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Censored: Advertising Standards Authority "Gag" Vivisection Debate

Uncaged have joined the honour roll of campaigning organisations judged by the ASA to have produced "misleading" promotional material, a decision that appears to make the ASA the self-appointed arbiter of yet another social issue. Other organisations to fall foul of the ASA include Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth and, most recently, The Vegetarian Society.

Uncaged reject not only the substance of their adjudication but the authority of the ASA, a body established to adjudicate on commercial advertising, to pass judgement on the incredibly complex debate on the use of animals in experiments. Uncaged question their competence to make any judgement on social political issues, and, in the light of a consistent pattern of findings against campaigning groups, add our voice to the increasing consensus that the Authority is completely discredited in its dealings with political organisations.

The Advertising Standards Authority was established in 1962 to oversee non-broadcast advertisements, and also has authority over direct mail appeals. It is financially independent, being paid for by a levy on advertising. The membership of the Council is drawn from the "great and the good," and includes Richard Bradley, Vice-Chairman of both L'Oreal (UK) and the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Perfumery Association. The process of adjudication involves a preliminary recommendation by the secretariat of the Authority to which the "advertiser" is invited to respond. The recommendation may then be amended in the light of the response and is then submitted to the ASA council for formal adjudication.

In a ruling to be made public on 11th March 1998, the ASA uphold five complaints made by the RDS against a direct mailing leaflet produced by Uncaged in 1997. The leaflet was sent to contacts of Uncaged rather than the general public. We print our detailed responses to their judgements below (a document which also provides a comprehensive discussion of the case against vivisection). We are willing to concede that in the three minor complaints we failed to clarify or substantiate details appropriately, although we stand completely by the claims made. However in the two substantive areas of complaint, that laboratories torture animals and that animal experiments do not help people, we find the Authority's adjudication’s unjustifiable.

In the first case the ASA upheld the complaint on the basis that the claim supposedly implied the deliberate infliction of pain, which they did not consider substantiated, even though they concede that the experience of laboratory animals is consistent with the dictionary definition of torture. Uncaged cannot be expected to substantiate an alleged implication, yet that implication is taken as more significant than the dictionary definition. This complaint was upheld against the advice of the ASA's own secretariat, who had originally found the use of the word torture justified. By overturning the recommendation of the secretariat, the ASA Council denied Uncaged any opportunity to appeal, and acted as a kind of kangaroo court. The grounds given for the decision are not logical, and the process used reaching it was unfair.

In the second case, the ASA note that although literature was provided to support our claim they did not consider it "substantiated" and therefore asked us to remove it. The debate over the medical value of animal experiments is long-standing and fundamental, and many doctors and scientists endorse the claim we made. This issue is central to the campaign against vivisection. In seeking to remove the claim from our literature because there is controversy over this issue, the ASA not only considers its opinion on this issue as senior to that of many experts but, more significantly, strikes at the heart of the debate.

Alistair Currie of Uncaged said:

"The making of claims is central to any moral or political campaign. We strongly believe that our claims are justified by the facts, and that the Authority's adjudication’s do not stand up to scrutiny, but the central issue is that it is for the public to evaluate our arguments, not the ASA. We believe that this is another example, following the recent ruling against the Vegetarian Society among others, of the ASA appearing to support vested interests over campaigning organisations and of them censoring legitimate and democratic debate."

The following pages contain the arguments and evidence submitted to the ASA by Uncaged, in the course of three letters sent on 21.8.97, 24.11.97 and 12.12.97, in support of the five claims made in the leaflet in question. Supporting documents are available on request from Uncaged.

Complaint One: whether the advertisers could provide evidence to show that pets were stolen from UK homes for research

(20.8.97) The first point to make in relation to this complaint is that our reference to stolen pets was not intended to refer solely to the United Kingdom, although I would concede that we could have made this clearer on the leaflet - it is obviously meant to refer to an international situation in the accompanying letter. Furthermore, our mailing did go to contacts in other countries apart from the UK. Notwithstanding this point, I have enclosed several press clippings spanning sixteen years which provide ample evidence for our assertion that stolen pets end up in UK research laboratories, with opinions from respected community figures such as council dog wardens and RSPCA officials. Obviously such criminal activities are very sensitive matters, and I can tell you that there are on-going investigations being carried out into pet-stealing activities linked with research establishments. Uncaged and other organisations such as Animal Aid regularly receive letters and telephone calls from members of the public who have witnessed pet-stealing and have good reason to believe that these animals find their way into research labs in this country. We have no reason to doubt the sincerity of these people.

I have also enclosed a copy of a page from an American newsletter regarding stolen pets. Pet-stealing for vivisection obviously occurs in the US and there are no controls in the UK to prevent it happening here, and it is not unreasonable to assume that UK companies are no different from their US cousins, particularly as many UK companies (e.g. Huntingdon Life Sciences and Corning-Hazleton) have testing laboratories in the U.S.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection also have evidence of pet-stealing activities in another EU country, Belgium. We shall endeavor to supply you with any further information concerning pet-stealing for vivisection in the UK when we get our hands on it!

(24.11.97) The recommendation claims that we had no evidence for this. This is untrue. We sent you several media reports of suspected pet stealing for vivisection, including one confirmed example from the early 1980's, involving a dog from Sheffield University. We believe that this example is pertinent to our claim. Furthermore, the ASA has accepted evidence involving a similar time lapse. I refer to your adjudication on an advertisement run by Abbey Life Assurance Company Ltd (page 8, ASA Monthly Report, September 1997), where you accepted the use of a fifteen year old statistic as a basis for a claim. If the ASA is impartial and unbiased, then it will accept the validity of our claim, backed up as it is by the several examples offered to you where publicly-respected figures such as Council dog wardens have expressed their opinion that pets are indeed stolen and then sold on to vivisection laboratories, and evidence gained from countries with a similar level of socio-economic development and with whom the UK shares reciprocal economic and political relations. The evidence offered, therefore, does consist of a powerful cumulative argument which backs up our claim that stolen pets are used in research.

I am slightly disturbed that the ASA itself did not bother to make sure that it's adjudication’s on claims backed by historical evidence were consistent. It seems that you are applying one rule for large insurance companies, and another rule for smaller, more marginalised voices like our own. Therefore, the ASA's current stance is unfair.

I think that a reasonable burden of proof, and one that we provide, is documented evidence from the media which was not disputed by the organisations or individuals involved. In other words, the research laboratory in question did not initiate libel proceedings against the newspaper. I think that the Authority should revise its rather dismissive attitude to the evidence we have submitted and, in the light of parallel adjudication’s that the ASA has made regarding time lapses (see previous submission - 24.11.97), regard the evidence as adequate to the claims made.

With regard to the international context, your recommendation states that we "conceded that this was not clear from the advertisement." We did not do this. We said it could have been clearer, but we consider that it was reasonably clear in the first place, particularly in the accompanying letter.

Complaint Two: the use of the word "torture"

(21.8.97) The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines torture as "infliction of severe bodily pain.... ; severe physical or mental pain." In 1995, 2,637,847 animals (Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals, Great Britain, 1995, Home Office, Cm 3516, Table 1a, p.25 [see enclosed copy]) were subjected to scientific procedures which are "likely to cause that animal pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm."(1994 Statistics, pg. 5, para 1[see copy]) 65% of those procedures were carried out without any anaesthetic whatsoever. (1995 Statistics, pg. 13, para 4 [see copy]). The deliberate infliction of unrelieved "pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm" is a commonly accepted definition of torture, and I see it as uncontroversial. Any such treatment of human beings would be straightforwardly regarded as torture, and as other animals can also suffer both physical and psychological harm in analogous ways (see chapter 3 - "Animal Welfare" of Tom Regan's The Case For Animal Rights, Routledge, 1988; Rachels, J. (1990) Created from Animals, Oxford: Oxford University Press; Rollin, B. (1989) The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain, and Science, Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books), I feel that the use of the word torture is both accurate and illuminating as a description of animal experimentation in the UK. If we think of torture as the infliction of pain in order to gain information, then the validity of this description of vivisection becomes even more obvious.

Animals are now legally classified as "sentient beings" by the European Union, which recognises the obvious - that nonhuman animals feel pain.

(24.11.97) The ASA accepts our use of the word "torture" because of the context in which it is used, where it was not implied that "vivisectionists intended to hurt animals." You are correct in your interpretation of the context but, for the record, I have to question the quite bizarre assertion that you employ regarding the intentions of vivisectors. Vivisectors do intend to hurt animals, of that there can be no doubt. Vivisectors are well aware that the experiments that they subject animals to do cause animals "severe physical or mental suffering" - a result of the experiments that you accept as true. Now, vivisectors would publicly argue that such painful experiments are a means to an end, but that does not detract from the simple fact that the pain is caused deliberately and intentionally. Torturers of human beings would rationalise their behaviour as a means to the end of extract information: they would probably object to the label of torturers as much as vivisectors do. Yet we commonly refer to such practice as torture, and so, logically, the same label is perfectly applicable to the actions of vivisectors. To perform an experiment on an animal where you know beforehand that the animal is going to endure "severe physical and mental suffering" is to do so intentionally, and any other interpretation of these actions is a gross misrepresentation of the situation and a ridiculous, Pontius Pilate-style, abject abdication of their responsibilities as intelligent and conscious human beings.

(12.12.97) Your response to our comments regarding this issue adds an important element which was missing from your initial recommendation: "our recommendation says that vivisectionists do not intend to inflict suffering on animals for its own sake" - the underlined phrase is the new element. Vivisectionists may not intend to inflict suffering for its own sake, or as an end in itself, but we still cannot agree with the Authority that this means that the intention is not there, even if it is only a means to an end. One of the major underlying ethical objections to vivisection is that it is a deliberately violent act. Vivisectors, in possession of some degree of moral agency, carry out experiments on animals which they know beforehand will result in suffering. That is intentional: whether it is a means to an end or for its own sake is completely besides the point. It is the knowingness, if you like, which signals intentionality.

Analysing the use of the word "torture" in the human context may make the whole issue clearer. "Torture" is employed as a means of extracting information. Indeed, the Israeli Government has recently sought to defend the use of torture in the face of criticism from human rights groups as a vital method of gaining information regarding the Palestinian insurrection. "Torture" doesn't mean that the infliction of pain for its own sake (that is sadism), it means the deliberate infliction of painful procedures as a means of gaining information. So vivisectors do torture animals, even if they are not sadistic. Contrary to the wording of the Authority's recommendation, that surely is objective fact, not a statement of opinion.

I would therefore urge you to consider the points I have made and reword the recommendation accordingly.

(Note: Although the ASA's Secretariat recommended that this complaint should not be upheld following our arguments made in support of the claim, astonishingly, the ASA Council decided to overturn this recommendation and uphold the complaint. The ASA ruling on this point is a quite incredible display of contorted "reasoning".)

Complaint Three: whether the advertisers could substantiate that animal experiments were not useful in helping humans

(21.8.97) The case against the utility of animal experiments in furthering the welfare of humans takes the following form:
i) examples of such experiments that have directly lead to human suffering
ii) a theoretical explanation of their lack of usefulness
iii) superior methods of protecting and advancing human health, and historical examples of this

i) The development of the polio vaccine clearly demonstrates the harmfulness of animal research. J. Paul's History of Poliomyelitis (1971, New Haven: Yale University Press) details how research on rhesus monkeys seriously misled researchers for some 25 years because scientists subscribed to the rhesus monkey model of polio (nose as portal of entry for the virus) rather than the human evidence which indicated that the virus entered through the intestinal tract. It is impossible to ascertain how many lives were lost because of these animal experiments.

Animal experiments also mislead us about the dangers of smoking. By the early 1960's, epidemiologists discerned a strong correlation between lung cancer and smoking. Yet because of the failure to induce lung cancer in experiments on animals, the link was considered seriously doubtful, and delayed the placement of health warnings on tobacco products. (E. Northrup, Science Looks at Smoking, New York: Conard-McCann, 1957, p.133) Given that smoking is now the principle cause of premature death in the UK, the human death toll exacted by these animal experiments must be significant. (Jacobson, Bobbie, et al, ed. The Nation's Health - A Strategy for the 1990's, King Edward's Hospital Fund for London, 1991, p.30.)

Thalidomide, Opren, FIAU and Eraldin were all drugs that caused serious (often fatally) side-effects in humans which were not foreseen by animal experiments.

ii) What is required is an explanation of why animal experiments mislead. The source of that explanation is to be found in the insights of evolutionary biology and the light it casts on the central issue of species difference. Although most mammals have organs which perform similar functions, behind this superficial similarity lie fundamental differences in the organisation and causal mechanisms. In other words, different species of animal achieve the same function, e.g. respiration, through different causal mechanisms. These different causal mechanisms are the result of millions of years of speciation as different species of animals evolve as a result of differing environmental pressures which affect organisms at differing levels. Because biological organisms are very complex systems, an alteration in one part of the system causes changes in the whole system, in a kind of ripple effect. Thus as different species evolve along different paths, they become more and more different from each other. This is why different species of animals cannot act as analogous models for other species of animals. (Mayr, E. (1988) Toward a New Philosophy of Biology, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.)

The endocrine system performs a central function in the biological system and there are clear and substantial species differences in the action and pathology of the thyroid gland, the main component of the endocrine system. (McClain, M. (1992) "Thyroid Gland Neoplasia: Non-genotoxic Mechanisms," Toxicology Letters, 64/65, p.401.) The endocrine system develops to suit the particular needs of the relevant species of animals in their specific environmental conditions. Given the pervasive role of the endocrine system, small changes in the system cause ripples throughout the organism, and this explains many species differences in toxicology and teratology. (Hart, J. (1990) "Endocrine Pathology of Estrogens: Species Differences," Pharmacological Therapy, 47, 213.)

Apart from biological disanalogies between humans and other animals, there are interventionist disanalogies between human disease and diseases artificially induced in laboratory animals which invalidates attempts to extrapolate results gained from experiments on animals to the human condition.

iii) Resources for research and healthcare are scarce. Therefore, in assessing the utility of animal experiments, one must also examine the costs of animal research in terms of the neglect of other methods of research and health care approaches. Animal research is most often justified in terms of drugs produced as a result of such experiments. Drugs are part of a broadly curative approach to health care. However, medical historians point out that preventative measures have made the biggest contribution to improvements in health. In his book, The Role of Medicine, Professor Thomas McKeown explains that it was environmental public health measures and not the "triumphs" of medical science which were responsible for health improvements. (T. McKeown, The Role of Medicine, Blackwell, 1979.) As the Lancet explains "public health legislation and related measures have probably done more than all the advances of scientific medicine to promote the well-being of the community in Britain and in most other countries." (Editorial, 12.8.78, 356-7).

Looking to the future: "Today's main killing diseases are due to the way we live ... Logically the main thrust of medical research should be directed at the prevention of these common, lethal and disabling conditions" as the British Medical Journal puts it. (BMJ, 1610, 22-29 December 1979.) In their classic epidemiological study, Doll and Peto conclude that 85% of cancers are potentially preventable. (R. Doll and R. Peto, The Causes of Cancer, OUP, 1981.) Epidemiology is the study of disease in human populations - it does not involve experimentation on animals. It reveals environmental causes of ill health.

Despite the promise of prevention, only 0.33% of Government health spending is devoted to health education as a major preventative health strategy. (Letter from Department of Health to Uncaged, copy enclosed). Prevention is not only effective, it is humane. Logically, it is in the interests of human welfare that we do not become ill in the first place, rather than fall ill, with its attendant pain and distress, and then rely on the possibility of symptom alleviation or recovery. Yet health care continues to concentrate on expensive, painful and ineffective curative approaches based on pharmaceutical products tested on animals.

The question of the availability of these expensive drug therapies also impinges on our assessment of the effectiveness of this approach to health care. The patient's experience of a cash-strapped NHS is very much at odds with the constant promises of miracle cures for cancer, etc. so often heralded. A divertion of resources away from intrinsically unreliable animal experimentation to preventative approaches, non-animal research methodologies and non-pharmaceutical therapies such as diet and natural medicines will undoubtedly lead to a healthier, happier human population.

(24.11.97) The ASA dismisses our evidence by choosing to believe the claims of the pro-vivisection lobby. Furthermore, just because an opinion is "generally accepted" does not make it true. At some point in history, it was generally accepted that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around it. That did not make it true. So to substantially rest your dismissal of our case on such grounds is unacceptable.

The ASA has also failed to grasp our fundamental argument in another way. The point is to judge the institution of vivisection in toto. In other words, human beings would be better off if the institution of vivisection did not exist. Once more, highly selective, partial accounts of animal experiments to investigate diseases which are then spuriously linked to subsequent "medical advances" do not demonstrate the overall utility of vivisection to human welfare and flourishing, even if they were to be believed. Ask yourselves, how widely available are these "medical advances"? What is the real impact of vivisection on the health of the nation, and the world's population as a whole? As it is, the impact of medical advances on public health is minimal (you appear to have unquestioningly identified "medical advances" with "public health"), as our evidence explained in the first place. What we are claiming is that a different structure in health policy and research, which excludes vivisection and, instead, utilises neglected preventative approaches as well as human-based (in vitro and clinical) observations will yield improvement in human welfare and health. That is what we mean by "animal experiments do not benefit human beings."

There is a deeper, ethical issue here as well, one which was implicit in the claim, but which I did not articulate in my previous submission. Basically, the test of the flourishing of human beings is wider even than public health (although I stress that our claim stands up to this test on its own). By this I mean that the flourishing of human beings is fundamentally influenced by the ethics of our behaviour: whether as a society we conduct ourselves in a peaceful, non-violent, constructive manner. This notion has very deep philosophical roots, going back at least to Aristotle and his characterisation of the good life as being based in virtue. In other words, to evaluate human flourishing one cannot simply measure it in terms of the self-interest of human beings, but there is a deeper, more important guide - our conduct towards others, our virtue. Now the ASA has reluctantly accepted our characterisation of vivisection as "torture". The practice of torture is not a good, virtuous reflection of the human condition - quite the opposite in fact. It militates against virtue and human flourishing - it is uncivilised and brutal. Not only would we be healthier without vivisection and by employing the other approaches to promoting health, but we would be better people - and there can be no greater measure of human worth and flourishing.

The context of the claim needs to be noted. Vivisection is a deeply controversial political issue, so our claim would be read as a contribution to that debate. Recipients of the mailing are well aware that contrary views exist. Political debate is necessarily contentious, and by adjudicating at all, the ASA is indulging in an unwarranted interference in free speech and committing an act of political censorship. The ASA does not have the moral authority to do this.

The points I have outlined here, together with my initial submission, I believe validate our claim that "animal experiments do not benefit humans". Therefore we do not accept the ASA's decision to uphold the complaint.

Complaint Four: the figures quoted in relation to the number of animals killed in experimentation

(21.8.97) The global figure of 250 million animals is an estimate, partly because the country that consumes the most animals, the USA, does not collect figures pertaining to rats and mice, the animals most often used in experiments. One authoritative estimate put animal use in the US, in 1984, at 70 million animals. (Rowan, A. (1984) Mice, Models, and Men, Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, p.70.) Indeed, the vast majority of countries do not compile accurate information on animal use. The figure of 250 million animals appears in Animal Experimentation: the consensus changes, ed. Dr G. Langley, MacMillan Scientific & Medical, 1987, p.22, (see copy) and is quoted by the internationally-respected professor of philosophy Tom Regan - so we feel that this is a very credible source!!

The figures quoted for numbers of cats (1831), dogs (7401+6+314=7721), rabbits (61244), and monkeys (1988+13+2640+80=4721) are from the Home Office's Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals for 1995, Table 1, page 22-23. (See enclosed copy.) I admit that there has been some confusion, with the figures listed being for the number of experiments rather than the number of animals used (which are to be found in the next table). This error was made inadvertently, and I don't feel that it alters the substance of our claims. Indeed, many members of the public could well be even more horrified by the realisation that some animals endure more than one procedure (it is this fact that accounts for the difference between the two figures).

Therefore we feel strongly that you are unjustified in upholding the complaint.

Complaint Five: whether the pictures used were taken recently and whether they related to animal experimentation in the UK.

(21.8.97) The pictures were taken from a magazine published seven years ago, and originate from US and Canadian laboratories. The pictures do relate to experiments in British laboratories in that they illustrate some of the animals (e.g. dogs, cats, monkeys and rabbits) that are used in British laboratories. Thus the pictures are representative. Rabbits are rabbits whichever country they are vivisected in. Of course, we would prefer to use pictures from British laboratories, but due to the secrecy surrounding animal experiments which is enshrined in law (See Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986) such pictures are virtually impossible to obtain. This situation is a vitally important contextual consideration in the use of pictures to illustrate animal experimentation in the UK. I am sure that the procedures and animals shown are representative of vivisection in Britain.

Furthermore, our campaigns do have an international element - our campaign to stop Procter & Gamble's animal testing is a global campaign and we coordinate with other anti-vivisection groups across the world. Many products available in Britain are tested on animals in other countries. Vivisection is an inescapably global issue - the present Government is concerned that stopping certain kinds of tests in the UK will merely export them abroad rather than reduce the overall number of animals used.

Vivisection is an issue that is supposed to be regulated by our democratically-elected Government. Thus the public need to know the facts about vivisection if it is to form an informed opinion. The secrecy surrounding vivisection in the UK hinders the formation of opinions, and so we think that it is perfectly reasonable to use images from other countries to illustrate the reality of British laboratories. Whether we like it or not, that's the situation we're faced with, and if we have to use accurate, representative pictures from other countries to demonstrate what goes on in secret in British laboratories, then we will.

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Uncaged 1993-2012: This is the archived website of Uncaged. All information correct at the time of archiving - November 2012.