Animal Rights Awareness Week and Attitudes Toward Animal Experiments

In Defense of Animals has declared
June 21-26 Animal Rights Awareness Week, urging activists to “educat[e]
… the public about the way in which businesses that sell animals, particularly
‘pet stores,’ perpetuate a vicious cycle of cruelty, suffering and death.”

An Animal Rights Awareness Week
is a great idea — the more accurate information people have about the
animal rights movement and about the use of animals, the better. This
point was highlighted in a recent survey commissioned by the New Scientist
to gauge people’s attitudes toward animal experimentation.

The poll of British citizens
found 64 percent of respondents disagreed with the view that scientists
should be allowed to conduct any experiment on animals, while only 24 percent
agreed. When told that such experiments might lead to the development
of important medical treatments, however, 45 percent of respondents agreed
that scientists could perform any experiment in animals, while only 41
percent were opposed.

The most amazing result of the
study, however, was the widespread ignorance of the role of animal testing
in drug development. Of those people who themselves had taken or had a
close family member who had taken a prescription drug for a serious illness
in the previous two years, only 1 in 6 realized such drugs had been tested
on animals.

Although surveys of Americans
generally find a lot more support for animal research than in Great Britain
(where animal rights activists have much more support), I wouldn’t be
surprised if the general level of ignorance about animal testing wasn’t
similar in the United States.

The clear message of the survey
is that government, industry and others need to do more to educate the
public about the continuing need for animal experimentation to further
development of important medical technologies. Animal rights activists
have become rather adept at exploiting people’s general ignorance of science
and their specific ignorance of the role animals play in medical research.
Educating the public and correcting the myths and lies spread by animal
rights activists should be a top priority.


Explanations shift attitudes to animal experiments. Richard Woodman, British Medical Journal 1999;381:1438 (29 May).

Animal Rights Awareness Week June 21-26, 1999. In Defense of Animals press release, May 19, 1999.

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