Forty years ago today in 1982, 6,000 animal rights campaigners marched six miles from Salisbury, Wiltshire to Porton Down, the government’s warfare research laboratory where animals are used as research tools to manufacture war. That day, as is today, April 24, is designated World Day for Laboratory Animals.
In 1982 I was Campaigns Officer at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. I worked with my BUAV colleagues to organise the Porton Down demonstration. The design studio Lawrence and Beavan created for BUAV the campaign’s brilliant image and slogan—MANUFACTURING WAR WITH ANIMALS’ LIVES—which we used on leaflets, posters, and advertisements. I’ve always been immensely proud and fond of this image and consider it a fine example of protest art.
At Porton Down hundreds of demonstrators tore down fences to storm the compound. This demonstration signalled the re-emergence of the anti-vivisection movement after many decades of inactivity.
Forty years on, in 2022, the question has to be asked: What has happened to the anti-vivisection movement?
With some notable exceptions, the days of anti-vivisection activism are long gone. Online activism replaces street protests. Cruelty-free consumerism is important and vegan, non-animal tested products have never been more available than they are now. But a failure to invest in lobbying and electoral political organising directly impacts what the law permits and what happens to animals in laboratories now.
If my memory serves me well, there were at least 5 million animals experimented on in the UK in 1982. In 2020 it is 2.88 million. This is a reduction of approximately one-half. A welcome trend down to be sure. But still not good enough until the day when there are no animals used in research, testing, and experimentation.
I can’t help but wonder that if the anti-vivisection movement had stuck with political campaigns more than they have the number of animals in research could be even less. Generally, the animal rights movement’s preference for optional lifestyle choices over political campaigning continues to be a major weakness in its long-term strategy.