Remembering the Millions in the Global Lab

This coming Sunday, April 24th, will be World Day for Animals in Laboratories. It’s the first time since the Covid pandemic began that the anniversary can be properly observed with a collective event. The venue will be Cambridge, whose university was second only to the giant Crick Institute as a user of lab animals at the last national count in 2020. The 177,219 animals that Cambridge University used included 84 sheep, 16 pigs, and 41 non-human primates (nearly three times Oxford’s number). Those primates – rhesus macaques and marmosets – were (and others still are) being used in the study of human psychiatric conditions, including anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder.


Here on the right are details of the Cambridge event.

The previous WDAIL event, in 2019, was at Oxford. I was among those who spoke on that occasion, and I post a transcript of my speech here – not because it was anything so great in itself, but because I tried to make it a concise summary of the moral and spiritual meaning of the World Day, and I don’t have anything much to add to it now. I began by quoting an estimate of the total of animals used annually across the world. That total, 118 million, referred to the year 2012. A more recent calculation, for the year 2015, suggests that the total of animals killed in laboratories may then have been 192.1 million. So the matter has not become any less urgent.

Speech given at Oxpens Meadow, Oxford, 27 April 2019:

We can’t know how many animals it is that we’re remembering today in all the world’s laboratories. A calculation made back in 2014 suggested 118 million. No doubt it’s far more now, and anyway that was only the vertebrates, the animals we choose to count: the mice, birds, fishes, cats, dogs, monkeys. It’s a big enough list, but many other sorts of animal are slaves to science, unregistered animals, species whose names we may hardly recognise. But there is this one thing that we do know about all of them, the thing they all do have in common: they were all born with the will to live and to flourish in their own ways, just as we were in ours.

It’s what that ancient Sanskrit teaching means when it says ‘Tat twam asi’, “Where you see life, that is you.” Well, that’s a spiritual way of putting the matter, no doubt, but it’s a plain fact also, and the great scientist Charles Darwin presented it as such in the mid-nineteenth century, when he showed that all life is one great multifarious will to flourish. In the mid-nineteenth century! Therefore the whole filthy modern history of vivisection, beginning as it did in Europe at about that same time, has been carried on in full awareness of that fact.

“All life is one”. That’s how it was stated by the man whose birthday on 24th April is commemorated by this World Day for Animals in Laboratories: Hugh Dowding. And I would like to say something about that most remarkable man: Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, the man who directed the RAF’s Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain in 1940, the man who is therefore to be credited with preventing the defeat and invasion of this country at that time.

Here was a man answerable for the fate of countless humans at a critical moment in human history, answerable in particular for the young fighter pilots who risked dreadful injury or death in the sky. And it was known that he did feel very great care and concern for the welfare of these men. After all, one of them was his own son.

So did he therefore come out of that war believing that there was a special sanctity in our human life, some special entitlement, that obliged all the other animals to serve our interests? No, on the contrary. He expressly objected to the use of animals in defence research, at Porton Down and at Harwell. Not just was it cruel and futile; he thought it actually promoted war. This is what he said:

failure to recognise our responsibilities towards the animal kingdom is the cause of many of the calamities which now beset the nations of the world. Nearly all of us have a deep-rooted wish for peace—peace on earth; but we shall never attain to true peace until we recognise the place of animals in the scheme of things and treat them accordingly.

He said that in the House of Lords, because he had been made Baron Dowding in 1943. And he used his time in the House of Lords again and again to present the case for animals: animals in circuses, in slaughterhouses, on farms, but especially animals in laboratories.

And probably the House of Lords has never before or since heard such plain-speaking on that subject. He began one debate by saying, The process of preparing this Motion has been a most painful one to me, because it has compelled me to read of many cases of revolting and sickening cruelty.” And he went on to describe some of those cases to their lordships: cats at the Royal Naval Laboratory made to breathe 100% oxygen until they convulsed and died; monkeys at the Lister Institute infected with rabies; the joining together of rats as Siamese twins. That last experiment was being carried out at Oxford University, where Dowding was astonished by what he called “the callous attitude of the people . . . and also the absolute uselessness of some of the experiments.”

Well, no doubt things have changed. Perhaps there are fewer ‘useless’ experiments nowadays, here at least. But it was never Dowding’s aim to make animal research more strictly useful. Here’s what he said about that:

I want to make clear at the outset my own personal position. It is this: that even should it be conclusively proved that human beings benefit directly from the suffering of animals, its infliction would nevertheless be unethical and wrong.

Yes, “Unethical and wrong”. And not because we’re animal-lovers. We may or may not love animals: so very much the better if we do, but it’s beside the point. What we know is that they are life as we are life, they value their part in life as we value ours, and they have as much right to it as we have to ours. That’s what it means to say all life is one. We know it to be a factual truth. Science itself has told us so. Well, let science practise what it teaches and give our fellow-creatures their own lives back!

Notes and references:

The 2019 WDAIL event at Oxford was described and pictured in this blog here:

The estimate of animals used in global science during 2015 was published in the journal Alternatives to Laboratory Animals in 2019, and can be viewed online here:

The Book of the Rally

Today is World Day for Animals in Laboratories, an occasion for calling attention to these more or less invisible animals, for reviewing their experiences during the year, and for judging what has been done and what still is to be done for their deliverance. And heaven knows there is plenty in that last category, what there still is to be done. A few weeks ago the European Union published a report on animal research in member-states for the period 2015-17. It shows that approximately 9.5 million animals were used in each of those years (the UK leading the field), and that even more of them – over 12 million in 2017 – were bred for laboratories but died unused. The 12 million or so included not just mice, whose squandering is a familiar phenomenon, but also dogs, cats, goats, pigs, horses, and monkeys.

The more detailed state-by-state numbers appear in a part of the report called the Staff Working Document, a giant cascade of statistics which would be hard to make sense of even if the online version was in working order, which it wasn’t when I attempted it. Of course it’s much better than secrecy, but these accumulations of numbers are strangely barren of meaning. Really they’re the opposite of a dramatization: millions of particular unpleasant events, in times and places across Europe and across the three years, transformed into static numbers.

World Day, by contrast, was founded in 1979 exactly to dramatize, to make repeatedly visible and audible, public concern about the plight of these animals and about the wrong of using them in this way at all. If you’re present at these occasions, or if you look at the photographs, there is one especially moving thing about them. As against what Gerald Carson (in Men, Beasts, and Gods: a History of Cruelty and Kindness to Animals, 1972) calls the “fearful and self-regarding thoughts” with which medical science has hoped over the years to persuade us to accept vivisection – fear of cancer, fear of war, fear of Covid-19 – here is ocular proof of something more honourable and self-forgetful in humans. Patrick Corbett described it, in Animals, Men and Morals (I shall explain why all these quotations later), as “that model of a disinterested [i.e. unselfish], loving and respectful life which we all carry with us in our hearts.”

Certainly there are many necessary and often courageous campaigns and demonstrations every year through the world; as part of an exhibition about dissent shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2014 (it was titled Disobedient Objects) there was an illuminated map showing the multiplying of them year by year, and very inspiring it was. But all of them had a human political or social interest; most sought justice for people some or all of whom were among those present to demand it for themselves. Animals must depend on others to do it for them, so that as Peter Singer has said, “Animal liberation will require greater altruism on the part of human beings than any other liberation movement.” World Day shows that such altruism is indeed available, and exemplifies it for all who look. In that way, it evokes the future with a kind of implicit promise: this version of humanity will be possible.

Then World Day has also a consolatory function which everyone who attends such events must feel. The publisher Jon Wynne-Tyson, an important personality in the revival of the animal rights movement that began in the 1970s, wrote that the “daily painful empathy with the predicament of all sentient life is not an easy burden to bear.” He saw this too as promise for the future, in that it was the motive in humanity which might drive our evolution towards a species-life in some sort of harmony with the rest of the world. But meanwhile it remains a burden, especially for those not professionally engaged in animal rights work, therefore not able to convert the distress into daily action: and such are the majority of us. Therefore, to be with a band of like-minded people from time to time is a very great consolation. In his essay on vivisection of 1893, the philosopher and social reformer Edward Carpenter contrasted life-science in its guise as mere curiosity (“lust of knowledge”) with the kind of science which teaches “that greatest and most health-giving of all knowledge – the sense of our common life and unity with all creatures.” With all non-human creatures certainly – it’s what animal rights events primarily affirm – but what about unity with our fellow-humans, from whom we may usually feel unhappily alienated? That alienation is what animal rights pioneer Henry Salt sardonically referenced when he called his 1921 autobiography Seventy Years among Savages. But World Day gatherings have that “health-giving” efficacy to rejoin us to our own species as we genuinely like it and as we want it to be.

But of course there can be no World Day rally this year. It was due to take place on Saturday in Liverpool, but the Covid-19 pandemic has made it impossible – ironically so, since the disease arises directly from human maltreatment of other animals (see the previous post on this subject). As the World Day facebook page says, “This does not mean we can’t all do something to mark World Lab animal week by taking part in some online campaigning.” In fact some political theorists writing in Monday’s Guardian claim to have identified nearly 100 distinct methods of non-violent action used or even invented during the period of the lock-down. Anyway, the very enterprising 2020 online version of World Day, with video speeches, can be watched on the facebook page, and a small selection of online actions which you can take at present for lab animals is linked below in the notes.

However, as an in-home substitute for the World Day gathering I would especially recommend the book from which I’ve taken all the quotations used above (except for the World Day facebook one): Jon Wynne-Tyson’s The Extended Circle: a Dictionary of Humane Thought (1985). This anthology is the literary equivalent of an animal rights protest rally, a diverse assemblage of like-minded and impassioned people speaking their minds on the subject. Carpenter himself, as a utopian visionary, is in there, of course, but so is his near-opposite, the sceptical churchman Dean Inge: “We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.” There are politicians, scientists, bishops, judges, actors, philosophers (of course), poets: over 500 of them in all. Some are famous names, though perhaps unfamiliar in this connection: Robert Browning, Alexander Pope, Victor Hugo (“I believe that pity is a law like justice, and that kindness is a duty like uprightness.”). Others will perhaps be discoveries. For me, re-sampling the book now, one such is the distinguished American anthropologist Loren Eiseley who, recalling “the eyes of every starved mongrel I have fed from Curacao to Cuernavaca, realizes that his preoccupation with suffering animals has made him, too, “a wanderer forever in the streets of men”.

Some of the texts are substantial, the equivalents of speeches: such are the extracts, for extended circleinstance, from George Bernard Shaw, Peter Singer, and Richard Ryder. Others are stray exclamations, something more like placards or banners: “The more I see of men, the more I like dogs” [Madame de Staël]; “I wish no living thing to suffer pain” [the poet Shelley]; “I think the rapidly growing tendency to regard animals as born for nothing except slavery to so-called humanity absolutely disgusting” [the publisher Victor Gollancz]; “The awful wrongs and sufferings forced upon the innocent, helpless, faithful animal race, form the blackest chapter in the whole world’s history” [Edward Freeman, Oxford’s Professor of Modern History 1884-92].

Across the centuries these men and women have spoken for the non-human animals with passion and eloquence. To be among this great enlightened host as a reader is very moving, a powerful and convincing experience. If you have a copy, spend some time with it again; if you haven’t, try to get hold of one. As I say, it’s a protest rally on paper, a permanent demonstration. It affirms that there has never been a day on which this voice of love and remonstrance was not somewhere being raised, nor ever will be such a day, until humanity becomes either wise or extinct.


Notes and references:

The report submitted to the European Commission consists in three distinct documents. The two summarizing documents are linked here:  The Staff Working Document is published online here (it seems to be working properly now):

The Guardian article is here:

Some current campaigns with petitions you might like to sign are accessible here

and here

and here

The Extended Circle was first published in 1985 by Jon Wynne-Tyson’s own Centaur Press, but there have been other editions from other publishers since then.

Jon Wynne-Tyson was born in 1924; he died on 26 March of this year.

WDAIL 2019

On Saturday 27 April, Oxford was the venue for the main gathering in the U.K. to mark World Day for Animals in Laboratories (strictly April 24th). And Oxford certainly is a suitable place in which to remember all those animals. Not only are more animal lives being worked through here than in any other British university; Oxford is, besides (as we find among the various boasts on its web-site), “ranked top in the world for medicine”. It may therefore be regarded as setting an example of big spending in animals to all the rest of the world.

The gathering point for the rally was a fine open field at Oxpens on the western side of the city, adjacent to the railway line and a cut of the River Thames. Oxpens was once a working-class suburb; long since demolished as such, it’s now a miscellaneous and unpretentious area of offices and recreations, including an ice rink. As the place-name suggests, there was until recently a market for the buying and selling of cattle where, WDAIL banneron Saturday, impassioned speeches were being made on behalf of their (and our) fellow-creatures. Then, the march set out from Oxpens to make the case for animals visible and audible through the main streets of Oxford, stopping outside the Biomedical Sciences Building to hear, among other speakers, Mel Broughton, hitherto silenced on this subject for ten years by imprisonment and probation. Those years have evidently done nothing to qualify his thinking or his fervour.

This event, the WDAIL, last came to Oxford in 2013, and it’s natural to wonder what changes there have been since then.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the University’s commitment to animal research. The number of ‘procedures’ recorded at Oxford in 2013 was 189,460; the number for 2018 was 219,551, an increase of about 15%. No doubt there was a general increase in scientific activity over the same period, and I don’t know whether animal research has been growing disproportionately or not. In fact the University is growing in all material directions more rapidly now than at any time in its history. Growing ethically also? The question may arouse laughter, either as comically naïve or as meaningless. It should be asked, all the same, and the animals will certainly be somewhere in the answer.

Still speaking of the University’s expansion: even here at unacademic Oxpens, far from the colleges, the shadow of their ambition has fallen. The whole area, either bought up by Nuffield College or forming part of its original endowment, is to be re-developed. Reading the prospectus for the grandiose scheme, we discover that this modestly useful district is “perhaps the most extraordinary undeveloped area of any historic city in the UK. And those who have noticed that the University’s architectural scruples deteriorate with distance from the collegiate centre of town can happily be reassured. Oxpens is to become “a new vibrant community” (now I remember, the WDAIL rally also was vibrant, but presumably not in the sense, if any, intended here). The design will show “innovation, imagination and vision”, and the result will be one which “adds value . . . to the built environment in our world-class city.”

I quote from this dreary tract of planner’s jargon, ending with that cock-a-doodle brag about Oxford, because it’s signed off by the Warden of Nuffield College, a distinguished academic. I’m sure he didn’t write it; probably he didn’t even like to read it. This sort of publicity is a discipline in itself which does not, we must assume, engage the professional ethics or interest of the academics who commission and pay for it. Its particular relevance here is that publicity like this constitutes one of the most notable changes in the animal-research scene since the WDAIL in 2013. The Concordat on Openness on Animal Research had just been initiated then, and seemed little more than a pompous and clumsy name. Since then a nationwide fog of words has been generated by this PR project, very much in the “world-class city” style, often making it impossible to know whether what one descries through it is real or illusory.

Certainly some increase in real public knowledge has come out of the Concordat. For instance, in 2013 Oxford University was willing to disclose only that there were about 16,000 animals in the new laboratory at any one time, but since there was no indication of the rate at which those animals were used up and replaced by others, that was a nearly meaningless number. The more revealing numbers had to be fished out bit by bit with Freedom of Information requests. Nowadays all the relevant numbers which the University is required by law to submit to the Home Office are also promptly posted on its web-site, together with a great deal of other material of a more or less enlightening kind. Other signatories to the Concordat (121 institutions altogether) are similarly informative.

Such increase in public knowledge must be a good thing. But of course the knowledge is still rationed by those who provide it; even if it’s dependable in itself (and this blog has shown that Oxford’s is not), nothing unpleasant or seriously discreditable is likely to be volunteered. The most notable effect of the new candour is really on the morale of those practising animal research. They may personally prefer to remain as discreet as ever, but their work is continually boosted for them, and a habit of boastfulness and complacency now characterizes the whole scene.

Already in 2015 this can be noticed in a post about that year’s WDAIL published on the web-site of Understanding Animal Research, and titled ‘World Day for Animals in Laboratories – 140 years of animal welfare improvements’. Here we are reminded that we’re “a nation of animal-lovers” (actually the original has “animal lovers” without the hyphen, but I know they didn’t mean that, even though it would have about the same amount of truth in it). Accordingly, we are urged to mark this anniversary (instituted as a focus for anti-vivisection protest) by celebrating “the major milestones which have ensured the UK has some of the best laboratory animal welfare conditions in the world”. These “milestones” are then listed, beginning with the Royal Commission of 1875 and ending with the 2015 ban on testing of household products. Complacently looking backwards, the writer treats all this as a completed history, something for us British, and the animal-research profession in particular, to take pride in. He helpfully forgets that the purpose of milestones (anyway a tellingly obsolete image) was to inform you, not how far you’d got, but how far you yet had to travel to reach your destination. As for the “World” reference, the writer seems to regard that not as a plea for all the animals suffering in laboratories, including the many millions enjoying none of the protections mentioned, but as introducing an element of international competition in which the U.K., satisfyingly, comes at least equal first. It’s a classic piece of PR management.

The listed “milestones” have, it’s quite true, been valuable improvements. However, most of them were the result of strenuous campaigning from outside the profession, against fierce and indignant resistance from within. Nor were the results ever quite what had been hoped and aimed for; they were always partial successes at best, milestones indeed on a still unfinished journey. What we really learn from this UAR retrospect, therefore, is that eloquent and active opposition to animal research is what causes progress, and that WDAIL, as this opposition’s symbolic or representative annual event, should therefore be as noisy, restless, uncompromising, and future-minded as possible.

And that’s indeed what the 2019 WDAIL in Oxford was, just as it had been in 2013. The speeches, having nothing to hide or disguise, were in plain vehement English. Nobody was there to advance a private or professional interest, or to secure their salary. Three of the speakers had, on the contrary, paid heavily for their part in this sort of campaign with time in prison. It was, in fact, just the sort of communal/political event which the much-missed Tony Benn used to speak about and prize (and attend). “Everything comes from underneath”, he used to say: meaning that it was the collective will and sense of justice of the people, the ‘commons’, that effect change, not the formal agencies, authorities and powers. They, indeed, are what suffer the change and therefore resist it, until resistance becomes futile, when they accept, institute, and take credit for it: we’ve seen it happen. So the familiarity of the scene at Oxpens – the unpolished and WDAIL cops and dog.JPGmiscellaneous crowd, the banners and placards, the shouts, chants and whistles, the dogs, all as they were in 2013 – should be reassuring. It means that progress continues.


Note and references:

Film of the WDAIL speeches can be seen here:

The prospectus for Oxpens redevelopment is online here:

The UAR post about WDAIL 2015 is here:

Please read this blog for more about Tony Benn and the “underneath” at

Photographs are by Paul Freestone.