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Should anti-vivisectionists boycott animal-tested medicines?
It is unfortunate that our opponents have urged on us, and so discredited, a policy that might add a useful dimension to the anti-vivisection campaign; namely, a boycott of animal-tested medicines. Colin Blakemore and the columnist Johann Hari have argued that if we oppose animal testing we should do without medicine that includes such tests in its production, and should carry a card stating our policy in case of emergency. According to BUAV (2006a) some pro-vivisection groups issue such cards. The same challenge (e.g. 'Don't you go to the doctor when you're ill?') might be put forward by individuals, such as employees of pharmaceutical companies, to whom one is addressing protests.
The consensus in the movement is that a boycott is neither necessary nor potentially useful. Even campaigners who are sympathetic to the idea, or might have put it into practice, could encounter moral or tactical problems. Yet a boycott seems also to offer some moral and tactical advantages; while some of the reasons given for rejecting it seem weak or inconsistent with other abolitionist arguments ' an important consideration from the standpoint of credibility. And although the publicized initiative has come from the opposition, the idea may well have occurred to activists, or unaffiliated individuals, privately.
It is not enough to be satisfied in ourselves that we are justified in taking animal-tested medicines if other people are not convinced by our reasons and accept the opposition's charge that, at best, we have only a half-hearted attachment to our principles or that, at worst, we are conscious hypocrites. If we take the medicines we must have a strong response to those charges.
To explore the issue I wrote to several key anti-vivisection and animal-rights groups, asking for either an organizational opinion or opinions of individual members, or both, either in reply to ten questions, or as general comments. Where the organization's website offered an FAQ answer on the subject, I consulted it. Although most comments offer more than one point, I have quoted and considered each point separately, as far as possible. I've also introduced some arguments that were not raised by respondents, but occurred to me or were suggested privately.
In the attached report I consider the anti-boycott positions within the movement; ask what, in the absence of a boycott, is the most effective response to the vivisectors' charge of hypocrisy; go on to pro-boycott arguments; and review other possible measures with which to attack vivisection in our role as healthcare consumers ' not of course excluding our role as activists. Considering these other measures, I suggest an umbrella campaign comprising them as well as boycotts, according to individual preference.
Full references are given at the end of the report, but in the text, except where otherwise specified, all quotations are to be understood as dated 2006, the year they were either received in e-mails or accessed on the Internet in cases where no original date appears.
All abolitionists regard animal experiments as unethical, even when scientific arguments feature prominently in the person's or group's anti-vivisection case. So the heart of the problem being addressed is that in taking the medicines one might be benefiting from procedures against which one is actively campaigning on at least partly ethical grounds.
Section 1. Anti-boycott arguments
This section overlaps to an extent with Section 2, 'How to respond to the accusation of hypocrisy if you are taking the medicines', since the latter section elaborates on and provides factual support for what I consider to be the soundest points made in Section 1. The difference is that under the heading 'Anti-boycott arguments' those points are reviewed for discussion within the movement, including consideration of how the public might react to them; but Section 2 suggests arguments to be offered in direct rebuttal to the opposition.
Argument 1: the animal tests are irrelevant.
'Currently, drugs that are successful are in pharmacies despite the animal tests, not because of them. ' we should not boycott drugs that we need simply because a researcher has chosen to use an unethical methodology. But we must continue to urge them to use better, more modern technologies that are reliable and effective.' (Fowler-Reeves of Animal Aid)
'' drugs have become available despite animal testing, not because of them' (Korimboccus)
'' just because drugs have been tested on animals doesn't make animal tests any more relevant, useful or valid to humans' (IDA).
'Most treatments owe nothing to animal experimentation at all, or were developed in spite of ' rather than thanks to it.' (ALF)
The implied defence is: 'The animal tests, being irrelevant, are not an integral part of the medicine. So I am not benefiting from them, but only from the non-animal research and clinical testing that helped to produce the medicine.' Suppose that were the only defence offered for taking the medicines. It could then be inferred that, if the animal tests were relevant, the person would indeed be benefiting from them, in which case a boycott might seem obligatory. By excluding even the logical possibility that they could be relevant, the campaigner leaves unanswered the question of what he/she would do in that case. That question in turn implies two others, also unanswered: what are the campaigner's ethical ' as distinct from scientific ' grounds for opposing vivisection? and what is the ethical justification for taking the medicines in spite of that opposition?
Another problem is that, while anti-vivisectionists may be convinced of the total irrelevancy of the tests, the scientific establishment will deny it; and more importantly the public is likely to trust the orthodox view. We cannot be sure that the anti-vivisection scientists will eventually prevail. Thus the 'irrelevancy' defence depends on a vulnerable contingency.
Argument 2: the animal tests produce positively harmful results.
'The list of drugs that were passed "safe" in animals but later harmed or killed people grows longer by the day.' (Fowler-Reeves)
This point, preceding Fowler-Reeves' statement that successful drugs work despite the animal tests, occurs as part of an anti-boycott argument. But the same point could be made in favour of a boycott, as might have been intended by the similar statement from the ALF ' the multi-contributor discussion makes this uncertain ' which I have accordingly placed under 'Pro-boycott arguments'. Here, the point is combined with the 'irrelevancy' argument, so that the justification for using the medicines is 'Not only am I not benefiting from an unethical procedure, but I am positively risking harm.'
But this creates a new problem for the campaigner's anti-vivisectionist stance. Abolitionist literature emphasizes the frequency of adverse drug reactions ' third or fourth cause of death in Britain or the U.S.A., in various accounts. Yet by taking the medicines, he/she implies that the greater likelihood is of benefit, and that the odds are against an adverse reaction, seen by implication as a rare occurrence. So that particular scientific claim is weakened.
On this point, Lynda Korimboccus suggests 'If, spirit forbid, I were to fall ill due to an ADR, it would perhaps help raise further awareness of the debate, particularly me being an animal rights activist '?' True, but one would not be expecting to get ill or die from the medicines, any more than one would be aiming at martyrdom by not taking them (see discussion of Argument 4). The expectation of benefit, and consequent undermining of the scientific grounds for opposing vivisection, would remain.
When Arguments 1 and 2 are combined, what is being said about the drugs' efficacy? Are the medicines unaffected by irrelevant animal research, or are they potentially harmful, or are they sometimes one thing and sometimes the other? Uncommitted people are likely to turn away in the face of such ambiguity.
Argument 3: you would have to live in a cave to avoid animal experiments.
'Unfortunately almost everything in modern society has been tested on animals at one point or another. The dye in the carpet we walk on, the chemicals in the plastics from which our computers are made, the colouring in our food, even water. Clearly, it is impossible to live without water and unless all anti-vivisectionists condemn themselves to a virtually hermitic lifestyle excluding all interaction with the outside world, it is clearly impossible as citizens to either explicitly or implicitly avoid animal testing altogether.
'It is to the advantage of only the pro-vivisectionist to convince those who object to vivisection, that a pre-requisite for that position is total abstention from pharmaceuticals. That simply is not a valid argument because its only logical conclusion is that we should in fact abstain from everything.' (BUAV a)
'' available drugs have already been tested ' as has water, plastics, and so many other items that we all use everyday ' we cannot turn back the clock and cannot live in 21st century Western society avoiding these items.' (Korimboccus)
To this point PETA has replied, in a general context rather than with reference to a medicine boycott:
'It is impossible to live your life without causing some harm; we've all accidentally stepped on ants or breathed in gnats, but that doesn't mean we should intentionally cause unnecessary harm. Just because you might accidentally hit someone with your car is no reason to run someone over on purpose.' (PETA)
BUAV themselves, like other anti-vivisection organizations, promote and give advice on boycotting animal-tested cosmetics and household products; which contradicts the suggestion that to boycott one particular type of product means 'we should in fact abstain from everything'.
Argument 4: a boycott would be tactically unwise.
A boycott 'would be playing into the hands of the pro-lobby. The media would portray us as not just extremists ' but loonies to boot. Imagine if anyone died as a result of such a campaign, the media ' who have no desire or compunction to be fair ' would have a field day. As a movement we stand to lose even more credibility' (Uncaged b).
The fact that the initiative has been taken by pro-vivisectionists provides a compelling reason to refuse the boycott. Besides fighting on the enemy's ground, the boycott could suggest, most divisively, that fellow abolitionists who do use the medicines are hypocrites. The campaigner would not intend this but the opposition could exploit it and the public might wonder about it.
If someone died as the result of refusing animal-tested medicine, many people, and certainly the media, would react as envisioned by Uncaged. Others, however, might think, 'If people feel that strongly about it perhaps we should give it more serious consideration'. At least no-one could accuse boycotters of violence towards others; and the willingness to take risks affecting ourselves might seem to offer evidence of sincerity.
Compare such a hypothetical event with the actual death of hunger striker Barry Horne. He did not merely risk his life ' except insofar as there was a theoretical though not realistic possibility that the government might meet his demands ' but deliberately sacrificed it. Arkangel (c) observe that 'the media tried to portray him as a lone fanatic and those who supported him as misguided cranks or ghouls, but ' the same sentiments have been expressed about all hunger strikers and their movements and supporters throughout history'. The author cites among others the Indian independence movement and the Suffragettes.
Of course, 'there was to be no recognition by the Labour Government that his hunger strike had any legitimacy despite the fact that they had failed to deliver (and still have) on their pre-election promises concerning animal protection' (ibid.). But neither was there any immediate result from the hunger strikes undertaken for human-liberation causes. Any protest action, extreme or moderate, other- or self-directed, can only contribute a portion of energy and of persuasiveness to a long-term push towards success.
In addition, the risks involved in a medicine boycott fall well short of the deliberate self-harm or suicide involved in a hunger strike. No medicine or health regime can confer immortality, but a boycotter's eventual death need not have any connection with the boycott. The person could die of a totally untreatable condition; could die too suddenly to be treated by any means; or could die peacefully of old age. In the meantime, he/she could remain in good health with the help of alternative treatments, healthy living, and luck; and that, rather than martyrdom, would be the hope and intention.
Although the boycotter would be relying on contingencies as regards personal health, the ethical position would not depend on them, since he/she would be prepared to maintain the boycott whatever happened.
Nevertheless, the image of fanaticism would indeed prevail with some people, and it is something to be kept in mind when weighing this issue.
A different tactical problem presented by the boycott is the danger of one's resolve weakening if in great pain or at risk of severe disability. Would the boycotter be able to go on refusing animal-tested medicines, relying instead on such humane palliatives and treatments as might or might not be available? To have made a vow not to use unethically produced medicines, and then to renege when it came to the crunch, would be more of a public-relations triumph for the vivisectors than if the vow had never been made.
Argument 5: we need to preserve our health.
'There may well be reasonable health limits to how far an individual can boycott certain products such as prescription drugs ...' (BUAV a).
'' were I to require medication, I would do more good for animals by taking the medicine, possibly staying well and continuing to campaign rather than refusing something which may help yet I may suffer without' (Korimboccus).
The argument 'I need to maintain my health' by means of animal-tested medicines 'in order to campaign effectively' against animal testing could be seized on by opponents as inconsistent.
One could, however, avoid that impression by making clear that one was willing to take any health risks resulting from eventual abolition. Otherwise the campaigner would be seen as pulling up the drawbridge against future people who would be faced with those risks. The declaration of this willingness is a necessary adjunct of any anti-boycott argument, and indeed of the anti-vivisection case as a whole.
At the same time, BUAV's point about health suggests genuine moral and tactical, rather than merely self-interested, objections to a boycott. The moral problems are those of dependents and of contagion. If a person has young children or pets with no-one else to care for them should he/she die or be incapacitated, it would be wrong to risk their certain suffering for the sake of a policy that could only make a slight and uncertain contribution to a possible future benefit to other animals.
If a contagious disease were contracted, it might be necessary to go into quarantine, perhaps indefinitely, thus giving up work or family responsibilities. Would the prospective boycotter be willing to risk this happening and would it be right?
Argument 6: in developing existing medicines, the damage to the animals has already been done; we must look to the future.
'Unfortunately, many things in our society came about through others' exploitation. For instance, many of the roads we drive on were built by slaves. We can't change the past; those who have already suffered and died are lost. What we can do is change the future by using non-animal research methods from now on.' (Ask Carla).
The ALF also refer to the unchangeable past:
'' for existing treatments derived from vivisection, the damage has already been done. Nothing is gained by refusing the treatment. Vivisectors counter that the situation is analogous to our refusal to eat meat '; the damage has been done, so why not eat the meat? But there is a crucial difference. Knowledge is a permanent commodity unlike meat, it is abstract, it doesn't rot. Consider a piece of knowledge obtained through vivisection. If vivisection were abolished, the knowledge could be used repeatedly without endorsing or further supporting vivisection. With meat consumption, the practice of slaughter must continue if the fruits are to continue to be enjoyed. (ALF: DG)
'In modern society, I think it would be almost impossible NOT to use medical information gained through animal research at some stage '. It is important, therefore, that we emphasize the need to stop now. The past is irretrievable' (ALF: JK).
In the same vein: 'We shouldn't focus on the drugs that have been tested on animals (all of them) but on stopping the animal testing in the first place' (Uncaged b).
Slavery, in the West at any rate, is now abolished so that there is no longer any campaign to abolish it and in practical terms the question of boycotts or other tactics does not arise. This is not true of animal experimentation. (But note that nowadays there are periodic campaigns to boycott the products of sweatshops.)
However, the point that the damage has already been done is sound, provided abolitionists make it clear that they are prepared to do without animal tests in future, in the belief that those tests can be replaced. Thus Argument 7 below ('could have been/can be replaced') combines naturally with Argument 6 ('the damage has already been done').
Note, though, that Argument 6 might be used to support a boycott with a cut-off date; see Section 4.
Argument 7: the animal tests could have been and in the future can be replaced by humane methods.
'' had the vivisection not occurred, the knowledge might well have been obtained through alternative, moral methods. ' The same cannot be said of meat; it cannot be obtained without slaughter.' (ALF: DG)
'Most drugs have been tested on animals, but this does not mean that they could not have been developed in other, more humane ways.' (BUAV a)
This is a sound approach to the question of vivisection's efficacy. Although BUAV do believe that it is unreliable, in this particular sentence they do not make themselves hostage to empirical findings by relying upon that claim, but rather stand on the assertion that drugs 'could have been', and by implication 'can be' in the future developed humanely. They are not, as in Argument 1, evading the possibility that animal experimentation has been useful ' but nor are they accepting a past or permanent need for it, should that usefulness be convincingly argued by the opposition.
Like Argument 1, Argument 7 denies that the animal tests are an integral part of the medicine, but the denial is supported by the logical principle that one cannot prove a negative: namely, the vivisectors' insistence that without animal experiments no medical progress could have been made or can be made in the future.
(The anti-vivisection equivalent is the negative claim sometimes made, and better avoided, that animal experiments have never yielded useful results, nor can they in the future (see Lewis 2004, who writes from an anti-vivisectionist viewpoint).)
When Argument 7 is used, the message accompanying the decision to take the medicines is 'Yes, I might ' or might not ' be benefiting from an unethical procedure, but if so I am not accepting the need for it.'
Argument 7 also avoids the objection that to take the medicines while campaigning for abolition is to protect oneself while exposing future people to health risks; for it is denied that those risks need exist. It's true that the possibility of future replacement is not the same as certainty, so the argument still contains an element of contingency, but not to the extent of asserting existing facts that the opposition can contest. And the claim that replacement is possible can be strengthened by a profession of faith in human ingenuity and intelligence, given the political will to use them for humane purposes.
Argument 8: We have no choice.
'Given the choice, we believe that most people would choose cruelty-free versions of drugs but we don't have the choice' (Fowler-Reeves).
This is the strongest reason for rejecting the boycott. It is ethically sound, since our culture's fundamental moral code does not require people other than saints to jeopardize life or health for the sake of their principles. All the other points against a boycott ultimately rest on this one, since if we had the choice of humanely developed medicines applicable to all the conditions for which animal-tested medicines are now offered, we would not consider taking the latter and thus would not need to provide a justification for doing so.
The lack of choice, and the ways in which that lack is deliberately maintained by vivisectors, is discussed in detail in Section 2. By saying truthfully 'You give us no choice', we are placing the onus on our critics.
Section 2. How a campaigner who is taking the medicines can respond to the accusation of hypocrisy
Response 1. We have no choice
Researchers maintain animal experimentation as an article of faith. As Brian Klug writes, today's vivisectionism 'goes much deeper' than 'promoting vested interest' (Klug 1992: 265). In the animal testers' arbitrary pronouncements we can hear echoes of Francis Bacon's fierce human imperialism, according to which 'scientific knowledge ' is best elicited with "nature under constraint and vexed; that is to say, when by art and the hand of man she is forced out of her natural state, and squeezed and molded"' (ibid.: 273).
Sometimes, in response to bad-drug disasters, vivisectors will admit that 'animal studies do have their limitations'; yet they insist 'it is through recognizing these limitations that animal testing is all the more valuable' (Corbett).
Given a speciesist ethos, this is a rational position. As Regan notes, 'those who conduct and support [toxicity] tests, acknowledging the present limitations, could argue that the very unreliability of present tests justifies conducting further tests in order to overcome the shortcomings of existing methods' (1984: 372). Logical though the policy of 'more vivisection to improve the methodology' may be, the fact that the government offers it as the sole solution to drug failures, rejecting the equally logical course of trying something different, shows how dogmatically committed they are to animal experiments.
To enforce their dogma, the vivisectors deny us choice in various ways, of which the law is one of the most powerful. Robin Wesley (and see also IDA) of PETA explains that the 'U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulate [the pharmaceutical and chemical] industries, and the law currently requires animal tests ' laws that were developed haphazardly in the 1920s.' Wesley suggests writing to legislators and also to companies (although the latter is not much use in the face of legal requirements). He refers letter-writers to the <http://www.peta.org/alert/tkit.html and <http://www.peta.org/alert/leg.html, and for information, www.StopAnimalTests.com
'Because of the current law, all medicines must be tested on animals, so people have no choice whether to choose a medicine that has or has not been tested on animals' (Minett 2006). British and European law is actually more complex than that, but its effects are the same. According to BUAV (c), the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and the European 86/609 Directive in theory allow animal experiments only if no non-animal method is available. But in practice,
'Before a non-animal method can be authorized as a replacement ', it must go through a lengthy "validation" process. During validation, the results of non-animal tests must compare favourably against those of the tests they are intended to replace.'
'A further obstacle to this process is that prevalidation and validation processes take many years (typically 9-11 years), and acceptance by regulatory bodies is equally slow. In comparison, most animal tests will never have to undergo such a rigorous process and continue to be used without ever having been through a validation trial.'
See BUAV b (http://www.buav.org/faqs.htm#faq14) for the convoluted process of seeking acceptance for a new method.
Besides legally protecting their monopoly, vivisectors have tried to suppress unorthodox treatments, as seen in the recent 'announcement that 13 eminent scientists had sent a circular letter to National Health Trusts to persuade them not to fund "complementary" medicines' (Arkangel).
To ensure that the public accepts the pro-vivisection view unquestioningly, '[t]he Department of Health even recommends the RDS in its response to public inquiries into animal testing!' (Lyons); informing us, for instance, that 'the Research Defence Society, whose membership comprises medical researchers, doctors and vets, supports the use of animals in medical research. The Society's website is '' (Corbett). Not satisfied with its own propaganda plus media bias, the government has resorted to censorship.
'Both ITN and Sky News invested considerable time and effort in producing film reports on the appalling suffering of the Nafovanny monkeys.
Then ITN called the Home Office and the Medical Research Council for comment. We can't speculate on what was said, but that film was suddenly "pulled".'
'' presenting our side of the animal testing debate has been deemed "against the public good"!' (Cowan).
When reminding vivisectors of these ways in which they deny us a choice, we can point out that 'the AR movement sincerely wants to abolish vivisection, eliminating ill-gotten fruits' (ALF:DG). If we chose to take animal-tested medicines, why would we be campaigning to abolish the tests? Why would we promote humane research?
If we chose to take animal-tested medicines, it might be expected that once vivisection were abolished, we who campaigned for so long to get rid of it would turn around and demand its re-introduction!
Not that our own choices, or lack of them, constitute the fundamental issue. We do have the choice of alternative therapies, the use of which is among the suggestions offered in Section 4. These treatments do not cover all conditions or medical situations. But even if they did, our eventual aim is not (though it would be better than nothing) a niche market in ethical medicine for the ethical consumer, with the vivisectors continuing to cater for the majority. In using humane medicine, we are making a protest against the use of animal experiments in developing any medicine.
So it is quite true that we want to limit other people's choices, because we do not want animal-tested medicine to be available. But that is because vivisection denies the animals, who are at the heart of this debate, the more crucial choice of freedom, welfare, and life rather than imprisonment, suffering, and death.
Response 2. The vivisectors are hypocrites themselves
(a) They promise to reduce animal experiments but actually increase them.
In 2005 the number of U.K. animal tests was the highest for 14 years ' 2.91 million experiments (McKie and Townsend). Charges of hypocrisy in view of the government's earlier promises to limit vivisection were particularly strong in Scotland, where a 'disproportionate' number of tests were carried out ' 14.1 per cent of the U.K. total (Kirkup). According to Dr Gill Langley, a former Animal Procedures Committee member, '"In the years that I served on the APC, the government's complacency and hypocrisy over animal experiments was often apparent. The irrational prejudice against modern non-animal techniques must be overcome"' (quoted ibid.).
(b) They set up a programme supposedly aimed at promoting the 3Rs (limited as those are to begin with), but spend most of its 'paltry '660,000 a year ' minuscule when set against the billions of pounds generated by the industry each year ' on reduction and refinement methods that can still involve the use of animals. A much smaller proportion is actually spent on genuine non-animal replacement methods' (BUAV c). The government itself claims to spend '10m a year on research into non-animal methods (McKie and Townsend); we do not know how much of this is spent on reduction and refinement, or on comparative validation tests.
(c) Paragraphs (a) and (b) point to a form of intellectual hypocrisy: namely that, despite the vivisectors' insistence that animal experimentation is necessary, they claim to want to reduce it. But if it is the only way, and its shortcomings only correctable by more of the same, why try to limit it at all?
This inconsistency is not a mere flaw in reasoning but amounts to a cynical pretence of accommodating public concern, and warrants the label of hypocrisy.
(d) They boast about the U.K.'s strict animal welfare regulations but do not enforce them adequately, as proven indisputably by leaked documents pertaining to the Imutran experiments (see www.xenodiaries.org); and co-operate with pharmaceutical companies in making it easier to get round the rules. As revealed by Uncaged, the March 2001 report of the Pharmaceutical Industry Competitiveness Task Force informs us of the following decisions:
'"9.6 On Animal Welfare and Research, it was agreed that the increasing complexity of the regulatory process involved in obtaining licences to carry out animal studies' and the possible implications of the new Freedom of Information Act, have meant that the UK is increasingly perceived by industry as an unfavourable environment in which to conduct research involving animals'
'"9.7 The Task Force agreed substantial actions to streamline licensing procedures'"'
'Another agreed action plan (no. 50, Appendix 1) 'was for the drug industry to see how it could dismantle animal welfare regulations blocking the establishment of "whole animal pharmacology course in the UK"'
(Uncaged 2001, quoting Executive Summary, Pharmaceutical Industry Competitiveness Task Force, Final Report ' March 2001 (jointly published by the Government and the ABPI) (www.advisorybodies.doh.gov.uk/pictf/pdf)).
The European Coalition for Biomedical Research, whose director Mark Matfield formerly was head of the vivisectionist Research Defence Society, is attempting to undermine new EU laws, due to come into force in 2007, that would protect laboratory animals' welfare and promote alternatives in order to reduce animal usage. He 'has commented that European laboratories stand to lose up to 1 million pounds if the new regulations come into force' (Arkangel b). But even if the ECBR's motives were totally noncommercial, the move once more gives the lie to claims that vivisectors are bound by, and by implication accept, strict regulations and would like to reduce animal experiments.
(e) They claim to be defending life-saving research but refuse to consider an investigation into the efficacy of animal experiments. As Lynda Korimboccus argues, there is hypocrisy 'in claiming animal experiments save lives with no hard evidence to back that up.' This point taken narrowly depends on a claim ('no hard evidence') that is vulnerable to refutation by experienced vivisectors, but the rejection of any thoroughgoing investigation contradicts the supposed concern for human health.
(f) In another example of intellectual hypocrisy, vivisectors maintain 'that animals are so like us that pain and psychology experiments are viewed as acceptable, while at the same time claiming that many of these animals do not understand/experience the same levels of suffering that we would in a similar situation' (Korimboccus).
Section 3. Pro-boycott arguments
No-one whom I contacted was in favour of a total boycott. Two respondents liked the idea of a boycott of medicines tested on animals after a certain fixed cut-off date, similar to the standard required for cruelty-free cosmetics and household products.
Below are, first, arguments that might be put forward in favour of a total boycott, and then those that actually support the cut-off-date boycott, insofar as they differ from or modify the total-boycott arguments.
For a total boycott
(1) The absolutist position would be 'It's just wrong and I don't want to benefit from it, regardless of whether my stance has any political effect'. The word 'benefit' or equivalent would reveal an assumption that, had one taken the medicines, there would have been benefit either from the animal experiments themselves or from the research and development process as a whole, including (however irrelevantly) animal tests.
As noted with regard to anti-boycott Argument 2, an assumption of direct benefit undermines the scientific ground for abolition, where it was a prominent part of the person's original case against vivisection. That complication could be avoided by saying 'It's just wrong and I don't want any part of it, whether or not it would benefit me, and whether or not my stance has any political effect'.
(2) From the consequentialist standpoint, the boycotter might envision various outcomes, either for the anti-vivisection campaign or for him/herself, or both.
(a) Considering political effectiveness, the first advantage would be that when challenged on the point by opponents, it would be possible to reply 'No, I don't use animal-tested medicines and yes, I do carry an emergency card.'
Secondly, the boycott could make some doctors aware that the vivisection issue was affecting relations with patients, rather than merely occupying the occasional page in professional journals.
(b) Considering the effect on oneself as a boycotter, the argument that animal-tested medicine is potentially harmful suggests a slightly different consequence. When the 'harmfulness' point was quoted earlier, it was in an unambiguously anti-boycott context (Argument 2); but in the following section of the ALF discussion, the message could be taken the opposite way, to imply that there is nothing to lose by doing without the medicines:
'Is the treatment really safe? The nefarious effects of many newly-developed, "safe" compounds often take some time to be acknowledged.
'Will the treatment really help? 'Many new drugs provide no advantage over existing compounds'; official reports are quoted to back this up. (ALF: AECW)
So the boycotter could add to any ethical and tactical motives a wish to avoid medicines that might be harmful, or at least a belief that no risk is being taken by avoiding them. This would be consistent with a strongly scientific anti-vivisectionist position, but might not convince those members of the public who would believe that, on the contrary, risks were being taken, and might react in the way projected by Uncaged (see Anti-boycott Argument 4).
For a boycott with a cut-off date
'I would suggest a cut-off date. The aim is to stop future testing of medicines on animals and also to show we have some principles, but boycotting medicines that have been tested a long time ago does nothing to help animals that have suffered in the past. In practical terms, a cut-off date of 2000 could be effective and is something people could sign up to, without being very restrictive as to what medicines people can use. It could also generate some nice headlines, so I would suggest that a Boycott 2000 is set up and we try to get as many signatures as possible.' (Hersh)
Lynda Korimboccus 'agree[s] with this idea ' like the fixed cut-off date for toiletries and cosmetics'.
J. and S. G. Martin-Nichols suggest 'asking for old technology ' e.g. aspirin instead of a souped-up and animal-tested analgesic'. It is possible that some of these traditional treatments are not tested on animals or have not been recently; it would be necessary to check with the manufacturer.
Ross Minett disagrees with a cut-off-date boycott, noting that '[i]n reality, animal testing is not going to stop overnight.' He is right in that the drug companies are not going to say 'Oh dear, people won't take anything tested on animals after Date X; we'd better stop it immediately', any more than they are going to react that way to a boycott without any cut-off date. But the time limitation would have the public-relations advantage of seeming reasonable, since boycotters using it as a criterion would not be seeking to undo history. In addition, it would call people's attention to the possibility of a future not bound by habit and tradition.
A more concrete problem would be finding out when the drugs were last tested on animals, which is why this type of boycott would need to be combined with a demand for labelling, discussed among various other helpful measures, in Section 4.
What about the children?
If pro-vivisectionist tried to show up a boycotter by asking whether he/she would withhold animal-tested medicine from a sick child, an appropriate rejoinder would be simply: 'No, I would not force my policies on children or pets who are dependent on me, although I am willing to take any associated risks myself.' This defeats the vivisectionist's attack while still supporting the boycott. The reply would be equally appropriate from a campaigner who, although not practising a boycott, adopted some of the partial avoidance measures suggested in Section 4.
Of course, one could use alternative products for dependents if the specific therapy was known to work and the condition was not serious.
Section 4. Proposal for a trend towards avoiding animal-tested medicines
A campaign limited to an absolute or cut-off-date boycott would have some advantages, but would also have drawbacks and would lack movement support. It could also be divisive in its implied criticism of non-boycotters. Instead I suggest a publicized 'trend towards avoiding animal-tested medicines'. Such a move would allow for the 'personal choice that only you can make' (Ask Carla). Anti-vivisectionists could boycott the medicines and carry an emergency card 'if they wish to do so', or not, 'if they don't want to do so', it being 'a matter for individuals to decide themselves' (Minett 2006). Advocates for Animals, which Minett represents, would not promote a boycott.
The trend would include a range of possible actions having in common their source in participants' concern as healthcare consumers. It would not cause any economic damage to the vivisection industry but could add a new and sympathetic dimension to the public's perception of the issue. To this end, campaigners supporting the trend would both seek media coverage and state their personal motives when encountering doctors or writing to the government. J. and S. G. Martin-Nichols (2006) cover both possibilities when they observe that 'group actions by an organization get heard. Individual ones don't so easily. But you can ask your G.P. to choose a medicine not tested on animals'.
Here are some suggestions apart from a total or time-limited boycott.
Use of alternative medicine
Ask Carla suggests, 'You might want to consult with an herbalist or homeopath or consider lifestyle changes, such as diet, exercise, and quitting smoking or drinking, which might improve your health without your having to rely on medicine.' The ALF (AECW) asks:
'Are there alternatives to the treatment? A better appreciation of the benefits of "alternative" practices has developed in recent years. Often, dietary or lifestyle chnges can be effective treatments on their own. Adult-onset diabetes has been linked to obesity, for instance, and can often be cured simply by weight-loss and sensible dieting. Other types of alternative medicine, such as acupuncture, have proven useful in stress relief, and against insomnia and back pains.'
Lynda Korimboccus, too, favours 'promoting alternative therapies', and reminds us that abolitionism and vegetarianism can be linked by 'promoting prevention through plant-based diets'. The Martin-Nicholses suggest specifically 'ask for herbal medicines ' Bioforce products, for example', and 'for your pets, try herbal products, such as Hilton or Global Herbs ' have a look at www.hiltonherbs.co.uk to see some of the things that are available.'
Alternative medicine is already popular. According to Wikipedia:
'Edzard Ernst wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia that "about half the general population in developed countries use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)" (Ernst 2003). A survey (Barnes et al. 2004) released in May 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, found that in 2002, 36% of Americans used some form of alternative therapy in the past 12 months ' a category that included yoga, meditation, herbal treatments and the Atkins diet. If prayer was counted as an alternative therapy, the figure rose to 62.1%. Another study by Astin et al. (1998) suggests a similar figure of 40%. A British telephone survey by the BBC of 1209 adults in 1998 shows that around 20% of adults in Britain had used alternative medicine in the past 12 months (Ernst & White 1999).
The use of alternative medicine appears to be increasing. Eisenburg [sic: Eisenberg?] et al. carried out a study in 1998 which showed that use of alternative medicine had risen from 33.8% in 1990 to 42.1% in 1997. In the United Kingdom, a 2000 report ordered by the House of Lords suggested that "limited data seem to support the idea that CAM use in the United Kingdom is high and is increasing"'. (Wikipedia).
Similar figures are found in Wong; note however that according to a study by Eisenberg in 1993, while 1 in 3 adult Americans had used CAM in the past year, '[t]he majority used unconventional therapy for chronic, as opposed to life-threatening, medical conditions'; and '[a]mong those who used [it] for serious medical conditions, the vast majority (83) percent) also sought treatment for the same condition from a medical doctor'.
Since these treatments may be chosen for a variety of reasons, as anti-vivisectionists we should make clear to the practitioner or health store that, whatever a product's other merits, we have chosen it primarily to avoid medicines tested on animals. We can ask whether the purveyor is sure that a particular product has not been so tested, and if in doubt can ring up the manufacturer and ask. The inquiry would serve the double purpose of getting the information and letting the company know that humane products are in demand.
The Martin-Nicholses, referring both to alternative medicine and to requests at the surgery, 'don't think this will stop the testing of pharmaceuticals on animals, but it will reduce their market and heighten awareness, both of patients and G.P.s'.
We can also, as healthcare consumers, participate in humane medicine production by 'donat[ing] tissue to the tissue banks for human-based research', and 'encouraging individuals' to do the same (Korimboccus).
Attempts to change the law
The law is a significant obstacle to patient choice, and it 'must be changed so that it does not require all medicines to be tested on animals' (Minett).
In Britain, as seen, it is tradition and obstructive licensing and validation procedures rather than, strictly speaking, the law itself that makes animal tests effectively compulsory; so Lynda Korimboccus suggests 'challenging the claim that animal experimentation is a legal requirement (BUAV often challenge this claim)'.
But when campaigning in this more traditional way, we should identify ourselves as healthcare consumers, as well as campaigners. When writing a letter or e-mail 'asking legislators to mandate the development and validation of non-animal tests' (suggested by Ask Carla), we can add to the usual arguments the point that it is unfair of the medical establishment and the law to force us to use an essential product that we consider to have been unethically developed, and then to accuse us of hypocrisy because we do not choose to do without it.
The demand for labelling of medicines
If a vivisector suggests labelling medicines 'tested on animals', the intended result is to remind the patient of how necessary such tests are. But the label could also cause some people to reject the medicine. 'Yes, it can't do any harm to inform the nation ' what are they afraid of?' observes Lynda Korimboccus. And 'Much easier for [the G.P.] as well as you if they are labeled "tested" or "not tested" on animals' (Martin-Nichols) when you request humane medicines at the surgery.
For people wishing to observe a cut-off date, a label with that information would also be necessary, since the G.P. might not know.
The request for facts would seem reasonable to the general public, since '[c]lear and honest labelling is increasingly demanded by consumers' (Minett) in many areas. At least the label could cause the patient to ask, 'Haven't you got anything that isn't tested on animals?' and might prompt the reflection that throutine, normal, and morally neutral procedure of 'going to the doctor and getting something for it' is in fact steeped in political and ethical problems.
Adding a patient-choice element to other campaigns
'More effort needs to be made to tackle animal experiments from a human health angle and on a scientific basis' (Minett). Lynda Korimboccus suggests the following
'As consumers, asking the drug companies to provide details of the tests carried on the inevitable wide variety of species in order to produce required results in two species; ' raising awareness of the unnecessary duplication of experimentation. '; demanding the independent evaluation of the efficacy of animal experimentation; highlighting the huge volume of adverse drug reactions; ' plugging Europeans for Medical Progress's work and the like; not allowing ourselves to become overly-emotional about the issue ' the science speaks for itself.'
'More efforts need to be made to develop, promote and utilize alternatives to using animals in experiments' (Minett). He refers to alternatives within the mainstream, and campaigners could from a patient-choice standpoint demand a more sincere effort in this direction than the government's token gestures towards the 3Rs.
The strongest argument against a boycott, namely that the vivisectors' control of research and licensing deprives us of the choice of humane conventional medicine, can also provide the basis for a counterattack when they demand that we ought either to give up using orthodox medicine or to stand convicted of hypocrisy. The counterattack is supported by evidence that the vivisectors/government are ideologically committed to animal experiments, and have no intention of reducing or replacing them; of investing significantly in research into or use of existing humane methods; of thoroughly investigating the efficacy of vivisection; or of abiding by the welfare rules that they invoke in defence of their activities.
The 'no-choice' rebuttal of the vivisectors' challenge can be reinforced by the logical 'could have been/can be replaced' claim, which absolves abolitionists who take orthodox medicine of benefiting from a necessary evil, while not committing them to reliance on empirical proof that vivisection is and always has been useless or harmful. In addition, the 'could have been/can be replaced' argument calls attention to the lack of political will towards replacement and challenges the vivisectors to summon up that will.
A further anti-boycott argument, 'the damage has already been done: look to the future', reflects the fact ' as shown by our campaigning for an end to animal testing ' that even though we may allow ourselves to be blackmailed into taking unethical medicine now, we accept any risks that future abolition may entail.
Anti-boycott arguments depending on scientific contingencies, namely that the experiments are irrelevant and/or harmful, are weaker because they avoid the question of what we would do if relevancy or harmfulness were convincingly argued ' as it conceivably could be in some cases, and certainly in the eyes of the public. Moreover, when 'harmfulness' is alleged, besides being as much an argument for as against a boycott, the fact that the person takes the medicines anyway without apparent fear can undermine that particular ground for opposing vivisection.
Anti-boycott arguments concerning personal responsibilities, health, and political tactics, indicate problems for discussion within the movement and for individual reflection.
The best argument for either a total or cut-off-date boycott is the advantage when debating with pro-vivisectionists of being able to meet their challenge by saying 'No, I don't take the medicines.' In addition, a boycott of either type could influence doctors by bringing into the surgery a campaign currently limited to the streets and the media.
A time-limited boycott would accommodate the fact that in the case of medicines tested before a cut-off date the damage to the animals has already been done. It would have a precedent in cut-off dates for non-medical products earning the 'cruelty-free' label.
The 'trend towards avoiding animal-tested medicines' suggested here could comprise boycotts, use of alternative medicines, and the introduction of a vociferous patient-choice element in other campaigns. Because the varied methods used, according to individual and group preference, would come under a common umbrella, such a trend need not divide the movement. And it might turn the vivisectors' challenge against them, replacing the defensive self-justifications heard at present with an aggressive, personal, and well-publicized unwillingness to have unethical medicine forced on us: standing in for the animals' unwillingness to have vivisection forced on them.
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