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Animals and Medicine

Jack Howard Botting


Regina Botting

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1The Research Defence Society (RDS) was founded in 1908 by Dr Stephen Paget, son of the eminent Victorian surgeon, Sir James Paget. Its role was to defend scientists conducting medical research using animals and to inform the public about the importance of animal experimentation. In its first year it attracted a membership of 2000 which included scientists in the pharmaceutical industry, in academia and in research institutes. Past presidents of the Society include such distinguished figures as Lord Perry of Walton and Sir William Paton.

2Dr Jack Botting joined the staff of the RDS as its Scientific Officer in 1991, at the height of the antivivisectionist activity being carried out by organisations such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

3One of the most damaging aspects of antivivisection campaigning was that they had started to hijack the scientific argument, claiming that animal experimentation was scientifically misleading, “a failed technology” etc., and that an examination of the research behind major medical advances showed that non-animal techniques were crucial and that the animal experiments had contributed nothing, or worse still, held up progress. Antivivisectionists were deliberately shifting the debate from the traditional “science vs animal welfare” argument to a “scientific” debate giving their arguments a cover of scientific respectability.

4To respond to this style of campaigning, Jack was given the specific task of reviewing the research behind the major medical advances and writing non-technical reviews explaining the role played by animal experimentation. His work effectively put an end to this aspect of antivivisection campaigning. The articles which Jack wrote at that time have been collected in this book.

5But the activists didn’t stop at spreading misinformation. Some extremist groups harassed, threatened and attacked scientists and laboratories involved in animal research, painting graffiti on the houses of researchers and even planting bombs under their cars. Colin Blakemore, Professor of Physiology at Oxford University, who was recognised for his research in early 2014 with a knighthood, was one of those targeted by these groups. A leading vision scientist who has used cats for his studies, he has received letter bombs, death threats against him and his family, had his car damaged and the windows of his home broken. The activists also agitated to close down laboratories which used animals and the facilities which bred them. Meanwhile, scientists were working to find ways to refine and reduce the use of animals in research, but their efforts did not appease the antivivisectionists who were determined to shut down animal research altogether.

6These antivivisectionist groups vary in size and structure; PETA, for example, claims that their membership runs into millions. This particular group has a wide campaign portfolio: as well as vivisection, it also protests against the use of animals for fur farming, pet ownership, hunting and even for food. They and groups like them receive large donations from which they obtain a considerable income – PETA receives millions of pounds annually from their supporters.

7The current animal rights movement, with its organised activities, has its origins in the publication of the book Animal Liberation in 1975, by Australian philosopher Peter Singer, which animal liberationists viewed as providing their founding philosophical statement of ideas. The following year saw the foundation of the ALF, followed in the 1980s by the Animal Rights Militia, which, as its name suggests, was an extreme group which sent bombs to politicians and animal researchers. In the early 1990s, they and other similar groups firebombed scientists and organisations engaged in medical research using animals.

  • 1 Illman J (2008) Animal Research in Medicine: 100 Years of Politics, Protests and Progress. The Sto (...)

8One of the most well-known activists is Greg Avery, who founded Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) in 1999 and is an alleged member of the ALF. He was involved with a 10-month campaign that succeeded in closing down Consort Kennels, a facility which bred beagles for medical research. From 1996, Avery was in and out of prison on various charges before being jailed for nine years in 2008 after being convicted of conspiracy to blackmail; imprisoned along with him were his wife and ex-wife. Other protests achieved some success: 1999 saw the closure of Hillgrove Cat Farm, the last dedicated UK establishment which bred cats, its owner retiring after a sustained series of protests and attacks. In 2005 the Hall brothers, owners of Newchurch Guinea Pig Farm, shut up shop after a six-year campaign by activists; in one two-year period police logged 450 separate criminal acts. The victimisation culminated in the theft of the remains of Christopher Hall’s mother-in-law and, although no one was ever convicted of the desecration of the grave, four people were jailed for using the theft to blackmail the family.1

9The degree of criminal behaviour exhibited by these groups led the British government to set up the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) which aimed to enable the police to deal effectively with animal rights extremism. In addition, legislation has been put in place to curb the activity of antivivisection groups. These measures, combined with more severe sentences handed down by judges, have notably reduced extremist action by such groups.

  • 2 Holder T (2014) ‘Standing up for Science: The Antivivisection Movement and How to Stand up to It.’ (...)

10At the same time, the press coverage given to the more extreme cases led to public condemnation of the tactics animal liberation groups were using and along with this came an increase in awareness of the issues involved. While new animal rights campaigns were set up, other groups were formed, such as Speaking of Research, to counter them. In 2003, the work of the RDS was reinforced by the establishment of the Coalition for Medical Progress (CMP), which also engaged in pro-research communication. At the end of 2008, the two organisations merged to form Understanding Animal Research (UAR). The announcement of the building of a new animal research facility, the Oxford Biomedical Research Institute, resulted in animal rights extremists burning down student boathouses at Oxford University in protest. This action led to the formation at the beginning of 2006 of the Pro-Test committee and in February of that year they held their first rally, which saw over 800 students, scientists and members of the public marching through Oxford in support of animal research. Two subsequent rallies again attracted hundreds of people and, in 2008, Oxford University opened its new Biomedical Sciences Building.2

11This tide of public support has been complemented by the pursuit of alternatives to animal research by the scientific community. The charity, Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME), was registered in 1969 and has provided a blueprint for similar organisations throughout Europe and in the USA, advising the government on the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, passed in 1986. Medical research was still being regulated by the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act, which was in need of updating. FRAME outlined a ‘Three Rs’ approach, advocating the replacement, reduction and refinement of experiments on animals and the work of the organisation, along with progress in scientific knowledge, has enabled the first of these to become a reality. The LD50 test has been substituted by the ED50 test which uses fewer animals; the Pyrogen Test using live rabbits has been supplanted by the Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL) Assay which uses the blood of the limulus crab, and the potency of a batch of insulin is now determined by biochemical methods instead of the blood sugar levels of conscious rabbits.

  • 3 The Independent on Sunday (2014) Animal rights group ends campaign, 24th August 2014.

12Animal rights extremism has been significantly curbed due to the measures mentioned above, as well as the restraining or imprisonment of many of the most zealous activists. 2014 finally saw the end of the campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS). The sustained attacks on Huntingdon had seen not only staff targeted but also investors; they received hoax bombs, had their cars torched and one US executive even had his boat sunk. Much of the energy of the activists has now been channelled into online campaigns, with antivivisection groups campaigning to stop airlines transporting primates, having already successfully prevented ferry companies transporting laboratory animals across the English Channel.3

  • 4 BBC News Website, Interview with John O’Keefe by James Gallagher, 7th October 2014.

13The debates around animal experimentation will continue and animal rights activists will continue to campaign. However, the landscape has changed considerably and there are several organisations now engaged in countering the campaigner’s arguments and disseminating information. In the UK, the work of UAR is supported by the charitable organisation, the Biomedical Research Education Trust (BRET), which was originally set up by the RDS and which supports lectures for schools and societies interested in finding out the facts about animal research. In the USA, the groups Americans for Medical Progress (AMP) and the Foundation for Medical Research (FMR) perform a similar role. Even at the time of writing this introduction one of the recipients of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, John O’Keefe, spoke in support of the use of animals. In an interview with the BBC he said “It is an incontrovertible fact that if we are to make progress in basic areas of medicine and biology, we are going to have to use animals.”4

14This volume of Jack’s articles is supported by the trustees of BRET and their generosity is gratefully acknowledged. I would also like to thank Josephine Botting, Nina Botting Herbst and Mark Matfield for skilful editing and Ian O’Sullivan for invaluable technical help.


1 Illman J (2008) Animal Research in Medicine: 100 Years of Politics, Protests and Progress. The Story of the Research Defence Society. London: Research Defence Society.

2 Holder T (2014) ‘Standing up for Science: The Antivivisection Movement and How to Stand up to It.’ EMBO Reports 15/6, 625-30,

3 The Independent on Sunday (2014) Animal rights group ends campaign, 24th August 2014.

4 BBC News Website, Interview with John O’Keefe by James Gallagher, 7th October 2014.


Ph. D., October 2014


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