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Gandhi's way won't do
Animal rights activists do not want to resort to violence but many see it as the only option
September 6, 2004
Karen Dawn

At their meeting in Kent yesterday, some 3,000 members of the Animal Liberation Front watched a video address by Jerry Vlasak, the prominent activist banned from entering the country because he condones violence. Some militants have vowed to escalate attacks against animal abuse industries. With such threats, the activists are finally having an impact. The builders' trade association has declared its members will refuse animal research projects without indemnification.

The activists have been widely condemned even within the animal protection movement. Peter Singer, on these pages, denounced violence and said our movement risks serious damage from association with the handful of activists willing to go beyond peaceful protest.

But did the Black Panthers seriously damage the American civil rights movement? Rather, they amplified the still radical but sane and nonviolent voice of Martin Luther King.

Horrified by the violence of some anti-abortion activists, I am distressed to see some of our movement resort to similar tactics. But even Singer, after condemning the militants' threats, wrote "there is little more that non-violent activists can do". I agree, at least without the threat provided by the militant fringe. And doing nothing, leaving the animals at the mercy of the drug industry, is not an option.

Every year drug companies introduce hundreds of new drugs that contribute almost nothing - they replace those on which patents have expired, since drug companies make less money on generics. Hundreds of thousands of animals die each year in tests for those copycat drugs. Would such practices, if well-publicised, have public support?

We do not do harmful tests on humans, though it would be better science, because it would be unethical. Animal rights activists argue that our natural preference for our own kind does not make tests more ethical when performed on animals. Those who disagree about tests for life-threatening diseases still should not accept that testing wholesale.

After 30 years of fighting cancer with animal testing, cancer deaths are up - people with cancer live longer, but more contract it. Many studies published in scientific journals have linked western diets to a host of diseases, including cancer. If animal testing funds were diverted to programs encouraging dietary change, we would finally see disease rates plummet - and by ethical means. Instead, governments support the inhumane factory farming industry, encouraging westerners to consume, cheaply, far more meat than is healthy. And they support the animal testing industry to combat the diseases they encourage.

A cornerstone of public support for vivisection is the assurance that scientists do everything they can to protect the animals they are killing. On the SHAC website there is footage showing a scientist punching a beagle puppy for struggling during his torture, and a monkey on a Huntingdon Life Sciences' operating table raising her head with her chest cut wide open. We hope these are aberrations but daily life in laboratories is inhumane. Millions of animals live in tiny cages, taken out only to be stuck with needles, cut up, or fed poison or the latest drug.

In contrast to Vlasak, many animal rights leaders have said we should look to the tactics of Gandhi and King. But if, during their eras, Indians or African-Americans had been slaughtered by the millions per year, would we have condemned threats of violence and called for peaceful protest? Such calls from animal protectionists suggest that the laws are worth more to them than the lives of those they have vowed to protect.

Some would argue that we should consider the human lives scientists might save. Then what of scientists who don't save lives but do terminal experiments on primates, testing illegal drugs or investigating premenstrual syndrome? Do such arguments suggest the jury is still out on violence against them?

If we invoke a leader, at this point it must be John F Kennedy, who said: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable." Nobody sane wants violent revolution. But the scientific testing system needs a revolutionary overhaul. The government should be ashamed that its unquestioning support for a corrupt system has let the situation come to this. Threats of violence against humans should not be the only way to get the profligate violence in our laboratories discussed either in parliament or in the world's leading newspapers.

Karen Dawn is a contributor to the book Terrorists or Freedom Fighters: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals and runs www.DawnWatch.com.

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