I was very surprised to see a session at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on 10 October given over to naked, one-sided propaganda from a pharmaceutical industry-funded lobby group devoted to promoting painful and lethal experiments on animals – Understanding Animal Research.
For example, the synopsis implies that research has been moving away from animal experiments, when in fact a million more are being conducted every year in the UK compared to a decade ago. Moreover, their claim that animal research is boosting animal welfare – when it specifically involves the infliction of procedures that are likely to cause ‘pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm’ – is Orwellian doublespeak.
Indeed, it would appear that UAR have a deliberate policy of trying to conceal any pain and suffering involved in animal experiments. At a recent conference, a UAR spokesperson was candid enough to admit that when he gave school talks for UAR he didn’t bring up the central issue of the adverse effects endured by animals. This is important because polling data indicates that most people weigh up animal suffering against perceived potential benefits when deciding whether a particular animal experiment is acceptable. So evading the issue of animal suffering fundamentally distorts public understanding of animal research. Just like UAR’s vague spin about being reluctant to perform animal experiments (when their mission appears to be to defend animal experimentation in general as an institutionalised practice, come what may), the title of the organisation expresses an aspiration which, in my view, is diametrically opposed to their true intentions, particular in terms of their denial of the pain they inflict on animals. It seems like a tactic copied from the tobacco and fossil fuel industries in response to lung cancer and climate change respectively.
(I should say, I would love to be proved wrong and UAR start behaving in a more constructive and open manner, but I’m expecting any response to be snide and arrogant.)
It is unacceptable that no attempt has been made to encourage an informed, balanced debate on this issue of significant public interest. It’s a sad fact of life that any powerful lobby group, no matter how Machiavellian or unethical they are, will find it easy to gain a platform. But you would think that an event with pretensions to intellectual credibility would at least try to achieve balance? I’m not sure whether anyone is responsible for curating this festival or is it a case of who ever can afford to buy a slot can say what the hell they want?
But, then again, the related ‘Science’ Festival is sponsored by Pfizer, who have just had to pay out $60 million following bribery charges. In 2009, Pfizer had to pay out $2.3billion for mis-selling drugs. The whistleblower who exposed the fraud said: ‘At Pfizer, I was expected to increase profits at all costs, even when sales meant endangering lives.’ Yet law-abiding animal protection groups are the ones treated as pariahs while Pfizer’s PR budget seems to have a magical whitewashing effect for the festival organisers – or maybe they just aren’t bothered?