I love my university. I love my school (Cardiff JOMEC FTW). But there are some things about the university that I don’t like so much. I wrote the following not too long after I arrived in Cardiff. It’s been sitting around with no home to go to so I’ve decided to post it here.
In July 2012 it was revealed that an experiment had taken place in Cardiff University that involved sewing kittens’ eyes shut. The experiment drew public outcry — even comedian Ricky Gervais came out on Twitter to condemn it — but it isn’t the only case of animal vivisection going on at the university. According to statistics collected from Freedom of Information Act requests made by Cardiff Animal Rights and other concerned individuals, 51,826 animals were used in procedures in Cardiff University in 2011. It was a 13.9% increase from the year before and makes Cardiff University the sixth worst university in the United Kingdom when it comes to animal vivisection. Animals involved included mice, rats, guinea pigs, fish, birds, pigeons and amphibians.
In response to email questions, Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences wrote:
The advancement of medical, dental, biological and veterinary understanding relies on knowledge gained from research involving animals to develop new ways to alleviate human and veterinary disease. All animal-related research work at Cardiff is shown to be justified and is carried out under the strict conditions imposed by the Government. Wherever possible the use of animals is avoided and alternative methods employed in line with the principles of the 3Rs (replacement, reduction, refinement).
However, opponents to animal vivisection say that animal testing is cruel and fruitless. With many physiological differences between human beings and animals, the results of animal testing often cannot be applied to human beings, therefore making experiments wasteful and inconclusive. It is also pointed out that modern technology has provided us with better alternatives to experimenting on animals, such as the use of computer modeling or human cell and tissue cultures.
Cardiff Animal Rights, a group founded by Dom Spens in 2011, has launched a campaign to unearth as much information as they can to educate the public. Through frequent public demonstrations, they reach out to the people of Cardiff to spread awareness of animal vivisection at the university. They also lobby local politicians to lend their support to the cause. On top of that, they have started a petition with more ambitious ends.
“The petition is one side of the campaign to try and bring about change via official channels… [We are calling] for a parliamentary review and change of practice not only at Cardiff University but at all Universities and eventually at all laboratories in the UK,” writes Dom Spens in an email.
It could be a timely move, as Wales Online reported that there had been a 13.4% increase in procedures involving animals in Wales from 2010 to 2011, with 96% taking place in universities. On the other hand, a recent survey has suggested that there has been a “significant” shift away from acceptance of animal testing in the United Kingdom, with many of the respondents saying that they would like to “know more about animal experimentation before arriving at a firm opinion.” In this light, CAR’s campaign ties in with wider campaigns by other animal rights groups — like The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and Uncaged — to educate the public on the issue and persuade people to speak out against animal testing.
The October newsletter from Cardiff Animal Rights reported that about 2,500 signatures have been collected for the petition so far. The campaign has also attracted some attention from Welsh media outlets such as Wales Online and ITV Wales. Some politicians, such as Members of Parliament and councillors from various political parties, have also lent their support to the cause.
However, plans for a meeting between Cardiff Animal Rights and the staff union representative of Cardiff University fell through in September. “This is very disappointing as we have members of staff and students at the university who want to speak out against the universities animal testing practices but who are concerned/afraid of the repercussions,” the group writes in its newsletter. “This meeting might have raised important issues for the union members and brought about some guidelines and safety net for those who are against the vivisection practices at Cardiff University whilst protecting their rights and their jobs.”
Despite the true number of animals being experimented on recently coming to light, the School of Biosciences emphasized in its email that only a small percentage of the university’s research involves animal vivisection. Cardiff Animal Rights is determined to press on. The challenge will be to persuade more people to take action, rather than just expressing their support on social media (the group has over 170 members in their Facebook group). Spens stated in an interview that there are roughly 10 members who regularly take part in protests. The group also hopes to be able to start a Cardiff Animal Rights Student Society in the university itself to further push the campaign.
“Aside from the petitions and education of the public we will be keeping on the heels of Cardiff University, staging many weekly info stalls and monthly demonstrations, making noise, and making a fuss,” writes Spens. “Until there is change, we want an open dialogue and debate with the university staff, the decision makers and the scientists, we want protection for students and staff (of which there are many on our side) so they will not be reprimanded, expelled, fired etc. for speaking out against the cruel and unnecessary practices behind closed doors at Cardiff University.”