The Fellowship of Life
Recent correspondence in the Recorder on the subject of animal testing makes depressing reading, particularly when old wives' tales are presented as facts.
Firstly we have the myth that natural materials are inherently
safe and also have the "virtue" of being untested by animals. Your
readers would be well advised not to risk taking any untested
preparation that is supposed to be safe for the sole reason that it
is "natural". After all, nature has in the past provided some of the
more infamous poisons from the hemlock with which Socrates committed
suicide, to the arsenic favoured by many a Victorian murderer to the
more fashionable ricin which figured in the notorious umbrella
assassination in London several years ago.
Closer to home, I hope your readers will not allow their children
to eat natural laburnam seeds or deadly nightshade, nor encourage
pregnant women to consume large quantities of green skinned
potatoes, since Solanine, the pigment responsible for the colour, is
thought to cause Thalidomide-like deformities.
Secondly, two of your correspondents quote the Thalidomide case
as a justification for the abandonment of animal testing. This is
nonsense. It is, of course, true that no scheme of animal tests can
ever prove any material is totally safe, but on the other hand
animal tests do detect at an early stage a large number of compounds
that are not safe.
All drugs are potentially dangerous, since they are produced with
the specific purpose of affecting part of the human body. The skill
of the pharmaceutical scientist is to produce a material that has
the desired therapeutic effect with the minimum of adverse
Currently all new pharmaceuticals must be tested in animals
before they are tried on man. Many promising drugs fail this
preliminary test in animals and are never produced. The animal
testing could, of course, be omitted and the initial trials could be
performed on man. A number of people would die as a result, but we
could then proudly claim that we were not guilty of species-ism, and
in any case it would only be a few sick people who would suffer.
Thirdly, Mr Turner considers that we already have enough drugs,
weedkillers etc. He is of course entitled to his opinion, but then
he is not at risk from such diseases as malaria and schistomiasis
which currently account for the deaths of thousands of innocent
people every year. These terrible diseases are spread by pests which
cannot yet be controlled because of the absence of suitable
biocides. In addition basic food crops, such as soya grown in Third
World countries, are prone to both disease and damage by weeds due
again to the absence of suitable biocides. Consequently, low yields
and complete crop failures of staple foods still contribute to
appalling famines. But these effects are only serious in Third World
countries far removed from our little island.
Finally, Sylvia Baker is of the opinion that regardless of the
benefits 'the price (of animal testing) is too high.' I wonder if
any of your correspondents have aged relatives in continuous pain
and crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, or have watched a child die
of leukemia or seen the tragedy of a young mother severely affected
by multiple sclerosis, and if they had would they still think the
price too high?
It is very easy to adopt high moral attitudes to this subject
when you are a healthy well fed member of a prosperous country in
the Northern Hemisphere. No one is happy that animals are used in
toxicological research, even to bring an end to the suffering of
mankind, and a great deal of effort is continually being expended to
discover alternative techniques. Gradually alternative techniques
are being introduced, but concurrently there is a continual clamour
from the general public for stricter safety standards which leads to
the use of more sophisticated and elaborate animal tests for which
alternatives are not available.
In conclusion it is my opinion that animal tests should continue
to be used until satisfactory techniques exist to replace them,
because in my view the life of a child is worth rather more than the
life of a laboratory rat.
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