” in this area and have only recently converted to veganism. I find the abolitionist approach much more convincing than Singer’s welfarist approach. Have you read anything by Gary Francione?

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