The Labour Party came to office in 1997 having said that they would back a Royal Commission on animal experiments. Despite this, nothing happened. Naturewatch therefore campaigned under the banner “Labour’s broken promises”, demanding that the promised Royal Commission be set up. Fortunately for Labour, they were let off the hook by a select committee of the House of Lords producing their own report, which was a thoroughly researched review. We therefore decided to campaign for the implementation of the Lords’ report, which achieved success in the announcement of a National Centre for the 3Rs.
Introduction: Why a Royal Commission?
Animal experiments have always been shrouded in secrecy. The experiment industry prefer this secrecy because of the public’s revulsion surrounding the use of animals for experimental purposes. It is this very secrecy that has stifled progress for so many years. This issue is a cause for great public concern, yet the most recent independent inquiry was held in 1906!
In 1996, Naturewatch began campaigning for an Independent Inquiry in the form of a Royal Commission. A Royal Commission is the best known type of inquiry that provides the Government with advice and information from expert and lay opinion outside the Civil Service. Our campaign gained the cross-party support of 355 MPs (over half of all MPs sitting at Westminster) before the June 2000 General Election, with 228 MPs signing our 1999-2000 Early Day Motion calling for a Royal Commission and 239 MPs signing our Early Day Motion in 2001.
What did we hope to achieve?
We believe, that at the very minimum, there can be an immediate and massive reduction in the millions of animals used every year in experiments. The main areas that we want the Royal Commission to investigate are:
- Genetic Engineering and Xenotransplantation – over the past ten years there has been an increase of 825% in the numbers of animals used in this area.
- To examine the industry’s failure in seeking non-animal alternatives – the experiment industry acknowledge that current legislation fails to give any impetus in this matter, resulting in very little progress over the past forty years.
- To eliminate commercial competition in sharing Animal Experiment data – this can be achieved by establishing a central database run by a Government office: 47% of all experiments are for commercial purposes.
- The over breeding of animals for experiments – these unwanted animals are never included in any statistics as they would raise the current 2.5 million animals used each year in Great Britain to 8-9 million.
- Labelling on ingredients or products tested on animals needs to be reviewed – consumers should be given enough information on product labels so that they can make more informed decisions.
The secrecy surrounding animal experiments must be stopped – certainly commercial confidentiality should be taken into account, as should the prevention of extremist activity, but this should not be used for extending secrecy throughout every aspect of the industry. This practice allows no accountability and permits dangerous self-regulation. We need to find some middle ground in order to allow legitimate inquiries to be addressed in an open manner.
The campaign attracted the support of many international animal welfare organisations, leading supermarket chains, celebrities and over 1,000,000 concerned members of the public.
Every year nearly 3 million animals are killed in the UK through animal experimentation. An Independent Inquiry is long overdue and is needed to tackle a range of serious and complex issues surrounding the use of animals in experiments. Many people are shocked to learn that over 50% of all experiments are carried out for the testing of commercial products and that the experiment industry is reluctant to develop alternatives because of vested financial interests.
Throughout 1999, supporters of Naturewatch intensively lobbied MPs in their constituencies and Naturewatch representatives met with 7 leading animal welfare MPs to discuss the possible ‘Terms of Reference’ of the Royal Commission Inquiry. John Ruane, Naturewatch Director, attended a special forum on the issue of animal experimentation with the Home Office Minister, George Howarth, in July 1999. Images: At Downing Street to present the half a million signatures collected by March 1998 in support of a Royal Commission, with Nigel Jones (MP for Cheltenham at that time.)