From Electrons to Humans: a Mindful Planet

A review of the scientific evidence for the existence of feelings in squids, octopods, cuttlefish, crabs, lobsters and crayfish has just been published by the London School of Economics. It concludes thus: “We recommend that all cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans be regarded as sentient animals for the purposes of UK animal welfare law”. The government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which commissioned the report, has accepted the LSE’s judgement, and accordingly these animals will now be included in the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill which is currently on its way through Parliament. This doesn’t mean that the many savage cruelties to which they are presently subjected will cease when the bill becomes law. Defra expressly reassures interested parties on this point: “Existing industry practices will not be affected, and there will be no direct impact on shellfish catching or on restaurant kitchens.” What it does mean, more vaguely, is that the welfare of these species will be “well considered in future decision-making”.

Octopuses and other cephalopod molluscs (squid, cuttlefish, nautilus) are already ‘protected’ animals in UK scientific research – to the extent that a licence is required for research that uses them. But certainly they are used, here and elsewhere in the world; such research indeed provided the evidence for the LSE review, and in fact the review refers to some of these animals as “intensively studied laboratory species”. And the research of special interest to the LSE is of course that worst kind of all, research into pain and distress. The review’s list of references indicates as much, with such key phrases as “anxiety-like behaviour”, “affective-motivational aspects of pain”, “acute and chronic effect of low temperature”, “noxious shock”, and “the effect of Crustastun on nerve activity”. Crustastun, by the way, is a slaughter device manufactured in the UK, either as a “single-animal unit for the hospitality sector” or as a “large-scale stunner for processors” (this weird language, half euphemism, half let-‘em-have-it!). So, as with much of the other research cited, that particular study was aimed at improving the lot of animals being treated as food, as indeed was the whole LSE review. Cruelty for kindness’s sake, then, if they but knew it. Haeckel decapods

In a most humane study of these and other marine creatures, titled Metazoa (meaning, roughly, multi-celled animals), the zoologist and philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith comments ruefully on this perversity in his own case: “All through this book I have used information that was gained, directly or indirectly, from experiments that were cruel in various ways . . . behind the scenes is often a lot of suffering.” But in fact Godfrey-Smith was pursuing something much less measurable, but possibly more important, than the sort of sentiency studied in those experiments. The sub-title of Metazoa is Animal Minds and the Birth of Consciousness, so the book is dealing with a theme that is commonly regarded as the most intractable mystery in both science and philosophy. Even in humans, capable as they are of reporting on their experiences, the ‘what’, ‘where’, and ‘why’ of consciousness have no agreed answers and no prospect of any. The word itself is very variously defined, and even more loosely used. In animals, of course, who don’t speak at length to us, the puzzle is yet greater, but also, I hope to suggest, more promising.

We can at least start by putting consciousness into a sort of status-position in studies of the animal mind. First to come, after the merely insentient condition of stocks and stones (if indeed they are altogether insentient, a point we shall return to), is ‘nociception’, the awareness of harm without associated sense of pain, a state sometimes attributed to insects and also to some sharks, probably quite wrongly in both cases. Then comes sentience, the feeling and minding of both pains and pleasures. And then, inclusive of sentience, comes that state of unspecific mental awareness called consciousness. Paraphrases for it, used by Godfrey-Smith and others, include ‘presence’, ‘sense of self’, ‘subjectivity’, ‘lived experience’, and ‘having a point of view’. But perhaps the most favoured formulation is still the one which Thomas Nagel used in an essay which more or less launched philosophical study of the subject in 1974, titled ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ An organism has consciousness, said Nagel, “if there is something that it is like to be that organism – something it is like for the organism [his emphasis].” It’s this formulation which the Oxford academic Charles Foster uses for the first line of his book of practical researches into the subject, Being a Beast (2016): “I want to know what it is like to be a wild thing.”

In Nagel’s essay, the bat was more of a thought experiment than a zoological subject: for him, the mystery of bat-experience illuminated the possibly insuperable difficulty of using science – that is, objective impersonal testable enquiry – to get at an inward and subjective condition. Still, he was convinced that there was a real experience called ‘being a bat’, however unimaginable to us. He nicely pointed out that a bat would surely find the experience of being a human similarly unimaginable, but would be wrong to conclude that there was no such thing. But it’s an indication of the uncertainties of the subject how very much opinions vary even among specialists: from denying consciousness to all except humans (though “Great apes come close” – Ramachandran), to stopping short at crustaceans (Edelman), right on or in to termites (“probably” – Searle). Petra Stoerig, a professor of biological psychology, goes beyond this sort of prize-day thinking. She argues (as indeed Godfrey-Smith does) that consciousness should be looked for not just in the mind, where humans have been hoarding it hitherto, but in the whole body of an animal. For instance, in elegance and control of movement many other species show “a basic form of self-awareness of which they may have more than we do”, and “there are plenty of other instances where they actually have more.”

This is indeed the necessary step, to disengage the study of consciousness from the human standard. For even the momentous Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness of 2012, in which some distinguished scientists stated that non-human animals possessed cerebral equipment capable of giving them conscious awareness, couldn’t help picturing humans as the central store and paradigm of this property, rather honourably sharing some of it with some of the others: “the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness.” And with that disengagement will come, as Petra Stoerig shows, a better appreciation of different animal conditions. She has said “there are very many aspects to self-recognition and self-awareness . . . if you want to test them in different types of species you had better adjust your question to the species.”

Some of these many aspects are what Godfrey-Smith describes in Metazoa. His general aim is “to make sense of how experience came to exist on earth”, and he both reasons and shows that it had to come about when animals acted in and on their environments. Not just a feeling for what was going on around them became necessary to their welfare, but a distinction between their own bodies and the outside world. Thus the banded shrimp, having a variously-limbed body (“like a Swiss army knife”), needs to distinguish between its own complex parts and the external lives and surfaces that may bear upon them. In doing so, it is “sensing the world in a way that tracks the divide between self and other. Insects, part of the same arthropod phylum, must have something of this sense of self too, Godfrey-Smith says, because their flying is “a behaviour featuring especially complex feedback between action and the senses, the sort of feedback that contributes to a point of view.”

The octopus, with much more manoeuvrable limbs than the shrimp’s, and limbs which have their own nervous systems, is possibly “a being with multiple selves”, or at least a self that can divide and re-unite as required. And again Godfrey-Smith rejects the old human-centred style of assessment; the octopus is not so much ‘smart’, a term suggestive of ability to pass human tests, as “behaviourally complex”, “sensitive”, “exploratory”, terms relating to the inner life. He says of octopuses, with a respectful diffidence characteristic of his attitude to all the animals he encounters, “I think they experience their lives in a rich way.”

I should add that these are indeed encounters rather than generalizations, as you’d expect in what is partly a work of ethology (though of course there are generalizations too). Thus, a particular banded shrimp, one with a missing fore-limb, is a recurring presence in the book, last observed missing also a second fore-limb and looking “tired, very much on his own, and probably near the end of his days.” One octopus goes on a sort of “rampage”, as if showing off (“she certainly raised hell along the way”); another moves “in an unusual, stylized-looking way . . . winding his arms over his head and backward for no apparent reason, coiling an arm into a wheel.”

This is a helpful reminder of two things we know. One is that every ‘self’ is a true individual, however conditioned by its species-design (though collectives of ants and social bees may be an exception here). To speak in a general way of ‘the octopus’ or ‘a bat’ is a convenient fiction only. And then, such encounters as Godfrey-Smith describes are reciprocal; the animals are observers in their turn. He sees them looking at him. It’s a meeting of consciousnesses, a mysterious communion of alien beings.

So we come back to the questions, where and how in the story of life did consciousness enter into the material world? Of course there are many suggested answers, variously plausible, but one of them neatly and most appealingly makes the questions themselves unnecessary. This is the theory called ‘panpsychism’, which proposes that mind or awareness in some form was part of the story from the beginning, that so far from being a rare and elite property, consciousness (as the philosopher Philip Goff has said) “pervades the universe and is a fundamental part of it.” More specifically put by another proponent, “An electron . . . is a primitive experiential entity.” Primitive in the sense of coming first, certainly, but capable of combining and developing to create more complex selves and more acute awareness, until it reaches the hypertrophic condition that makes of the human mind a Babel of real and imagined voices.

Though it may have a somewhat outlandish sound, panpsychism is an established and serious philosophical (perhaps in time also scientific) position. Back in 1979 Thomas Nagel (subsequent to the ‘bat’ essay) argued that it was at least as plausible as any refutation of it, and that therefore “it should be added to the current list of mutually incompatible and hopelessly unacceptable solutions to the mind-body problem”. Since then the theory has gathered considerable academic support and substance. And as well as being attractive in itself, panpsychism has one great educational merit: it teaches us at last to look at the world, and at animal life in particular, not as their detached managers but (to use Frans de Waal’s image) as fellow-swimmers in the waters of consciousness.

Ever since René Descartes, in the seventeenth century, divided matter and mind as distinct creations, and gave the mind to humans alone (identifying it with the soul), zoologists and ethicists have had to chip their way back into the animal kingdom finding mind bit by bit. The situation is instanced in all those ‘smarter than you thought’ researches reported in the press. It’s evident again in the laborious species-by-species concession of sentience, just now reaching squids, crabs, shrimps and their kind, as we’ve seen. Panpsychism starts us at the other end, the right end. Our assumption will be that mind (or awareness or experience, however we name it) is as universal as matter. Now let researches prove, for instance, that a fly or a snail doesn’t have it. Until they do (if they ever can), we must concede, to all the animals, awareness and appreciation of their own worlds, and allow them to experience those worlds unimpeded and especially unkilled by humans. conscousness books

Notes and references:

Review of the Evidence of Sentience in Cephalopod Molluscs and Decapod Crustaceans, by Jonathan Birch et al, was published by LSE Consulting Ltd in November 2021. It includes a survey of current practices in the fishing, farming, and slaughtering of these animals. It can be read online here: https://www.lse.ac.uk/News/News-Assets/PDFs/2021/Sentience-in-Cephalopod-Molluscs-and-Decapod-Crustaceans-Final-Report-November-2021.pdf?mc_cid=63826dec2c&mc_eid=22bb4a3259

The government’s response is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/lobsters-octopus-and-crabs-recognised-as-sentient-beings

Metazoa: Animal Minds and the Birth of Consciousness is published by William Collins, 2021.

Thomas Nagel’s essay is reprinted in Mortal Questions, Cambridge University Press, 1979. The quotation about panpsychism comes from an essay of that title published for the first time in that same collection.

Being a Beast is published by Profile Books, 2016. In this most remarkable book, Charles Foster attempts to live the characteristic lives, each in turn, of a badger, otter, fox, red deer, and swift. The result is a comic-heroic story of honourable failure.

The brief citations of specialist opinions (Ramachandran and others) are taken from interviews conducted by Susan Blackmore and published as Conversations on Consciousness (Oxford University Press, 2005). The quotations from Petra Stoerig come from the same book. Susan Blackmore has also written an excellent summary of the subject in Consciousness, a Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2017). She believes, incidentally, that human consciousness, in particular our sense of a persisting self, is a language-bound illusion.

Philip Goff is quoted from an interview in Scientific American (14 January 2020) titled ‘Does Consciousness Pervade the Universe?’, which can be read online here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-consciousness-pervade-the-universe/  The quotation about the electron is from Peter Ells, Panpsychism, O-Books, 2011, p.115.

Frans de Waal’s image comes from the book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?(2016), discussed in this blog here: https://voiceforethicalresearchatoxford.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/thinking-ourselves-kings/

The fly and the snail: Godfrey-Smith provides various evidences for the self-hood of flies, and the snail is the subject of a very clear account of the whole question in an essay by the philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel, titled ‘Is There Something It’s Like to Be a Garden Snail?’ and published online here: http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/SchwitzPapers/Snails-201223.pdf

The illustration showing various decapods comes from the 1904 book Kunstformen der Natur (immediate source Wikipedia), written and illustrated by Ernst Haeckel, the great marine biologist and evolutionist. Haeckel was an early proponent of panpsychism, though he didn’t call it that, and he was also a pioneer of the science of ecology (a word he himself invented).

Memories, Consolations, and Truths

Last Sunday being Remembrance Day, there was a gathering at the Animals in War Memorial in Park Lane, London, a few hours after the grander ceremony in Whitehall a short distance away. A service of hymns, prayers, and readings was conducted by ministers from the Anglican Society for Animal Welfare, and modest wreaths were laid against the great stone walls. Not that the Memorial was conceived as a specifically Christian place (though Heaven knows, Park Lane could do with a holy landmark of some description to offset the worship of money and cars which is daily practised there with fanatical devotion). In fact the Memorial is not really a spiritual conception at all: it’s a plain, life-sized representation of the animal species which have been induced into human wars, with just the simplest visionary touch where a horse and dog escape through the wall and into a freedom beyond. There is not even, I would say, the consolation of beauty, except in so far as animals themselves, and therefore faithful images of them also, are inherently beautiful. It’s just a plain and highly visible statement: this is what we’ve done (and are doing).

memorial wall

I noticed a few purple poppies at the ceremony, as well as red ones, in the wreaths or on lapels. This token of remembrance was introduced by Animal Aid some years ago, as a way of bringing the animals into proper attention at the same time as the human casualties of war. It corresponds, of course, to the British Legion’s red poppy, a token of remembrance that was inspired by John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. That’s a fine poem, but its message is that the dead should be honoured by the finishing of their work: “Take up our quarrel with the foe.” Go on with the war, in short. It’s a very understandable demand for a poet to have made on behalf of his killed comrades in 1915, but not one well suited to remembrance in peace-time. Therefore nowadays it’s Laurence Binyon’s more philosophical poem ‘For the Fallen’ which is usually recalled; indeed, some lines from it are read at most or all remembrance services across the land (including the one in Park Lane). And it’s a poem which can’t be heard without a thrill of emotion, for it assuages our painful debt to the war-dead by generously immortalizing their heroic youth:

            They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old:

            Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

            At the going down of the sun and in the morning

            We will remember them.

This I take to be the sort of memory symbolized by the red poppy – bereavement qualified by pride and admiration, as summarized in Binyon’s phrase “a glory that shines upon our tears”.

War Memorial Horse

And naturally enough the purple poppies have become assimilated to that consolatory version of war-memory. The making and distribution of them is nowadays managed by the War Horse Memorial, which gives the proceeds to various horse-related charities. As its name suggests, the WHM’s first cause was the making of a memorial, which can now be seen near the race-course at Ascot. This impressive and touching monument, created by the Sculptor Susan Leyland, is a more traditional image than the Park Lane one: the horse stands on a plinth high above the observer, nobly waiting to serve. And this is indeed how the WHM views the animal part in war, speaking on its web-site of “the nobility, courage, unyielding loyalty and immeasurable contribution these animals played in giving us the freedom of democracy we all enjoy today”.

The purple poppies have been recommended in similar terms to those dog-lovers who use the services of Hugo and Hudson, suppliers of fashionable collars, leads, coats, and other accessories of dog-ownership (though not the poppies themselves, of course). The firm’s blog says that the poppies “come in a variety of styles” (which will you choose?), but that they “all show solidarity in allowing us to remember fallen heroes whether they be human or animal.” It’s surely a sincere sentiment (and I should mention that Hugo and Hudson don’t seem to use leather in their products). It has, in fact, something of the same magnanimous purpose to it that prompts Binyon’s poem and all such efforts to repay the debts of war with extravagant praise. Well, it’s the least we can do.

But even during the First War itself, the poet Siegfried Sassoon (himself a notably courageous soldier) was famously mocking such “laurelled memories”, and juxtaposing them with ignobler realities of scene and conduct. And of course there have always been the best and the worst of humanity on show in wars; humans are free, in so far as their personalities permit the freedom, to feature anywhere on that moral spectrum. But other animals are in a different case. They may indeed have often shown a most moving and beautiful loyalty to particular riders, handlers, or others whom they “served and died alongside”, to use the consolatory words of the Animals in War Memorial. But mostly there has been no such opportunity for them: not so much conscripts as living equipment, they have not so much “served” as been put to use in whatever theatre of war chance and species characteristics have chosen for them. That includes, of course, the wholly unglorious defence-research laboratory, where serving and dying are completely stripped of thanks and laurels, indeed of remembrance of any kind. All this, we know, still goes on.

Therefore Animal Aid dissociated itself from the purple poppy in 2015. As its director at that time, the much-missed Andrew Tyler, said, Animal Aid’s original purpose had been

to make it clear that animals used in warfare are indeed victims, not heroes. They do not give their lives; their lives are taken from them. But too often, the narrative promoted by the media has been one of animals as the valiant servants of people in violent conflict. This is precisely the opposite message to that which we intended . . . the dominant narrative (animal victims of war are heroes who died for us) is so deeply embedded that only a huge effort (costly in every way) can uproot it and lay down something that will benefit the animals.

I think that the Animals in War Memorial does not quite make up its mind what attitude to take. The imposed suffering, the herding, the careless profligacy, and the force (“They had no choice”, it rightly announces) are well expressed. But then so also is the patience, amounting to willingness. This may well be true to actual life, but it’s not true in the moral and spiritual dimensions. No animal knowingly agrees to death in war or to war itself, nor should any animal be tricked into participating. It’s here that the Memorial falls short, fine and moving as it is. Some sculptural equivalent of Pablo Picasso’s great indignant painting from the Spanish Civil War, Guernica, is needed; look at the horse and the bull in that painting, for instance. Or something modelled on the woodcuts of Sue Coe (as shown elsewhere in this blog).

memorial night-view

Still, we should be grateful for the Memorial, presenting its conspicuous message, day and night, to passers-by in central London. And that remembrance ceremony itself on Sunday, with none of the ordered brilliance and massed emotion of the Whitehall show, was just right: informal, slightly ragged, nearly drowned out by the din of Park Lane’s insane momentum, an occasion where not glory, but sorrow, awkwardness, and even shame, could be properly felt.

Notes and references:

The Animals in War Memorial was designed by David Backhouse, and inaugurated in 2004. More about it can be found on its own web-site, which also features the night-time photograph: see http://www.animalsinwar.org.uk/ Other aspects of the Memorial and of remembrance are discussed in this blog on previous November anniversaries.

The War Horse Memorial itself, and the work of the organisation, are described and illustrated on its web-site here: https:thewarhorsememorial.org/about-us/. The photograph shown above is from the same source.

Hugo and Hudson’s blog is quoted from their web-site here: https://hugohudson.co.uk/blogs/news/remembrance-day-2021-remembering-the-animal-victims-of-war-with-the-purple-poppy

Siegfried Sassoon’s phrase “laurelled memories” is quoted from his poem ‘Glory of Women’.

Andrew Tyler’s statement on the discontinuation of the purple poppy is on Animal Aid’s web-site here: https://www.animalaid.org.uk/the-issues/our-campaigns/living-without-cruelty/the-purple-poppy/

Last Gift to the Animals from a Friend in Parliament

The winner of the Westminster Dog of the Year show, as judged on College Green last week, was a French Bulldog called Vivienne. She had been entered into the competition by Sir David Amess (pronounced ‘amis’), the MP who was killed at a constituency surgery on 18 October. Vivienne was a popular – indeed a prejudiced – choice, but then the show is a way of drawing attention to the pleasures and responsibilities of dog-companionship, rather than a serious assessment of canine points, in the scientific Crufts manner. To some extent it’s even a parody of Crufts, or I hope it is. Being light-hearted, then, it brings out that curious facetiousness which seems to infect the subject, with talk of “our furry friends” and “pawlitics”, and so on. Still, the result was a very proper and moving recognition of Sir David’s devotion to animal interests during his long parliamentary career.

The tributes paid to him in the House of Commons spoke of his “love of animals”. As far as I have noticed, Amess himself did not use that phrase, either about himself or (as so commonly heard in Parliament) about the nation. He spoke rather about their qualities – “absolutely wonderful animals” (of elephants), “sensitive and intelligent animals” (of pigs), “a generous, giving nature” (of the dog Vivienne). His concern was impartially for all suffering animals, loved or not. During a debate about wildlife crime in 2019, he spoke of his collaborations with the former MP Ann Widdecombe: “we led campaigns against live-animal exports, the badger cull, animal experimentation, dog meat, the fur trade, and the netting and killing of songbirds throughout the Mediterranean.”

That homely concept ‘love of animals’ also misrepresents the strength and range of attention which David Amess brought to these problems. In that same debate, occurring at a time when there was still some inclination in his own party (Conservative) to revisit and even repeal the Hunting Act, he said this:

It beggars believe that anyone would set dogs on foxes and think that it is acceptable to have them physically torn apart. I think that most civilized people, and I hope most Members of Parliament, would find that repugnant.

Not affection, or not just affection, but a humane society was what he wanted (and you note the joke implied in putting himself and other MPs in a separate category to “civilized people”: he was a humorous man). So of course animals were part of a corpus of public problems, interests, and concerns he wished to deal with. But they were also much more than that to him, for they were part of his spiritual convictions as a Roman Catholic. During a debate promoted by Amess himself on 7 December 2011 about the use of animals in research (a practice which he considered “ethically and morally wrong”), he reminded the House that the Holy Family in the Bethlehem stable was “surrounded by animals”. He therefore invited the government to make animal-free medical research “the final gift, after gold, frankincense and myrrh, to both kingdoms represented by the nativity.”

“both kingdoms”, because human-centred research would be a boon as valuable to humans as to the other animals. And that image of co-existence in the stable is also a reminder that although David Amess commonly spoke about ‘animal welfare’, he was aiming at something much more elementary. On 19 January of this year, he led an ‘adjournment debate’ (an opportunity for backbench MPs to direct government attention to a matter of concern) on the difficulties which animal charities have been experiencing as a result of Covid-19. “This pandemic,” he told the House, “may be all about our relationship with animals.” It should therefore “prompt a much-needed reconsideration of our relationship with animals . . . a new vision.” It was this vision which he hoped might be discussed in the general debate which, just before the autumn recess on 23 September, he urged the government to schedule in acknowledgement of World Animal Day this year. That was his last appearance in the proceedings of the House.

But certainly David Amess was there in spirit on Monday afternoon last week (25 October) when there were two separate but concurrent debates on animal themes. One of them was the second reading of the government’s Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, the legislation that should at last put an end, among other abuses, to the live exporting of farm animals. The other (held in Westminster Hall) was titled ‘Animal Testing’, and had been occasioned by a parliamentary e-petition calling for the abolition of animals in laboratory research – a petition whose 236,000 signatures had far exceeded the number required to trigger such a debate. In both these debates, at the start and finish and indeed throughout, Amess was spoken of with more than ordinary ceremony. It’s clear that MPs really did like and admire “our late dearly loved colleague from Southend West”.

Sir David Amess MP of the month - web image

In the case of the Westminster Hall debate, the theme was one whose importance he had especially urged upon the government over many years (he had entered parliament in 1983) and in many different ways: on committees, in speeches, in early day motions, at parliamentary receptions on the subject (like the one he’s pictured introducing for Cruelty Free International). The debate itself had been postponed for a week, because the original timing had been taken up with tributes to David Amess in the Commons and then a service of remembrance in St Margaret’s Church across the road. MPs had therefore had time to re-compose their speeches. Not only the many reiterated tributes but, I would say, a more than usually passionate statement of the case against animal research was the consequence of that.

Notably, the concept of animal rights, which has tended in the past to startle and even enrage MPs, had made its way into the thought and language. The debate was opened by Martyn Day (MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk), who said that “animals, as sentient beings, deserve the same consideration as humans, and have the right not to suffer at our hands.” Can the case be put more absolutely than that? Fleur Anderson (Putney), described herself, perhaps with more passion than exactitude, as a “very committed animal rights activist”. A different but also very important principle was asserted by Ruth Jones (Newport), who said that MPs had duties not just to their human constituents: “we also have a responsibility to our natural world, wildlife and animals.” Not that the two duties are separate, for as another speaker had observed, many and perhaps all MPs receive more mail about animal concerns than about any other topic. This debate, said Ruth Jones, should help them to decide “what we can do to keep our animals safe”. She wasn’t talking about pet animals, but about all the animals an MP might represent, including those favoured for research.

Perhaps most significantly of all, there was the suggestion that the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, with all its various accretions of statutory instruments and Home Office guidance, the whole bundle so often eulogized by ministers and research scientists, should cease to be regarded as the last progressive word on this subject. Fleur Anderson argued that animal research should have been part of the debate on the Kept Animals Bill in the main chamber of the House. In fact the same point was being made there, that the Bill should be revised to bring laboratory animals too into the special protections being prepared for those others (livestock, puppies, primates as pets, and zoo animals). The implication was that the essential principle of British law on animals in research since 1876 – that such animals were to be excepted from other legislation against cruelty (as they are, for instance, from the Animal Welfare Act of 2006) – should at last be discarded.

In accordance with the habit of eulogy mentioned in the previous paragraph, the government’s original response to the e-petition had referred to the “robust regulations” which protected animals from unnecessary or unethical experimentation. Martyn Day now commented on this phrase: “I can think of many words to describe regulation that allows factory-farmed puppies [he was evidently thinking of the beagle puppies bred at MBR Acres] to be daily force-fed chemicals directly into their stomachs for up to 90 days with no pain relief or anaesthetic, but ‘robust’ certainly is not one of them.” He then took the 1986 Act’s efforts to promote so-called ‘alternatives’ to animals and turned it more than inside out: the Act should be amended to “remove animal experimentation as an ‘alternative’ in scientific procedures”. In short, the 1986 Act should scrap itself.

The two debates on Monday of last week occupied together about four and a half hours. It’s true that neither of the two debates was well-attended (Westminster Hall debates rarely are). And ‘debate’ is rather a misnomer for these formal events anyway. Mostly, the contributions consist in the reading aloud of prepared speeches, with therefore a great deal of wearisome overlap. Interventions there are, but brief and usually not able nor even intended to divert the flow of a prepared speech. This is the ordinary House style, very unlike the pugilism of the more celebrated Prime Minister’s Questions: so much the better, no doubt, but then, however powerful individual contributions may be, the net impression is of business completed. This was indeed a frequent complaint of Sir David’s, that good and agreed intentions were producing no practical results.

Still, Parliament is that narrow strait through which animal ethics has to pass on its way from ideology to the desired condition of national fixture. David Amess made the best of it, and in his long political career, always as a backbencher, he achieved a great deal for animals. And in the wretched circumstances of his death, he seems to have made a last gift to them of his popularity in the House. For not just were those many vehement speeches delivered with him in mind; there was more generally a strong feeling that the House owed it to him to accomplish something definite, much as another of his long-pursued ambitions, city status for Southend, was granted post-mortem, or indeed as Vivienne was elected Dog of the Year. Winding up the second reading of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, the Minister of State at Defra, Victoria Prentis, quoted some words spoken by David Amess about live exports, and lastly said “I commend the Bill, in his name, to the House.” I hope that his name and example may have likewise persuaded the House to act upon the public wish, expressed in that e-petition, to see an end to vivisection.

Notes and references

The Westminster Dog of the Year event is reported by the BBC here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-59076946

Quotations from speeches come from Hansard’s records for the relevant days and occasions, accessible from its home page: https://hansard.parliament.uk/.

Thus transcripts of the two debates of 25 October can be found here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-10-25/debates/486708F3-E5DE-4121-B9E0-F146AFF73031/AnimalTesting  and https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-10-25/debates/58F30AB3-1785-491F-B9ED-0DDD739F64D8/AnimalWelfare(KeptAnimals)Bill The debate on wildlife crime took place on 20 March 2019. Other debates are dated in the text, I hope.

The e-petition debated on 25 October can be read here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/581641. The debate also incorporated a separate e-petition on the same subject: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/590216

One of the current Early Day Motions tabled (i.e. put forward for others to sign) by David Amess is no.256, ‘Accelerating human relevant life sciences in the UK’, which can be read here: https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/56714 Another important EDM to which he is a signatory is no.175, ‘Public scientific hearing on animal experiments’, here: https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/58611/public-scientific-hearing-on-animal-experiments . A good way of drawing your MP’s attention to the subject is to invite him or her to sign these EDMs or, if they already have signed, to thank them for doing so.

In his book Ayes and Ears: a Survivor’s Guide to Westminster (2020), David Amess describes the workings and failings of the place, his own experience of becoming an MP, and his efforts to get things done in the House of Commons. The book is published by Luath Press, but seems to be out of print at present.

The photograph of sir David Amess shows him speaking at a parliamentary reception which he hosted for Cruelty Free International in 2015 (image used courtesy of CFI).

The Librarian Who Caused a Scandalous Riot

There have been several references in this blog to the man who became, in 1882, Oxford University’s first Waynflete Professor of Physiology, John Scott Burdon Sanderson, but little mention has been made of the man regarded as his chief opponent during the ensuing controversy over vivisection at the university. This man, Edward Nicholson, was appointed, in that same year, chief librarian to the university (Bodley’s Librarian). It was a portentous year, for then also John Ruskin was elected to a second and hectic stint as Slade Professor of Fine Art, a stint brought to an abrupt end by the same controversy.

Nicholson’s long period in office was one of the most crucial modernizing phases in the Bodleian’s history. He turned the Bodleian from a gentleman-scholars’ club into a busy and efficient university-wide institution. But his reforms, and of course his leadership of the anti-vivisection campaign in the 1880s, made him many enemies in the university. Accordingly there was afterwards something like a conspiracy to deny him the memorials to which he was surely entitled: a commissioned portrait, for instance, such as was accorded to both his predecessor and his successor, or his name attached to the collection of papers which he bequeathed to the library (they were jumbled into other collections, such as ‘Eng. Misc.’, and remain so). But he needs and deserves remembering – here in particular for the heroic stand he made against vivisection at Oxford University in the 1880s.

Burdon Sanderson came to Oxford with an established reputation as “the arch-priest of vivisection”. Nicholson too had made himself known on the subject, in a pioneering book titled The Rights of an Animal: a new Essay in Ethics, published in 1879. And it surely was new; Nicholson himself called it “so far as I know, the first systematic attempt in our language – may be in any language – to treat the question of man’s social relations to animals as a branch of moral philosophy.” But it was not the merely intellectual treatment of the subject which its sub‐title suggests. It was purposeful and practical, as indeed that telling formulation in the title – an animal –  implies: not a generality of animals, but every particular animal was claiming its rights of us. So at the end of the book Nicholson gives advice on how to turn ethics into useful effort. And that was what Nicholson was now finding himself required to do at Oxford.  

nicholson cartoon

It was not Burdon Sanderson himself, nor even the laboratory being planned for his use, that Nicholson opposed, though the controversy came to simplify itself in that way, as the cartoon illustration indicates (more about that in the notes). What he wanted was that the university should impose two conditions upon the work done by Burdon Sanderson and by all his successors at Oxford: first, that anaesthetics would be used in all experiments which would otherwise cause pain, and second, that there would be no experiments at all using domesticated animals. You’ll notice that these are conditions which UK law has yet to catch up with even now, but to Nicholson well over a century ago they seemed “morally indispensable”.

That phrase comes from the petition which Nicholson organized and presented to the university’s governing Hebdomadal Council in 1883, requesting that a distinct motion on these conditions should be put to Convocation (at that time the university’s legislature). The petition had 143 signatures to it, for Nicholson had enlisted the support of many heads of colleges, many professors (including John Ruskin) and fellows (including Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll), and the Bishop of Oxford, John Mackarness, to say nothing of all the Oxford graduates whose MAs entitled them to vote in Convocation. But the Council rejected the petition – “an intolerable wrong”, Nicholson thought, with typical passion. He believed that his party would have won the vote; probably the Council had thought so too.

Still, to obtain the necessary land and funds for the laboratory, the Council had to get the approval of Convocation. There had already been two sessions for this purpose, but a third and fourth would yet be needed. Nicholson therefore announced that the coming sessions would be turned into that debate on vivisection which the Council had refused, and he at once began preparing for them.

Evening after evening, after his strenuous days in the Bodleian Library, Nicholson put his talents as an organiser and publicist into the push against the laboratory. Printed letters and cards, circulars and other documents went out from his house at number 2 Canterbury Road, telling academics and graduates of the university, in Oxford and far beyond, what they needed to know about the rejected petition, about Burdon Sanderson’s record as a physiologist and as a witness at the 1875 Royal Commission on vivisection, about the coming votes in Convocation, and about what the University’s Council was doing. As to this last, the Council itself had finally felt obliged to campaign for its own policy, rather than move ahead with patrician self-sufficiency (its preferred method then as now). So by the time of the second vote in 1885, as one contemporary recalled, Oxford MAs “had been inundated with leaflets from both sides, with the names of prominent men attached, for weeks before the day of debate.”

Before taking a view of the debates themselves, which were two of the most crowded and disorderly ever to have taken place in Convocation, we should pause to notice Nicholson’s courage in thus discomposing the university. He was a new and untested presence there, by no means a unanimous choice among the library’s curators (one of them thought him “vain, egotistical, and vulgar”: not a gentleman-scholar, then). The Times newspaper, with its many Oxford connections, reported the matter with some acidity: “It would be mere affectation to deny that this appointment will be viewed by many with considerable surprise.” More immediately, Vice-Chancellor Benjamin Jowett gave Nicholson warning that his activities in the campaign might be considered damaging to the library, and by implication to Nicholson’s own career with it. As to that, there survives among Nicholson’s papers a draft letter from 1884 in which sets out his response. Here are some sentences from it:

Dear Mr Vice‐Chancellor, It will be a satisfaction to me if you will allow me to make quite clear to you my feelings and intentions in regard to the matter which you spoke of this morning . . . On the matter of principle I feel as strongly as it is possible to feel, and so I consider it a duty from which I cannot deviate for one moment to do all I can to avert the practice [of vivisection] in Oxford. If the majority on February 5th [that was the third of the four Convocations] had been able and willing to compel me to resign my office on account of my action in this matter, I should have taken that action just the same . . . if Council were to propose any further grant without allowing a vote on the principle [as we know the Council in fact did] it would be our duty to oppose the grant.

I can’t find whether Nicholson actually sent, to the man who had originally been his main ally among the Curators, this bold and uncompromising letter, but he certainly acted on it.

The Convocations, then. That debate on 5 February was rowdy enough, or became so. Jowett himself presided, and the proceedings were opened by Dean Henry Liddell of Christ Church (father of Lewis Carroll’s Alice). The professor of medicine, Henry Acland, then spoke in praise of Burdon Sanderson’s high moral character (that familiar argument: ‘trust the professionals’). Speakers against the laboratory included Dr Pope – “who, we are credibly informed,” reported the students’ Oxford Magazine, of course relishing the commotion, “spoke with a loaded revolver in his pocket” – and Nicholson himself, characteristically “bristling with little books and papers”. Unfortunately the debate got entangled in one particular animal procedure which Burdon Sanderson had spoken of in his evidence to the Royal Commission. He had called it “a beautiful experiment” and one which he had enjoyed “great pleasure in repeating” a number of times (he’s quoted thus in the cartoon). This naturally caused some vocal indignation. But now the Waynflete Professor himself, who had hitherto “leaned against the side of the arena, gaunt, grim, notable”, came forward (“received with a storm of applause and hisses”), and explained that the animal had been a brain-dead frog. The debate proper did not recover from this anti-climax (if it really was one), and the vote went against Nicholson’s party.

But a fourth Convocation was needed, and it took place on 10 March the next year. This time the university’s Sheldonian Theatre was even more crowded and the debate even more unruly. The Times on that day had printed statements from the opposing parties, making clear that it would be a major Oxford University event. One of those present recalled years later that “hundreds of non-resident graduates had come up to vote from London and the shires . . . the Sheldonian Theatre was crammed, the upper undergraduate gallery no less than the lower.” There was “row on row of ladies interested in the scene”. Those Sheldonian galleries climb steeply up into the dome; it’s a room which can look and sound precariously crowded – or excitingly so, as seems to have been the case on that occasion.

Again, Vice-Chancellor Jowett presided and Dean Liddell opened the proceedings. That imposing and celebrated Oxford figure was given a respectful hearing, but he seems to have been the last of the speakers to enjoy the privilege. Canon Liddon, a celebrated orator, came after the Dean, spoke against vivisection, and was booed. When Bishop Mackarness started to describe some of the revolting experiments being done in France and Germany, someone (so the historian Charles Oman recalls in Memories of Victorian Oxford)

got upon a chair, and led, waving his arms, a regular chorus of the word ‘name’ or ‘shame’ – I could not quite make out which. The Bishop kept his feet and tried to proceed, but the rhythmical din continued.

Another speaker against the motion, the new Professor of Modern History, Edward Freeman, well-known for his publications against animal cruelty, “was absolutely howled down.” Those who spoke in favour of the motion were no better treated, and when a clergyman sprang up and “got in enough sentences to demonstrate that he was about to defend vivisection by the example of Christ”, this absurdity so aggravated the disorder that Benjamin Jowett brought a premature end to the debate and the matter was put to a decision. The university got its way by 412 votes to 244. (The total of votes did not represent the numbers present, of course: only graduates and fellows of colleges were entitled to vote.) Charles Oman calls the event “a scandalous riot”.

A defeat then, but also a very great achievement, as Oman’s disapproval itself suggests. For Nicholson turned a project whose first two supply votes had passed through Convocation hardly noticed into a controversy which in 1884 and 1885 generated some of the fiercest passions ever witnessed in the Sheldonian. (The much more famous debate about evolution, held in the University Museum in 1860, was really a very mild affair in comparison.) He forced the whole university to take the rights of animals seriously, and to suffer a convulsion commensurate with the importance of the decision it was taking. In doing so, he gave that Oxford generation a lesson in ethics which very few of them can altogether have missed or forgotten.

One of Nicholson’s supporters in the campaign against vivisection at Oxford, writing to console him on the evening of the 1885 defeat, said “the protest will remain a valuable one, and one which we may hope will not be forgotten in the future history of the Laboratory.” Yes, a most valuable protest, and a courageous and visionary man: there are good reasons – indeed, moral obligations – to remember both.    

Notes and references:

This post has been adapted from a longer article first published in the Oxford Magazine. The full text can be read here, including a more detailed set of footnotes: http://www.vero.org.uk/bodley.pdf

John Ruskin’s time as Slade Professor, and its abrupt end, are recounted in this blog here: https://voiceforethicalresearchatoxford.wordpress.com/2019/02/04/remembering-john-ruskin-rightly/

Burdon Sanderson was called “the arch-priest” in The Oxford University Herald on 27 October 1883, about the time he took up his duties as Waynflete Professor. Nicholson’s description of The Rights of an Animal comes from contemporary publicity material for the book.

The Times’s comments on Nicholson’s appointment were published on 6 February, 1882

Quotations about the Convocation debates come from Charles Oman, Memories of Victorian Oxford, London, 1941, and from two university journals of the time: the Oxford Magazine, then primarily a student paper, for 13 February 1884 and 11 March 1885, and the Oxford Review for 7 February 1884

The hostile curator was Mark Pattison, writing in his journal, as quoted in an unpublished thesis in the Bodleian Library about Nicholson’s professional career, written by K.A.Manley, 1977).

The consolatory letter was written to Nicholson by the Regius Professor of Hebrew, Samuel Driver.

The contemporary cartoon shows Burdon Sanderson ‘experimenting’ upon Edward Nicholson. The ‘Blue Book’ of the caption, on a copy of which Nicholson’s hand is resting, is the Royal Commission Report on vivisection, published in 1876. As the frog indicates, the reference there and in the speech-bubble is to the “beautiful experiment” that became a theme of the 1884 Convocation debate (though the date given for this vivisection of Nicholson at the “Sheldonian Laboratories” seems to be miswritten “5th Jan”). Unfortunately I have mislaid the source for this illustration, but I thank the archive concerned and hope that the unattributed use will be forgiven.

Putting Sentience Back into Law

Today is World Animal Day, described by its present sponsor, Naturewatch Foundation, as “an international day of action for animal rights and welfare”, with the aim to “make the world a better place for all animals . . . a world where animals are always recognised as sentient beings.” Today is also the feast day of St Francis of Assisi who, in legend at least, saw and addressed sentience in all of nature – a noble over-estimate, if it is one at all. He is the patron saint of sentience.

St Francis 2

That term ‘sentient beings’ ought to be a tautology, but we know that in fact the truth in it needs constantly insisting upon, if we are indeed to re-make a world where so many human practices and interests have depended upon disregarding it. The formal recognition of animal sentience in law is therefore a most important and also a contentious achievement. That achievement is one that the UK government is now in the middle of attempting, with its Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill – part of the government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare (discussed in this blog on 1 June). The Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 13 May, and first debated on 16 June. It was given more detailed attention in the committee stage on 6 July, and is now waiting to be further debated at the ‘report’ stage. When the House of Lords has finished debating and revising it, the Bill will start round again in the House of Commons.

It’s a very short document, consisting of just six clauses and essentially two themes: first, the concept or fact of sentience in animals, which was there in the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty but lost to UK law by Brexit; and second, the establishment of a permanent Animal Sentience Committee to alert the government to any effects which its policies may have on “the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings”. Still, this short bill has so far occupied the Lords for over eight hours of debate, with many more to come. It is evidently, then, a controversial proposal. Good, because that must mean that it really does imply change.

Of course most of the speakers in the House of Lords debates have expressly and willingly accepted that animals, vertebrate ones at least, are indeed sentient. They have said, what is quite true, that sentience is implicitly acknowledged in all British animal welfare law going back to the early nineteenth century. But I suspect that this emphasis on history, and its corollary that recognising sentience is nothing new, has a political sub-text: it keeps sentience within the traditional ethical context, where humans decide what duties they should feel towards animals. The Countryside Alliance, which has strong interests in the continuation of that ethical tradition, composed a ‘Briefing Note’ for their Lordships before the debates, in which the point is clearly made: “Of course, recognition of sentience and the welfare needs of animals is not the same as recognising that animals have rights, in the sense that human beings have rights.” And therefore, as Baroness Mallalieu said in the House, the introduction of the term into law, though unobjectionable, “is strictly unnecessary”. The Baroness is (as indeed she made clear) president of the Countryside Alliance and herself a farmer, representing then a complex of interests in keeping things as they have been.

So does the formal acknowledgement of sentience in law represent a threat to traditional practices? I feel sure that it does. One of the familiar features of debates like these in the House of Lords is the ‘nation of animal-lovers’ trope. Lord Benyon, the minister who introduced the bill (thank-you to him), said “I am proud, as I hope your Lordships are, of the UK’s reputation as a nation of animal-lovers.” Lord Trees spoke of “our proud history of protecting animal welfare”. It’s what we are and choose to do, you see, and what we therefore take credit for. But the focus on sentience re-locates the ethic; it becomes something in the animal that demands certain conduct from us. As the Countryside Alliance tacitly fears, it moves ethics along the welfare-rights axis in the rights direction.

Moreover, once out of our hands, there’s no telling what the revised ethic may require of us. One speaker feared, perhaps facetiously, that we might be told that worms have sentience. Others were concerned with the more immediate threat to ‘country sports’, shooting and fishing; in fact one of the amendments proposed during committee stage was to add birds and fishes to the single excepted species in the Bill’s working definition of ‘sentient animal’ (“any vertebrate other than homo sapiens”).

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill foresees that the Secretary of State, so far from excepting species like fishes and birds, may probably wish to add species into its definition of sentient animal. Several speakers in the debates asked that cephalopods and decapod crustaceans be included now, rather than later. After all, the government has had an expert report on the sentience of these animals awaiting its attention since December 2020, and this seems sure to be affirmative. In this connection, some of their Lordships (‘lordships’ seems to be a collective term that includes females), fear that the sentience test, so crucial to the Bill, will undesirably turn the status of animals into an aspect of research science rather than a democratic ethical decision. For it will be scientists, not ministers or MPs, who decide how sentient particular animals are, though ministers will have to endorse or reject the science.

There’s surely some merit in that warning, but anyway sentience cannot be regarded as a complete foundation for animal or any other ethics. It confines the question to pain and pleasure, but life itself is a value, in worms as in all other cases, and also an implicit right once entered into – hence Professor Tom Regan’s philosophy that imputes rights to whatever can be said to be ‘subjects-of-a-life’. Still, we’re talking now about law, which never is or pretends to be the sum of morality.

Then there’s the Animal Sentience Committee, the primary purpose and innovation of the Bill. It will be a permanent and independent committee, free to scrutinize policy, whether extant or in preparation, right across government: “there are no policy exemptions”, says Lord Benyon, and “we want them to decide what issues they should look at.” (In this and other respects, the Bill is a good deal more demanding and more comprehensive than the Lisbon Treaty.) The committee’s duty will be to make sure that ministers have paid “all due regard” to sentient animals, to report on problematic instances, and to receive a response within a period of three months. In theory, then, this committee will at last formally incorporate the interests of animals (officially sentient animals, at least) in the political process, surviving changes of administration and developing its own values as it goes.

The Bill does not specify the membership of the committee, only that the Secretary of State will appoint it. But some of their Lordships seem to have a pretty clear idea of how it’s likely to behave. It will, as they variously picture it, go “roaring off” into government business “like a bolting horse”, “bossing everybody about”, “going round summoning ministers”, and generally “roaming about” Whitehall, until “we all have to discuss animal welfare the whole time and it becomes impermissible not to discuss it every time a Bill comes up.” The committee is not required, as the Lisbon Treaty does require its EU nations, to make allowances for religious and other traditional practices (though of course the minister in the case can and no doubt will do so). It might, some suggested, interfere in foreign relations, finding fault with the treatment of animals in countries which the UK trades with or in other ways has policies towards. It might even (widespread alarm at the idea) direct its baleful attention towards the use of animals in science, interfering in the administration of the 1986 Act which regulates that arena of exploitation.

Well, as to all that, if only! But it must be recalled that the minister referenced in any report published by the Animal Sentience Committee (which can indeed publish as it “thinks appropriate”) has only to “lay a response . . . before Parliament”; he or she will not have to take the committee’s advice. In fact the Green Party’s Baroness Jones predicted that the response of such ministers would “in practice be little more than listing the reasons why they are ignoring the committee.” The committee’s existence might even have the effect of relieving ministers of the necessity to think about such aspects of policy themselves, letting them fall out of the democratic process altogether. “This Bill”, she said, “is the Government pretending to do something about animal sentience.” She summed it up as “a disaster”.

An empty show, then? Or (as the Countryside Alliance fears) a “Trojan horse” sneaking “extreme animal rights activists and environmentalists” into the citadel of government? I believe that even as a PR enterprise the Act would be making a valuable point, but in practice the Sentience Committee would surely make certain it was much more than that. Of course the Bill may not survive its passage through Parliament. After all, one of the amendments proposed on 6 July was the deleting of its first clause, the one which creates the committee, which is as much as to say deleting of the Bill. However, we must hope for a better result.

You may have seen that the government has now published a response to the recent consultation about relaxing controls over the genetic editing of farm crops and animals (another Brexit dividend: see this blog for 14 March). The announced intention is to relax restrictions in the case of plants, but to leave the animals fully protected for the time being. Now there’s a case for the Animal Sentience Committee when the question comes round again, as it eventually will. Let’s hope that by then that troop of animal activists and environmentalists will be out of the wooden horse and ready for battle!

Notes and references:

The text of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill can be read here: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/58-02/004/5802004_en_2.html#pb1-l1g1

The second reading in the House of Lords (the first being simply the notice given of the Bill’s existence) is reported in Hansard here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2021-06-16/debates/81851658-6B9F-4739-8199-22398F81085F/Debate  The committee stage is reported here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2021-07-06/debates/B8CBC730-DC86-4D6C-B915-C145CF158B80/Debate  Note that the committee stage is the point at which definite amendments are proposed, but some of them (like excepting birds and fishes from the category ‘animal’, or dropping clause 1) are ‘probing amendments’, aimed at highlighting a concern rather than actually making the changes specified. Although the debates brought out strong feeling on both sides of the argument, not very many members were present, even allowing for those who participated online.

The Countryside Alliance’s responses, as quoted, appear in a Briefing Note https://www.countryside-alliance.org/getattachment/News/2021/5/Animal-Welfare-Sentience-Bill-2021/Animal-Welfare-Sentience-Bill-Second-Reading-Brief-Lords-160621.pdf?lang=en-GB and on the web-site here: https://www.countryside-alliance.org/news/2021/5/animal-welfare-sentience-bill-2021  These are actually quite measured though wary accounts of the matter.

The government’s announcement on the subject of genetically edited plants and animals is published here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/genetic-technologies-regulation/outcome/genetic-technologies-regulation-government-response  The subject was treated in this blog here: https://voiceforethicalresearchatoxford.wordpress.com/2021/03/14/the-grand-old-craft-of-gene-editing-a-consultation/

The illustration shows St Francis preaching to the birds, a detail from the fresco of latish 13th century by the anonymous artist referred to as the Master of St Francis (in the public domain). St Francis has been spoken of in this blog here https://voiceforethicalresearchatoxford.wordpress.com/2018/10/02/two-anniversaries-one-lesson/ and here https://voiceforethicalresearchatoxford.wordpress.com/2019/10/04/franciscan-medicine/

Philosophy at the Crick

The Francis Crick Institute in London (informally ‘the Crick’) is a huge research enterprise, “the biggest biomedical research facility under a single roof in Europe”. Its ultra-modern building accommodates 1900 scientists collaborating across multifarious specialisms. The aim is “to make discoveries about how life works” and to turn these discoveries into medical therapies (one of its incorporated institutions is Cancer Research UK). Although so visibly and self-consciously progressive, this establishment which opened in 2016 is already the leading user of laboratory animals in the UK. It also supplies GM animals to other laboratories.

Crick facade

The Chief Executive Officer of the Crick is Sir Paul Nurse, the geneticist who shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2001 for his research into the chemistry of cell division. Nurse is a most distinguished scientist, whose work has helped to explain what is more or less the essence of life: its ability both to replicate and to innovate, and therefore to turn from the first viable cell into a whole world of plants and animals, still on the go after three billion or so years. He has now written a book titled What is Life? Since he has unique authority to answer such a question, and since we may imagine that the monster Crick and its envisaged future are implicated in the answer, it must surely be a book worth studying.

What life isn’t, Nurse insists, is some peculiar force or substance distinct from the rest of the material world. Versions of that assumption, commonly termed ‘vitalism’, have dominated thinking in the past (even William Harvey, the pioneer of experimental biology, thought in that way), and they still survive here and there. But the contrary notion, that lives are “astoundingly complicated, but ultimately comprehensible, chemical and physical machines” is, so Nurse says, “now the accepted way to think about life.”

The book confirms and illustrates this thinking in the case of life’s smallest viable unit, and Nurse’s own specialism, the cell. Most of the book is in fact a lively biology lesson (though deplorably without graphic aids), likely to fascinate and educate anyone who hasn’t studied biology recently or gone past Ordinary Level and its equivalents. In short, it’s a popular summary, best interpreted as part of the Crick’s express ambition to “engage and inspire the public”. The book is well-designed to do that, and this purpose may explain why, for all the excursions into particular discoveries and how they happened, there is no mention of animal research. Anyway, What is Life? does answer its own question: to be called life, the book concludes, you must be a self-maintaining physical entity with the power and purpose to pass on your own natural form – either intact or with some unpredictable variance – to a succeeding generation.

Nothing revolutionary in that, of course, and one must look elsewhere for the book’s ideological force. If this book is the Crick’s address to the nation, what is it encouraging the nation, whether intentionally or otherwise, to feel and believe? Certainly it makes the machinery of life seem astonishing, as indeed it is, and Paul Nurse enjoys and insists on this – among other ways by using many an exclamation mark. A sense of wonder, then, but not merely contemplative wonder: it’s clearly linked to the activity of discovery. Some of the notable personalities and researches which have made the wonders known are sketched in, including those in Nurse’s own laboratories. There, for instance, it had initially seemed “slightly preposterous” to mix yeast cells and human DNA on a Petri dish, in order to determine whether the mechanism of cell-division in these far-distant life-forms might be exchangeable; however “it was worth a shot. And, amazingly, it did work!”   

So this book is partly about “the thrill of scientific discovery”. And in fact in its first edition it had the sub-title (subsequently dropped) Five Great Ideas in Biology, which clearly made the life-scene a function or aspect of the human mind. Well, of course it is that in some sense but, as Nurse concedes, life did get on without human awareness, let alone understanding, for almost all of its unimaginably long history.

Perhaps there’s only just a distinction here, between wonder at the phenomena of life, and the excitement of knowing about them. But I think that the distinction is brought out by the place which humans enjoy in the life-scene as viewed by Nurse.

He does make the point again and again that “we humans are related to every other life form on the planet”, including, of course, the yeast cells which he first worked with. He also insists that this puts upon us a responsibility “to care about it” and “to care for it”. In this can be seen how much has had to be learnt since a previous celebrated attempt on this same subject, William Beck’s Modern Science and the Nature of Life, published in 1957. That’s a book which likewise persuaded its readers against vitalism, tracing the gradual revelation of the chemico-physical basis of life, and incidentally foreseeing exactly the work for which Paul Nurse earned the Nobel Prize. Having established that there is no other-worldly motive taking care of things, Beck concluded that “Man . . . is going to have to look after himself.” And he gave his book this portentous last line: “Man has already done much, but it is dawn, not midnight, and, in the gathering light, he looks magnificent.” (No smirking, please; this was 60 years ago.)

That is not Nurse’s attitude at all, but still he does take for granted that humanity is a special case. A recurring feature of the book are the short runs or lists of life-types: “towering forests, swarming colonies of ants, huge networks of underground fungi, herds of mammals on the African savannah, and very much more recently, modern humans.” In these lists, humans seem always to come at the end like that. The suggestion is irresistibly that humans are indeed the culmination, or at least the point of rest. And there is no encouragement to efface our special interest: Nurse habitually speaks of “we humans”, “ourselves”, “our own”, “us humans”, even “our world”.

what is life cover

I’m sure this is deliberate, part of the “engage and inspire” policy; and after all, his readers all are humans. Still, the net effect is not so different from William Beck’s more candid heroics. And I believe that it leads to a subtle misrepresentation of the true case. In the later part of his book, where Nurse speaks (in rather general terms) about the necessity of science as a means “to make life better”, he includes among the beneficiaries of this amelioration “the ecosystems that we are an inextricable part of”. Well, are we? Certainly we can’t do without the ecosystems, but they could surely do perfectly well – much better, in fact – without us. We are extricable. It’s strangely anthropocentric not to acknowledge or even notice this.

You may have remarked in Nurse’s definition of life as reported above the rather surprising idea that life has “purpose” – surprising not just because this seems a distinctly mental property for entities which include single cells, but also because Nurse often calls organisms “living machines”. But of course the purpose in question is a matter of action or behaviour, not thought. What we observe in these machines are “purposeful behaviours that have evolved because they improve the chances of living things achieving their fundamental purpose, which is to perpetuate themselves and their progeny.” And in his chapter about evolution (one of the ‘five great ideas’), Nurse qualifies the term, speaking more accurately of “the apparent purposefulness of living things [my italics].” Meanwhile evolution itself, the great biological machine to which all these lesser machines are subordinate, operates “without any controlling intellect, defined end goal, or ultimate driving force.”

Seemingly purposeful behaviours in the toils of a purposeless will: the tragic pathos of this situation is not remarked upon by Nurse, who doesn’t pretend to give philosophical or moral commentary (though he is fairly free with generalized phraseology of the “vast and awe-inspiring universe” sort). But looking to future research, especially research into the nature of consciousness, he does believe that it will need co-operation “between the humanities and the sciences”, and he specifies the contribution of philosophers. Certainly I was impressed, reading What is Life?, by the natural fit it would make in the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer – who did believe, in his turn, that philosophy should be able to account for the natural sciences.

Contemplating the world now pictured for us in What is Life?, Schopenhauer inferred a great impersonal and impartial drive activating all lives, lending them temporary purposes which they think (in the case of humans) their own, urging them into procreation and pitilessly discarding them. He called this drive the Will, and he said this about it:

It is the innermost essence, the kernel, of every particular thing and also of the whole. It appears in every blindly acting force of nature, and also in the deliberate conduct of man, and the great difference between the two concerns only the degree of the manifestation, not the inner nature which is manifested.

This Will is not itself life, it is not even evolution (which is simply one expression of its ceaseless push within life), but it’s the existential condition for all the lives which Paul Nurse writes about. And what it especially adds to Nurse’s account is the unity of all life not just as to cellular structure or basic genes (which of course Schopenhauer, writing in the early nineteenth century, didn’t know about), but as to experience: all lives are helpless vehicles of the one Will, are therefore part of the one experience. We aren’t just relatives of those ants, fungi, forests, and herds of mammals; in all but the externals we are them.

Schopenhauer is sometimes said to have ‘demoted’ humans in his thinking: no, he just didn’t start with an assumption of their special status; he didn’t promote them. Notably he didn’t give them special rights over any others. Accordingly, he hated and denounced vivisection. Paul Nurse is right: we need him and his like at the Crick.

Notes and references:

Quotations about the Crick are from its web-site at https://www.crick.ac.uk/

What is Life? was first published by David Fickling Books in 2020. The quotations are from the paperback edition of 2021. It’s not a long book – 212 pp. in large well-leaded type. It’s also authoritative, informative, and pleasant to read – therefore well worth reading, though the concluding remarks about climate change, the future, etc., are unsurprising and only of interest because an influential scientist is saying them.

Modern Science and the Nature of Life, by William S. Beck, was first published in 1957. Quotations are from p.292 of the Penguin Books edition of 1961.

Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation is quoted from the Dover Books edition of 1969, vol.1, p.110. The two-volume work was originally published in 1819 and 1844.

Marching, Speaking, and Doing

The National Animal Rights March for 2021 was organized by members of the group Animal Rebellion, and took place in London last Saturday afternoon. The starting-place was Smithfield, the UK’s largest wholesale and retail meat market. With its long history of cruelty and violence, and its setting in London’s centre of finance, the City, representing the rule of the money-interest, this was a very well-chosen venue. In fact it was here, in October last year, that Animal Rebellion set up their plant-based market alternative, beautifully picturing the one viable food-future open to us. And even the more general Extinction Rebellion campaign, radical and eloquent as that is, evidently needs this persuasion. Its current leaflet, as distributed at Smithfield, puts second-to-last, in its ‘What can I do?’ list, ”cutting down on meat”. A placard at Saturday’s march stated the case more accurately and urgently: “Go Vegan, or Go Extinct”.

Smithfield banner

The route for the march took in three stopping-points at noted counter-vegan institutions. There was Cargill, for instance, whose holdings and own operations make it the largest (in the sense most profitable) food business in the world. Despite its plant-leaf logo, tastefully topping the ‘i’ in its name, this company controls the impoverished lives and violent deaths of billions of animals every year. Animal Rebellion calls Cargill the “silent giant”, and certainly it keeps itself anonymous at its London headquarters, 77 Queen Victoria Street. Like so many companies, it prefers to boast about its work (“committed to helping the world thrive) in the nowhere-land of the internet. By the way, the italics for ‘thrive’ are Cargill’s own, so you can see how earnestly sincere it is about this aim.

Then there was the Marine Stewardship Council, round the corner at Snow Hill (the police running ahead of the march to guard the doors at each next stop). This is an organization whose “vision . . . is of the world’s oceans teeming with life”. Plunderable life, that is, for the MSC’s hope is that, by not over-fishing, we can make “seafood supplies” (sometimes known as fishes) lastingly available “for this and future generations”. Our speaker outside Cargill’s offices, Tim Bailey, had told us that the pain of slaughter, however small the animal, was “exactly the same”. This assertion was quoted in news reports, perhaps because it feels like an over-statement or at least tendentious. But we don’t have to know whether it’s true or not, for the right to live is certainly nothing to do with large or small. And therefore the speaker outside the MSC’s headquarters, Laila Kassam, quite properly re-defined ‘over-fishing’ as any fishing”.

March at MSC

One of the founding organizations for the MSC was Unilever, whose offices were the march’s first stop. This is another giant enterprise, which hoovers up successful brands, mainly cosmetics and foods, and makes their profits its own. Most of the conventional ice-creams one’s heard of, for instance, seem to belong to Unilever, for of course it’s not a vegan-friendly enterprise. It is, however, publicly committed to animal-free research (“we do not agree that animal testing is necessary to assure the safety of our products.”), and it posts an interesting video on Youtube about modern alternatives (linked in the notes below). It’s even been commended for its research policy by PETA.

However, as Animal Rebellion says, Unilever sells its products in countries whose governments require animal tests even for cosmetics – notably China – and the enormous volume of Unilever’s international trade therefore ensures that it’s still implicated in animal testing on a large scale. Unilever claims that “Doing good sits at the heart of everything we do”, but it’s the shareholders whom it aims to do good to first of all, something which a march round the City’s money-shuffling institutions makes more than usually obvious. And I doubt that those ice-creams, beverages, shampoos, soaps, and detergents, in so many varieties of packaging but otherwise insignificantly differing within their categories, do anything like as much good for their consumers. Certainly they aren’t worth the life of a single animal.

There are two other reasons for being wary of Unilever’s claims. One is that its newer animal-friendly values come after a very unpleasant history of vivisection. Work being done in the 1970s at Unilever’s own laboratories in Bedford was instanced by Richard Ryder in his pioneering book Victims of Science (the testing of shampoos and soaps in the eyes of rabbits). The same establishment was the scene of a mass raid and exposé by activists in 1984. In the trials which followed that event, one judge called the defendants “enemies of society”, and 25 of them were sentenced to a total of 41 years of imprisonment. More recently, in 2013, Unilever was one of a number of large food businesses said to be testing foods and drinks on animals, in order to justify health-claims.

The second reason for wariness is the bumptious jargon in which the company speaks to its public. “Our philosophy is quite simple,” we’re told: “Live from the Heart!” This is the explanation of “our heart-shaped logo . . . a sign that says ‘here there’s joy!’” How could one possibly trust this sort of sickening hyperbole, or suppose that anyone actually working at Unilever takes it seriously? The similarity of style with Cargill’s gush about “helping the world thrive, or the Marine Stewardlship Council’s vision of “teeming” oceans, reminds us that addressing the public on any aspect of Unilever’s business is a specialism within the company, a profession in itself; this is not the company’s collective voice, not even the voice of the company board. The heart-on-sleeve sentiment is just the fashion of the moment in public relations. It says nothing informative about the reality behind it, and certainly doesn’t underwrite that. Therefore the ethic which first persuaded Unilever and other such businesses away from animal-testing needs to be kept clearly in their sight, and they need to be kept in ours. That was the purpose of the mass visit on Saturday.

Nobody could put the case, or represent it in person, more authentically than the speaker at that point, Mel Broughton. As he told us, he has been putting and living the case for forty years and more: “I’ve seen some terrible things in my time.” In fact he was there at the 1984 raid on Unilever’s laboratories. Not that Mel was making a personal claim for attention. It’s the mark of his commitment to non-human animals that he’s simply purged of vanity and self-interest: a remarkable lesson in personality. And anyway, Mel’s immediate theme was not the past, or even Unilever’s reformed present, but today’s front line in anti-vivisection: the beagle-breeding establishment in Cambridgeshire called MBR Acres (the initials stand for the American owner, Marshal Bio-Resources).

Mel speaking

MBR Acres looks like a factory farm, and that’s indeed what it is, holding about 2000 animals at any one time in sheds with no outdoor runs. The dogs – beagles, because they are small and biddable, indeed trusting – are kept in a germ-free environment, and trained to accept inhalation-masks and injections. Then at 16 weeks or so, they are put into crates and transported to laboratories near and far for use in research. MBR beagles must have constituted a majority of the 4340 dogs used in British research last year, mostly for ‘repeated dose toxicity’ tests. These testing regimes may last for periods of less than 28 days, or up to and beyond 90 days. Such periods represent the likely remaining life-span of the MBR dogs, though some of them survive for re-use. The ordinary life-span of a beagle is twelve years or more. Yes, this is factory farming all right; it’s just that the dogs are being force-bred to be poisoned rather than eaten.

There’s a ‘Camp Beagle’ outside MBR Acres, protesting against, and as far as possible obstructing, the operations. Mel Broughton described the scene, with police crowding at the site entrance, and police vans escorting the MBA vehicles as they carry the dogs away: “We could hear those dogs crying in the back.” There are several videos online showing all this, in one of which can be heard a human crying too, a terrible addition to the distress. Film-clips also show the animals inside the facility, being crated and stacked in the vans. It was film of MBR Acres which is said to have shocked the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. She has demanded a re-examination of the use of animals in research, with a view to their eventual replacement. Very probably this project will fade into oblivion, as most progressive political schemes do. And anyway, as Mel said, “We’ve waited long enough, for 40 or 50 years . . . This has to end now, and we have to be the ones to do it . . . What all these animals want is liberation, and you are the people who will deliver that liberation. Don’t give in. Believe in what you’re doing.”

Mel Broughton is a most forceful public speaker, using no notes, prompted only by conviction and purposefulness. But as another notable speaker, Prime Minister David Lloyd George, said, “the finest eloquence is that which gets things done.” Can speaking, or even marching, get things done? Well, they do get things noticed, get things minded, and get things intended. Without those preliminaries, nothing collective gets done; with them, liberations have indeed been achieved in the past, and this of the animals surely can be too. But as Animal Rebellion says, “We must act now, before it is too late. It’s time to rebel for all life.”

Notes and references:

Animal Rebellion describes its 2020 occupation of Smithfield Market, and its thinking generally, in an excellent post here: https://animalrebellion.org/love-and-fruit-in-the-time-of-catastrophe-animal-rebellion-converts-smithfield-meat-market-into-smithfield-beet-market/

Animal Rebellion has published an open letter to Cargill here: https://animalrebellion.org/cargill-family-a-historic-choice-is-upon-you-planetary-destruction-or-climate-animal-and-human-justice/

The Marine Stewardship Council’s policies are described on its web-site here: https://www.msc.org/about-the-msc/what-is-the-msc

Unilever’s policy on safety-testing is presented here: https://assets.unilever.com/files/92ui5egz/production/5f08c41a40e03128d79e5a6161da28b5adb2c507.pdf/alternative-approaches-to-animal-testing.pdf  and the video showing the modern alternatives is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJWG3YCXT0Y  Its earlier work is mentioned in Richard Ryder, Victims of Science, Davis-Poynter, 1975, pp.48-9, and a description of the 1984 raid and subsequent trials is given in Keith Mann’s From Dusk ‘til Dawn, Puppy Pincher Press, 2007, pp.87-91. The BUAV’s exposé of Unilever and others in 2013 was published in the Daily Mail, as archived here: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2345276/Food-giants-Nestle-Unilever-caught-animal-testing-scandal.html

MBR Acres is shown at work in a video made by Free the MBR Beagles here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1K08pAr_NvQ  Other material about it, and about Camp Beagle and the campaign, can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/campbeagle199/

Lloyd George is quoted from a speech given at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and reported in the Times for 20 January. The quotation has been used before in this blog on 26 August 2019 for the post ‘March of a Nation’.

The final quotation from Animal Rebellion comes from a general account of its 2021 actions here: https://animalrebellion.org/rebellion/

The photographs show the march setting out from Smithfield Market, the stop outside the Marine Stewardship Council (with police and pink octopus at the entrance), and Mel Broughton speaking outside Unilever’s headquarters.

The Horse Misused

On Monday 19 July, the BBC documentary programme Panorama took a view of one wholly unglamorous aspect of horse-racing – the fate of the many thousands of thoroughbred horses that ‘leave’ racing each year (about 7000 in UK alone), or that never show the capacity for it. Some hundreds die on the track. Others die in training, for it’s an unnaturally demanding life, and the horses are bred for speed not strength or stamina; one such was the horse Morgan, a seven-year old whose corpse the trainer Gordon Elliot was recently photographed using as a convenient seat while making a phone call. Some horses are lucky enough to be placed by the industry’s own Retraining of Racehorses scheme, though they make problematic companion animals and nervy riding. Then there are the thousands, not publicly spoken about, that are simply destroyed.

Horses at Drurys

Much of the material for Panorama’s ‘The Dark Side of Horse Racing’ came from investigative work done by Animal Aid, including film secretly taken at Drury and Sons’ slaughterhouse in Swindon, which specializes in equines (destined for human or animal food). Astonishingly there were indeed race-horses finishing their lives of service there. They included three that had at one time been in Gordon Elliott’s stables in Ireland, and had raced successfully for him, now trucked over to Swindon to die. The contrast between the moneyed and showy world of racing as publicly visible, and these sordid, uncared-for and violent endings, seems especially treacherous and shameful, but the film showed all varieties of horse and pony suffering in that place. There were former pets, special breeds, and wild ponies, some being shot ‘correctly’ (muzzle of the gun against the forehead), some illegally from a distance (“as if you’re on safari”, said Panorama’s presenter). Also illegally, some horses were being shot while others stood next to them. The handling was rough and impatient, the language foul. So “Welcome to F. Drury and Sons” where “all welfare and processing are done to the highest standards”.

At the very end of Animal Aid’s newly published leaflet on the subject, Horse Slaughter in the UK, comes the moving and very proper statement, “we do not think that horses are more important than any other poor animal who enters a slaughterhouse. We campaign for all of them – including horses.” Someone who shared this point of view about the animals, but for a more or less opposite reason – in that he wished them all to share the lower standard of respect – was by chance the subject of another BBC programme a few days after ‘Dark Side of Horse Racing’. Radio 4’s weekly obituary programme ‘Last Words’ reviewed the life and work of William ‘Twink’ Allen, a pioneer of research into equine reproduction. Professor Allen considered that racing was being deprived by the Home Office of the rewarding possibilities of reproductive science (for instance, it wouldn’t allow him to clone horses) for purely “political” reasons, simply “because the horse is an emotive species.”

Not that Professor Allen didn’t like horses: “I would not have become a vet if I did not like animals”, he has said. (No doubt the vet supervising the massacre at Drury and Sons would say the same.) In one of the many obituaries published in professional journals, a colleague calls Allen “a genuine horse-lover”, illustrating the sincerity by citing his enthusiasm for hunting. Indeed, Allen was co-founder of Vets for Hunting, a lobby group since re-named with less tally-ho as the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management. But whatever may have been his personal feelings for horses and other animals, the moral context for his relations with them, and in particular for his research, was severely practical, not to say rudimentary: “a domestic animal”, he told a House of Lords committee in 2002, “is man’s product, essentially for man’s use. It would not be there unless man had decided to produce it. We either eat it, have entertainment with it, ride it, use it for sport, or whatever.” That committee included the distinguished ethical philosopher Baroness Warnock, but Professor Allen was not seriously challenged on this or any other aspect of his ethics or practices.

And certainly, in the case of the horse, he had “decided to produce it” in every possible way, with or without the natural co-operation of the animals. His various obituarists seem particularly to relish the story of a two-day car journey which he made from Cambridge to Krakow in 1976, transporting six Welsh pony embryos stored in the oviducts of a pair of rabbits. On arrival the embryos were extracted again and introduced into ‘recipient mares’. As far as I can understand the account published at the time in the Journal of Reproduction and Fertility, three of the Krakow mares became normally pregnant, though what became of them or the embryos after this success (or of the rabbits, for that matter) is not stated. Who cared, after all? The point is that “the ligated rabbit oviduct would seem to provide an eminently suitable means of temporarily storing and transporting horse embryos.”

Of course ‘normally pregnant’ is not quite the right wording. The report of this research is crowded with drugs, and with surgical and other interventions, necessary to induce synchronized oestrus (sexual receptivity) and ovulation in the mares, and to effect the transfers: injections of synthetic prostaglandin, “daily teasing with a stallion”, blood sampling, “palpation of the ovaries per rectum, flushing out of the embryos with “Dulbecco’s phosphate-buffered saline”, ligating of the rabbits’ oviducts – all this before we’ve even left Cambridge. It’s not such a fun story after all, then.

A great deal has happened in horse-reproduction research since 1976, much of it carried through by Professor Allen. But the wastefulness, the gruesome interventions, and the grotesque impropriety of the Krakow project have lived on in what came after. Even the names given with bluff facetiousness to the ‘donor’ ponies at the Cambridge end – Choc-Ice, Dairy Cream, Iced Lolly, etc. – seem to have been part of a tradition: when Allen created the first-ever identical twins, by “bisection and reconstruction” of a horse embryo, the names given to them were Quickzee and Eezee – ‘man’s products’ indeed, being clearly branded as such. Incidentally, Allen’s own persisting nick-name ‘Twink’ had been conferred on him in childhood, as a corruption of Rip Van Winkle, although ‘Twink’ himself was wholly unlike the amiably indolent and laissez-aller character of that story. Professor Allen was not just highly industrious but, as the radio obituary said, and as his research career vividly evidenced, “endlessly curious”.

He was fascinated in particular by the possibilities of embryo transfer between different species. Ten years after the Krakow report, for instance, he was transferring embryos from two Przewalski’s horses (a Mongolian wild horse species) and two Grant’s zebras, kept at London Zoo, into various ponies and donkeys at Cambridge. That didn’t mean four embryos in all: eleven early-stage embryos were taken from the Przewalski’s horses (after 18 “collection attempts”) and fourteen from the zebras (after 25 attempts). Following the transfers, there were twelve pregnancies, of which six reached natural term, producing four live foals, three of which survived. That’s the maths summary. Behind it was a year-long story of drugs and surgery, forced waste, and suffering: still-births, abortions, and premature deaths of foals, involving for the recipient mares “abdominal discomfort . . . non-infective polyarthritis . . . pregnancy toxaemia syndrome . . . acute painful polyarthritis”, and so on.

This particular project was presented by Professor Allen and his co-authors as evidence that “extra-specific embryo transfer may be a useful aid to breeding exotic equids in captivity.” Well, that’s always been a declared aim of the big zoos, to breed for conservation, and a large part also of their official justification for mass-confining animals for show, though it deals with exactly the wrong end of the problem of species decline. Accordingly, the research was supported by the London Zoological Society.

More surprisingly, that same research was part-funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board and the Thoroughbred Breeder’s Association. But in fact the interests which these two organisations stand for have provided the principal motive and most of the funds for all of Allen’s research into ARTs (assisted reproductive techniques). They were indeed the sponsors for Allen’s Equine Fertility Unit at Newmarket, set up in 1989 and the place where much of his work was done. And of course what they wanted and still want from such research is not conservation of zebras, not even (except incidentally) improved health in race-horses, but a better return on the money invested in horse-racing: winners, in short. For as Professor Allen told the House of Lords committee, “you are paying very large sums of money to have a particularly valuable mare covered by an even more valuable stallion, and you lose that money when the pregnancy is lost.” But it’s not just a case of ensuring pregnancies. Moving embryos between animals can free up valuable mares for racing or for further breeding; it can multiply progeny and improve the chances of raising a winner. Other ARTs, such as artificial insemination and cloning, offer similar scope for the thorough exploitation of winning genes.

But strangely, since the racing industry funded so much of Allen’s research, it still does not allow horses that have been force-bred in any of these ways to be registered for either breeding or competition. In fact, the Equine Reproduction Unit was closed down in 2007. Of course Professor Allen was exasperated by this conservatism. He often pointed out that traditional breeding is wasteful and inhumane. It certainly is inhumane, but not because copulation is inherently unpleasant for horses. The cruelty comes from hard-driving it for commercial purposes, in order to mass-produce winning potential. Allen’s researched alternatives simply shifted the burdens of this unnatural demand onto a different set of horses, with different sorts of imposed suffering. That the racing establishment has not after all accepted these alternatives, whose cruel rehearsals it has been funding for all these years, is just another variation on the industry’s habit of squandering life.

In fact the logo for horse-racing organizations should be, not the horse’s head so much favoured, but the whip, representative image of the force which characterizes the industry’s relation to its breadwinner from start to finish. It may be said that Professor Allen’s hubristic researches at the one end, and Drury and Sons’ bloody work at the other, don’t fairly summarize the whole enterprise. For many years I lived next to a National Hunt training stable, and there, far from the race-courses and breeding establishments, it was easy to admire the beauty of the horses, the skill and courage of the riders – especially of the stable lads, who do generally respect and understand their allotted horses – and in fact the whole picturesque ensemble. But it is indeed an industry, and the horses have to make it pay. Human selfishness, impatience, and cruelty are therefore not accidents but systemic to it. The whole unhappy truth has been brilliantly presented in Animal Aid’s various reports over the years. I urge you in particular to watch its new four-minute film about horse slaughter, linked below, and to sign its current parliamentary petition here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/585547.

horse corpse

Notes and references:

The title phrase comes from William Blake’s poem ‘Auguries of Innocence’: “A horse misused upon the road / Calls to Heaven for human blood.”

Animal Aid’s ‘Horse Slaughter in the UK’ can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/571718345. Warning: it’s a record of scarcely credible callousness, including scenes which the Panorama programme considered too distressing to show on television. Other reports on Animal Aid’s web-site include ‘Bred to Death’ (https://www.animalaid.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/bred.pdf) and a summary of its various race-horse campaigns here: https://www.animalaid.org.uk/the-issues/our-campaigns/horse-racing/

Panorama’s ‘Dark Side of Horse Racing’ can be viewed (at time of writing, anyway) here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ai44cpAVI5M

The quotation promoting Drury and Sons comes from their web-site at https://www.fdruryandsons.co.uk/

The account by Allen and others of the Krakow project was published in the journal Reproduction and Fertility in August 1976, and can be read online here: file:///C:/Users/Owner/Downloads/387.pdf  The twin foals are spoken of in a brief account of his own career by Professor Allen here: https://srf-reproduction.org/professor-w-r-twink-allen-cbe-scd-frcvs/. Other quotations are taken from the evidence which he gave, on 5 February 2002, to the House of Lords select committee convened to examine the workings of the 1986 Act: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200102/ldselect/ldanimal/999/2020505.htm. The report on ‘extra-specific’ embryo transfer was published in the journal Reproduction in May 1987, and can be read online here: https://rep.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/rep/80/1/jrf_80_1_002.xml

The obituary quoted on Allen’s love of hunting was published by the British Equine Veterinary Association here: https://www.beva.org.uk/Home/News-and-Views/Latest-News/Details/Professor-William-Twink-Allen—6-June-2021

The first photograph is from Animal Aid’s film, and shows three horses arriving at Drury and Sons’ slaughterhouse. The second is the one referred to in the opening paragraph.

Killing Our Way towards Immortality

In a TEDx talk given in 2017, the neurosurgeon Sergio Carnavero asserts that the time for head transplantation “is now.” The special problems of such an operation have been solved, he says, notably by his own “head anastomosis venture” – deliberately thus named, no doubt, to produce the tasteful acronym HEAVEN. With a cowboy swagger in his movements and indeed in his talk, he informs the audience that this development will have “changed your lives forever . . . the world will never be the same again.”

Demikhove dogs, 1954

The idea of head transplantation has interested and exercised some few surgeons for over a hundred years, the exercise part being carried through, of course, upon animals. A celebrated instance was Vladimir Demikhov’s two-headed dog of 1954 – made celebrated by the Soviet Union authorities, that is, though the dogs survived wretchedly for a few days only (Demikhov went on to do more of the same). But the surgeon so far best known for this type of research is the one whom Carnavero speaks of at the beginning of his talk: Robert J. White, a neurosurgeon and scientist working at Western Reserve University Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio. This man is now the subject of a biography written by the medical historian Brandy Schillace, and titled Mr Humble and Dr Butcher (page references to this book are in square brackets).

Schillace cover

Previous operations of this kind had really been upper body transplants, as the pathetic image of Demikhov’s dogs shows. Dr White, however, was aiming at a reconstituted human, and he therefore worked with severed heads and decapitated bodies. In 1965 he re-made six dogs in this way, using six donors and six recipients. The results ‘lived’ from 6 to 36 hours after the surgery. Meanwhile he had practised isolating the brains of rhesus macaque monkeys and servicing these brains from the blood supply of their detached bodies or of intact fellow-monkeys. (At this period of rehearsal, there were apparently 300 heads of monkeys, “frozen or floating in alcohol”, stored in his laboratory [104].) Then in 1970 he took the next step, completely transplanting the heads of four macaques onto the bodies of four others. One of these operations is fully described by Dr Schillace on her book. The reconstituted monkey in this case survived “for almost nine days before the body rejected the head” [126]. During that time, the monkey was completely paralyzed, because there was no way to re-connect the spinal cord.

So here is another research-scape of mutilated and short-lived animals. Dogs, cats, guinea pigs, mice, rats, and monkeys have all been made to serve this cause. And what really has the cause been? In 1989, Ingrid Newkirk, of the recently founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, publicly debated the matter with Robert White in his home town, Cleveland. She accused him of exploiting the animals “only to prove what you have the skill and the power to do” [185]. In reply, White very reasonably instanced the patients whom his more conventional work as a neurosurgeon had saved. Characteristically, for he enjoyed showmanship, he brought one of them along to illustrate his case: “I would like to introduce a guest. Carla, could you stand?” (Sensation!) [187]. But he couldn’t bring along anyone saved by head-transplantation, because there hadn’t yet been such a person (nor has there been now). Moreover, he could not envisage an operation which would leave the head in control of its alien body; it would be using that paralyzed body only as a life-support system, just as those macaques in their brief new lives had been. But then even the fully integrated human body was properly understood, so White asserted, as “a machine for the brain” [69]. (Is this how one would like one’s doctor, or indeed anyone else, to think?)

Dr Schillace reckons that White prevailed in that debate, but there is evidence in the book that supports Ingrid Newkirk’s accusation against him. White was fascinated by the surgical technology of the operation, and proud of what he and the teams of professionals he led could do (the Humble in the book’s title refers to a sobriquet he used for himself as a joke: ‘Humble Bob’). When the monkey whose operation is described in the book showed returning signs of intelligent life (intelligent enough to try to bite Professor White’s hand), we’re told that “the operating room erupted in cheers. Several team members danced; one of them screamed.” [125] But the book’s photograph of the monkey’s suffering face does not seem to warrant that triumphalism, and one of those present has more recently said of the experience, “It was just awful . . . I don’t think it should ever be done again.” [220]

Although Dr Schillace puts, in the course of her book, some of the ethical and even spiritual questions raised by Robert White’s research, he himself does not seem to have been greatly interested in them. That may partly have been because White was a comfortably orthodox Catholic, not inclined to re-think ethics. True, he was an advisor to the Pope on medical ethics, as chairman of the Vatican’s commission on the subject, but that meant strictly human-related ethics; above all it meant the rather pragmatic question, what counted as dying and what didn’t? White insisted that it was in the brain that the soul resided or at least made its earthly connection; as long as the brain worked, the soul had not departed, and so personal life continued. The heart, formerly viewed as the core of personhood, was part of the “machine” only. You can see why this way of looking at the human body, now well-established, would help to justify White’s research project. For otherwise, taking the functioning body of a vegetating person, and using it to service the head of a person whose own body had been failing, might be viewed as premature or even criminal.

I don’t know that Professor White ever more than hinted at the idea that head-transplantation might be a means to everlasting life (Carnavero does distinctly say so, and the absurd acronym HEAVEN must be taken to imply as much). That would surely involve an orthodox Christian in serious difficulties. But the nature of the operation does at least suggest a clinging to earthly life at all costs – and the costs would certainly be enormous, not just in professional resources but also in the engrossing, on behalf of one patient, of a complete set of donor organs which might individually save several lives. I don’t mean to trip up his theology in this matter – what would be the point? – but here was a man who believed that our “God-created immortality”, so Shillace tells us, was what “differentiated humans from all other animals.” [197] You’d suppose, then, that those dogs and monkeys had a lot more to lose by premature death than we humans, who will apparently be going on to much better things. And it would surely be the animal in us, rather than the immortal soul, which shrinks from death. Why devote such riches to that secular motive, then?

But for White the soul privileged us just as much in this world as in the next. He called himself “an elitist”, and his outlook was indeed elitist through and through: the natural world served humans, and the human body served the brain, and the brain served the soul, and the soul served God. For all the advanced science, it’s a ruthlessly traditional supernaturalist outlook. In such a scheme, the bulk of animated life on earth is just a serviceable context; it has no status of its own.

Even in 1990, when he’d had some experience of the animal rights argument, and some practice in responding to it, White could see nothing there: “Animal usage is not a moral or ethical issue”, he wrote in an essay for an academic journal of bio-ethics [171]. He also actively promoted this point of view (if one can call it that) to a more general audience too, as the debate with Ingrid Newkirk illustrates. In fact the simplicity of his thinking suited Reader’s Digest rather better than it did a highbrow publication like the one just quoted, the Hastings Center Report (he published in both). In Animal Liberation, Peter Singer describes White’s ethical arguments as “comparable to maintaining that the earth is flat”. It’s characteristic of those arguments that his knock-down point in that Cleveland debate, after which he felt entitled to rest his case (“I really don’t know what else to say” [187]), was to associate anti-vivisection with Adolf Hitler.

However, Professor White did not anyway consider that such questions were properly decided by argument, philosophical or not. In ethical matters, he said, “there are no navigation maps” or, as Dr Schillace paraphrases it, “The only lodestone is a man’s conscience.” [219]  One must surely respect a conscience which has been exercised or at least informed by the constant practice of life-saving surgery such as Professor White’s clinical work required of him. Or is that naïve and even sentimental? It’s one of the sad effects of Mr Humble and Dr Butcher that it seems to answer ‘yes’ to that question. An untroubled conscience surely ought to be a contradiction in terms, outside gangland anyway, but it’s the primary mark of White’s ethical simpletonism that he seemed to possess one. About those monkeys, for instance, Schillace says of him, “He had no qualms whatsoever.” [231] A producer for the film The X-Files: I Want to Believe, for which White was employed as medical consultant because the plot involved some gruesome transplanting of heads, found him “supremely untroubled by the implications of his work.” [231]

Well, perhaps he had fought his way to that serenity, through all the trials and agonies of medical practice, including a period as a trauma surgeon, as well as the gruesome demands of his chosen research? But no, serenity isn’t quite what we see in him; self-assurance certainly, impatience of scruple, a disconcerting flippancy. As to this last, we’re told that he was “well-known for practical jokes” [67]. The immediate illustration of this trait is an elaborate jape involving a road accident and the brain of a cow collected from a slaughterhouse – too elaborate to retell here, even supposing I wanted to. On another occasion, he provided a sandwich lunch for himself and some others, including a priest present on ethical business, at an operating table on which there also lay the ex-sanguinated and apparently dead body of a dog. After lunch, the professor revived the dog, thereby showing that since he had kept the brain alive (by cooling it, a technique pioneered by White himself), he could make the rest live again too: ‘Maybe like Christ?’ suggests White to the priest “with a mischievous wink”. [189]

I doubt the complete veracity of both these stories, but probably only because I’d much prefer that they weren’t true. They do fit his personality; otherwise Dr Schillace herself surely wouldn’t have believed them. That wink certainly is all too credible, and there are in the book many other instances of White’s taste for tricks and facetiousness. For Schillace, these boyish moments help to humanize her subject, and in fact she goes in for homely touches of all kinds for the same reason: brief glimpses of “unflappable” wife Patricia, of the kids (one “soon to be driving”, another “would soon be out of diapers”), of White’s pipes and cups of coffee. But such evidences that White was just as human as you or I are rather beside the point. This was a man who enjoyed being referred to as “the new Modern Prometheus” (The Modern Prometheus being the sub-title of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein), and who told a symposium of transplant scientists that, with head transplantation, we had reached and crossed “the last frontier”. “We venture into the void” he grandly said, “and we will go on.” [158] It’s not practical jokes, ten children, and addiction to pipe and caffeine, that will convince us that such a man is entitled to lead us into the void (if someone must, which is altogether doubtful). Some very much larger-minded person is required: for a start, one who won’t assume it right to hustle weaker animals into it first.

And now a new man is forcing the pace into that void. Sergio Carnavero has a more unorthodox and perhaps more apt cosmology to go with it (he regards the brain as the “filter” for a world-consciousness). He has even more of the bumptious showman in him than Robert White had. He firmly believes that he and his colleagues have solved the problem of the severed spine – solved it in animals, of course, for behind his research too there’s a trail of ruined animals. It may be that head-transplantation is indeed possible, even imminent, though most neuro-scientists deny one or both. It may be that it’s a legitimate project, for all its gothically transgressive implications; just as likely, it’s a hugely expensive fantasy. Either way, it will never have justified the animal mayhem which has serviced it.

Notes and references:

A Tedx talk is one that uses the TED format but is organised independently of the TED organisation. Carnavero’s talk is actually “flagged” by TED as “speculative” and raising “practical and ethical concerns”. It can be viewed here:    

https://www.technologynetworks.com/neuroscience/videos/head-transplantation-the-future-is-now-tedx-talk-by-drsergio-canavero-295184

Most of the information about Robert White is of course taken from the book Mr Humble and Dr Butcher (Simon and Schuster, 2021). I should add that the author is naturally much more aware of animal-related ethics than Professor White was, and in fact shows that White’s research did much to galvanize the animal rights movement of the time. ‘Dr Butcher’ was a name given to White by animal rights activists.

Other historical and technical information comes from a 2016 article in Acta Chirurgica, online here – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5116034/ – and from a 2019 article in Maedica: a Journal of Clinical Medicine, online here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6511668/

In Animal Liberation, Pimlico, 1995, pp.75-6, White is quoted calling himself an elitist during a press interview; his point there is that decisions about animal research should be made by medical professionals and not by outsiders. In addressing lay audiences on the subject, he always urged them to deplore and resist federal or state regulation of the practice.

The familiar ‘Hitler argument’ is discussed in this blog here: https://voiceforethicalresearchatoxford.wordpress.com/2020/01/18/a-troubling-and-unsavoury-contradiction/

The photograph of the dogs shows the results of Demikhov’s 1954 operation.

Animal Research in the Year of Coronavirus

Statistics of live-animal research in Great Britain during 2020 have now been published by the Home Office. There was a total of 2,883,310 procedures, a fall of 15% from the previous year’s 3,401,517. So here too there was a Covid-boon for the animals; the notional 500,000 or so animals that might have been used in experiments, but weren’t, join the other groups of animals that found space, quiet, or simply survival as a consequence of the pandemic and associated lockdowns, because this relatively dramatic reduction to a level last seen in 2004 is candidly admitted by most of the practising institutions to be a freak of the moment. As Edinburgh University cautions on its web-site, “Please note . . . It is expected that these figures will increase in 2021 as more standard working patterns resume.” And anyway it may be that the 500,000 didn’t after all survive. It can’t be known, because numbers of animals killed without ever being used in procedures are only collected for one year in every five, and the next year to be counted will be 2022.

There is, at any rate, no reason for anyone to take credit for the reduction in numbers. In fact, rather ominously, there seems to have been no inclination to do so, or to celebrate it at all; rather, the pandemic has been seen by animal-research institutions as a boost to their confidence and reputation. The tone has been set by Understanding Animal Research (UAR), whose Chief Executive Wendy Jarrett says in her official statement,

Animal research has been essential to the development and safety testing of life-saving Covid-19 vaccines and treatments . . . The pandemic has led to increased public interest in the way vaccines and medicines are developed, and UAR has worked with research institutions and funding bodies throughout the UK to develop resources that explain to the public how animals have been used in this critical research.

UAR has indeed “worked with research institutions”, and it’s noticeable how prompt they’ve all been to declare their part in the 2020 numbers, and to use UAR’s publicity material to help them along. Even so self-sufficient an institution as Cambridge University (now exceeding Oxford University in animal numbers) presents its ‘Research news’ largely in UAR’s words and format, just adding a word or two from their own Establishment Licence Holder.

The Medical Research Council (third biggest user of animals in 2020, and financer of other users) has a special web-page providing “examples of how animal research is making an impact in the fight against Covid-19”. But the examples are being used to make a more general point, for we’re told that the expertise employed in this Covid research “is only possible because of the decades of knowledge gained from funding excellent discovery science, and the advances gained from research involving animals.” Both past and future of animal research are being justified by today’s “fight against Covid-19”, then. Indeed, taking an even more expansive advantage of the present situation, the MRC’s page makes this grand assertion: “Throughout history, research involving animals has been essential to our survival during epidemics and pandemics caused by infectious diseases.” Now we know why some people survived the Black Death. The case is complete.

Britflag

Another important point made by the MRC about this animal research is that it has “helped UK scientists lead the way in developing vaccines and treatments against Covid-19 [my italics].That’s certainly very gratifying, even if one hadn’t formerly pictured the research as an international competition. And no doubt it explains why UAR’s table summarizing the numbers is presented against an image of the Union Jack (though properly it should be the ‘British flag’, since Northern Ireland is not included in these numbers), with a strong red and blue colour-theme carried through in the layout. You see, it’s patriotic, it’s British, to experiment on animals.

In fact, for Understanding Animal Research there’s an exciting spirit of competition even within the nation. Alongside the more or less factual presentation of the 2020 statistics, we get a page headed ‘Ten organisations account for nearly half of all animal research in Great Britain in 2020’. This so-called “Top ten list” has become a traditional feature of its annual reporting, but now it’s being taken up by the individual institutions themselves. Glasgow University, for instance, re-publishes UAR’s table, proudly highlighting its own seventh position. Since all these institutions advertise (they’re required by UAR’s Concordat to advertise) their commitment to reducing the use of animals, the word ‘top’ seems incongruous, and the whole approach has always puzzled me. But then how can a list headed by the gigantic Francis Crick Institute (“Discovery without boundaries”), the University of Cambridge, and the MRC, be anything other than a variety of medal table? So it’s a PR device: these are the high achievers, and this is what they do, so it’s a good – indeed a glamorous – thing to be doing. And that advertised commitment to the 3Rs (reduction, etc.) comes across accordingly as a sort of modesty, taking the swagger out of the boastfulness: shucks, we try not to do this, but we just can’t help doing it awfully well.

Oxford University, coming fourth in this table, has not altered its animal-research pages for the occasion, except to edit the numbers themselves. However, a statement from its ‘Covid-19 vaccine team’ appears in UAR’s pages, explaining that the testing of its vaccine on rhesus macaque monkeys was done by Public Health England (at Porton Down) and the National Institutes of Health in the USA. This farming out of the tests partly explains Cambridge’s higher placing this year: that university used 41 non-human primates in 2020, compared to Oxford’s 15. Come on, Oxford!

So much for the publicity. As for the numbers themselves, it’s difficult to see any special pattern in them, aside from the temporary reduction, the Covid-dividend. As ever, the species most commonly used was the mouse, especially in procedures aimed at the production of genetically altered animals: altogether, over 2 million mice were used. These mice, with rats (notably more of these than last year), fish, and birds (mostly chickens), accounted for over 95% of all procedures. The number of horses continues to rise (to 10,790); they were mainly used for blood products. The number of cats also went up, by 11% to 146; no explanation is given, but 62 of the cats were apparently wanted for regulatory testing (i.e. tests required by national or international safety regulations).

This latter class of procedure, forming about one third of all experiments, is the worst of them for cruelty, and not by chance the one least spoken of by research apologists. Whereas about 4% of the experimental procedures are classed as causing ‘severe’ pain or distress (it’s 2% for breeding procedures), for regulatory testing in particular the rate is 9%. Six of the cats fell into that category, and 11 into the ‘moderate’. Dogs of course were there in much greater numbers: 4340 of them were used in regulatory tests, of which 9 were classed as ‘severe’, and 1013 as ‘moderate’.

Neither dogs nor cats should have been there at all, in any category or any laboratory, but then nor should any of the other animals. The whole set of statistics is a record of selfishness and cowardice; in fact the re-iterated justifications for such research – that it’s essential for human health, and the necessary condition of all medical progress – even supposing them true, are just a less embarrassing way of saying that same thing.

Notes and references:

The animal research statistics for 2020 were published on 15 July. They can be viewed here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1002895/annual-statistics-scientific-procedures-living-animals-2020.pdf   The tables of data are published separately, and the link to them can be found on this page, https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/statistics-of-scientific-procedures-on-living-animals-great-britain-2020

The two presentations from Understanding Animal Research are here: https://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/news/animal-research-numbers-2020/  and (with the ‘top ten list’) https://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/news/ten-organisations-account-for-nearly-half-of-all-animal-research-in-great-britain-in-2020/  The animal research pages of the ten institutions are linked here, but note that both Glasgow and the MRC seem to have thought better of the ones from which I have quoted, and as far as I can see they are no longer accessible.

There’s a good oppositional response to the annual statistics from Naturewatch, which also asks what happened to the good policy intentions published in 2014/15 (for which see this blog on 8 August 2020): https://mailchi.mp/naturewatch/breaking-news-how-many-animals-suffered-for-science-last-year-5097514?e=afb349bcaa Naturewatch also suggests actions to take, including e-mails to government ministers, with sample text offered here: https://action.naturewatch.org/call-time-animal-experiments