‘Zero Dark 24′: Is animal testing really necessary?

Victoria Martindale
animal testing blogs 300x225 Zero Dark 24: Is animal testing really necessary?

(Getty Images)

It has been described as ‘vile and immoral’ and refers to the small dark hours of the night when we are assumed to be asleep but while the suffering continues in shadowy secrecy. You can be forgiven if you think I’m about to condemn the film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’. No, I’m talking about another form of torture endorsement: the institutionally embedded secrecy that surrounds animal experimentation. The movie has proven hugely controversial for its normalisation of torture, Section 24 wages controversy for its cover up of torture. Both offer a glimpse into the dark heart of the state that employs extreme security to shield its actions from democratic accountability.

Section 24 is known as ‘the secrecy clause’ of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act and allows scientists to automatically hide anything and everything behind this wall of secrecy: it makes it a criminal offence to reveal any detail even to Parliament. But now that the latest EU Directive 2010/63 has been transposed into UK law, our government is obliged to review this section in mind of the fundamental tenet of the EU Directive of public accountability and access to information. As it stands, Section 24 offers a feast for abuse, regulation breaches and lack of accountability and campaigners are calling for its abolishment.

But whereas the movie may be just that (a movie not even a documentary) and Bigelow has pleaded her right to spend private largesse to ‘create works of art’, Section 24 is about scientists using public money and resources to research our health. It is understandable, then, that a little more accountability is expected from our scientists than from block buster movie makers. More pertinently, where films such as these are fast paced dramas appealing to our emotions and sentimentality, science is directed by the impartial standards of rational and reason where the facts, if permitted, speak for themselves. Above all, in science’s search for truth it depends critically upon rigorous scrutiny and evaluation of all the evidence from all sides. This can only be possible if we are granted access to information.

Yet, the fascinating length animal researchers go to deny access to information that cover up some quite grotesque acts inherent in animal testing has something in it of the tragic sense of life. If scientists are able to perfectly master the art of breaking a spine before taking a tea break or coolly dispense with a lethal shot of chemical and then light a cigarette. They should be able to justify what they do all in a day’s work. But it would seem openness is exactly what is so difficult for a sector where security is ‘top priority’. Theirs is apparently a campaign for furtive concealment and prohibition ours for openness, fairness and answer ability.

Their PR machine replaces the word ‘killing’ with ‘sacrifice’ and the public is reassured that procedures such as poisoning, electrocuting and gassing are practiced ‘humanly’ and in accordance with ‘high animal welfare standards’. As if brutal and enduring violence when practiced by scientists can become any more painless and humane. Methods to induce a state of learned helplessness like allowing a creature to struggle in deep water until he is on the point of drowning, subjecting animals to repeated electric shock treatments or forcing them to exercise until they collapse from exhaustion (point 4) are unimaginably macabre. ‘Conditioning’ techniques to them, torture to everybody else. Is all this propaganda or just science language?

It is almost possible to hear the relentless dull drumbeat of tension resonating from the laboratories and academic institutes across the land as section 24 undergoes scrutiny. But for any reason why scientists are anything but forthcoming with the details, there are far more very valid reasons why science should never be allowed such artistic licence, nor such repression of the truth.

If animal testing really is an essential part of medical science, and then it must follow that there is faith it will stand the test of exposure and analysis. It is quite reckless to insist that research with this degree of impact on public health and lives and which consumes such huge amounts of public resources should be shielded from access and accountability. People should be encouraged to question how the statutory system is working without the threat of being demonised as a violent menacing extremist and part of an underground network of balaclavaed activists. There are already specific laws in place to control the activities of a tiny minority anyway and disclosures would remain anonymous and confidentiality over commercial interests maintained, as is respected in other areas under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

But, does animal testing saves human lives? Maybe, but for sure secrecy loses our trust and the biggest contradiction is that more human lives would be saved if animal testing wasn’t secret at all but  as open and transparent as possible. The wall of secrecy surrounding animal testing is not only a sign of its questionable scientific methods but of its buttress to prevent science’s infiltration. All that is being requested is a little more openness and accountability in the public’s interest.

If section 24 were a movie it would have an intense sitting-on-the-edge-of-the-seat final climax with the Home Office minister descending from his palace at the 11th hour to bear down in defence of truth and public interest as monkeys do somersaults in their cages and mice spin themselves silly in exercise balls. Freedom of Information requests would be discharged before the credits have faded and truth, oh so holy truth, would reign across our glorious rolling lands. Instead, we have a procrastinating Government for whom fulfilling their pledge to greater transparency within the public sector is proving the hardest thing to do. It’s time to move over ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, you’ve had your moment, now is the time for ‘Zero Dark 24’ to step out of the shadows and into the public eye.

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  • pm

    Not it certainly isn’t murder. Still waiting for a reply on this one from the person who made the original comment.

  • pm

    It is not about patriotism it is about people saying ‘we don’t do things like that here’, wherever here is – company, country, continent. The noble lie. I would never entertain the idea of anything being ‘the best in the world’, you have. So you are the one who needs to prove it, not try and put it on someone else to prove to disprove an idea they don’t hold either way.

  • pm

    ‘I AM an animal lover’

    It is a meaningless statement except to show the duality of human nature. You are not alone, all humans have it to degree. But you need to narrow it a bit, ie: ‘I’m a dog lover’ might be more specific or ‘I like dogs as companions to enrich my life but don’t really care about other animals if my view of them over rides the reality of their existence’.

  • pm

    Survival rates for cancer are only part of the story. Just as valid to measure the incidents of cancer in a population.

  • pm

    Agreed, we are the nation with the strictest rules in the world on animal research.

    Evidence please?

  • nmccarthy

    Oh I’m sorry, I forgot that the Bible is a wealth of perfectly factual information. I think you’ll find certain characters from the bible live for many hundreds of years, and that, although it was certainly possible for individuals to live to 70+ years of age if they avoided infectious disease, this was not the life expectancy. Life expectancy is the average value, and the rates of infant mortality at these times were so ridiculously high that to say life expectancy was so high simply cant be accurate, unless every other human born was living til they were 140?

  • Dane Bonifacio

    Isn’t it immoral that scientists often use animals for experimenting? Though we need them to make drugs/experiments effective, still animals have the right to welfare.

    I love animals. Animals are sometimes treated as humans but how come some scientists use them? Isn’t it dangerous for animals? When we say “testing”, it means it’s not yet 100% sure that it will work so there’s the possibility that it will fail wherein the animal being tested is also affected. If we have the right to live, animals do also live. If testing isn’t good for children because of the possibility of death, then how about the animals? They also feel the same way too. These tests are said to be a torture for them because they are the one that suffer not the scientists. Animals should be treated as humans too. If they will still practice the same thing for animals, there will be a psychological effect for them that humans are no longer trusted. We all don’t want to let that happen right?

    Animals don’t live for experimentation. They live just like the way we meet the demands of the environment. It would be unfair to them if we’ll just use them as long as we want. We shouldn’t be abusive. Instead, we should help them to live to develop a proper ecosystem. No to ANIMAL TESTING.

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