Sacha Ismail spoke to Tom Ogg, an Oxford University student involved in Pro-Test, which campaigns in favour of animal testing for research and medical purposes.
What is Pro-Test?
The campaign was started by Laurie Pycroft, who’s a school student taking a year off from his A-Levels due to illness. Laurie set up a website, through which a number of university students got in touch with him; word got round on message boards, email lists and so on, and it went from there. That was when I got involved.
Our main campaign is in support of a new biomedical research lab being built on South Parks Road, partly by Oxford University. But we also have a wider agenda of increasing people’s confidence in scientific experimentation, their belief in what science can achieve. Both scientists and government are very sheepish about defending animal testing, despite the clear benefits for humanity.
Our first action, in January, was three people walking around Oxford having a little protest. But our demonstration on 25 February attracted about 1,000 people.
What sort of people came to it?
It was real mix. I’d been worried that it would only be students, but there were all sorts — not just scientists who wanted to defend the work they were doing, but people who had benefit personally from animal research. It was a public event, not just a university one.
Are there similar campaigns in other towns?
Not yet, not that we know of anyway, but we hope to build national links as our campaign develops.
Do you think that those who oppose animal research have any point at all?
A lot of the arguments against it are just superstitious and ill-informed. No one wants animals to be hurt needlessly, when no one benefits and there are clear alternatives. When researchers use animals unnecessarily, the law should force them to change their practices and if they don’t they should be punished. But remember that this is an argument about medical research on animals, not about animal welfare in general.
But it’s not an argument about animal testing in the abstract — this is testing done by capitalist corporations. Don’t they sometimes test cruelly or unnecessarily to cut costs, raise profits etc?
Actually it’s more expensive to test on animals, due to all the regulations that are in place. It’s very difficult for corporations and universities to use animals when there is an alternative available, particularly if they want to get public funding. The argument about testing for cosmetics is a bit of a red-herring. Testing what most people call cosmetics on animals was banned in the UK in 1998. Sometimes when protesters talk about “cosmetics”, they pretend all that means is eyeliner and lipstick, when in fact the term also covers suncreams and even items for those who have suffered severe facial injuries.
How would you characterise the animal rights movement?
If you mean those who oppose testing, they only a voice and power because people are sheepish about putting the positive case. Anti-testing activists are sometimes violent and often noisy — but only in comparison to the deafening silence coming from the government, scientists and others who support testing.
Many young people who care about injustice and want to change things are sympathetic to their arguments, but that’s in large part because the alternative case isn’t put.
Remember that without animal testing there would be no anaesthetics, no insulin, no penicillin, no heart transplants — medical research would grind to a half. Tipu Aziz, who spoke at our demonstration, has experimented on chimpanzees to develop solutions for Parkinsons. He’s helped 40,000 people. People respond to these arguments when they’re put, but too often they’re not.
Lastly, how do you see yourselves politically?
I’m speaking for myself here. But above all I’d say we’re humanists. It’s weird having to define yourself as humanist: after all, why should people be anti-human! But anti-humanism is a strand of thought among those who oppose scientific advance.
Believing in science and the possibilities of using science to reshape our world in the interests of human beings is a major part of what it means to be on the left. It’s an extremely bizarre situation when that basic idea is in doubt. It tells you something about the retreat of the left over the last 25 years.
• To find out more about Pro-Test email email@example.com or visit