Labour Leadership and Animal Research

1 September 2016

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Category: Communications & media

Corbyn in demo

Labour Party members in the UK have begun the process of voting for their leader – a process which will be concluded on Saturday 24th September. This post aims to look at the views the leadership contenders hold about animal research.

So let us begin with the incumbent – Jeremy Corbyn MP.

Jeremy Corbyn has had a long history of working with animal rights and antivivisection groups. In 1984, a year after being elected as the MP for Islington North, Corbyn was pictured alongside several other MPs and the BUAV’s Campaigns Officer asking questions about animal experiments at Porton Down (pictured).

Corbyn has signed 13 animal rights related Early Day Motions during the previous three years, three of which he sponsored. In the words of the BBC:

Early Day Motions are "are formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons" according to the Parliament website, yet it goes on to say "very few are actually debated". Essentially they are petitions for MPs to start or put their name too. They aren't necessarily an effective way of bringing about change and some MPs have previously called them "narcissistic" and "pointless".

These EDMs varied from the positive pursuit of ending Household Testing (now implemented), to the  less constructive EDMs which support the BUAV in their call to ban studies on cats and dogs (scientists using these species must already explain why another species would not do as a condition of being allowed to perform an experiment).   It is not just recently either, as far back as 1990 he could be found signing EDMs decrying animal studies into the effects of alcohol.  Corbyn has long criticised the use of primates in research, signing eight EDMs aiming to limit or ban such experiments between 2001 and 2010.

Not all of Corbyn’s EDM signatures have been against animal studies. For example, in 2004 he signed EDM 1042, which condemned the targeting of members of the public by animal rights extremists and demanded new legislation to deal with this. Furthermore, to give some perspective, Corbyn has not just focused on animal research EDMs; he has signed almost 20,000 during his time in parliament – more than most other MPs.

Now we move on to the challenger – Owen Smith MP:

Owen Smith is a new MP – entering parliament in 2010. He was formerly Head of Policy and Government Relations for the pharmaceutical firm, Pfizer. Recently he was asked about this, and his views on animal experiments, during an interview with Nicky Campbell on BBC Radio 5Live Breakfast:

NC: Well I was reading up about them (Pfizer) and this is the sort of thing that concerns a lot of people in the Labour movement and that they do a lot of animal experiments every year. In 2011, they experimented on a large number, thousands of dogs, and cats, and primates. Do you approve of that?

OS: Well I wasn’t working for them in 2011. However, I would say, that all pharmaceutical companies do testing on animals in order to try and ensure medicines are safe for human use and obviously companies like Pfizer, and others, make medicines for heart disease and cancer and diabetes and important things like that and you do need to make sure that those, uh, medicines like that aren’t, in the testing phase, going to cause damage to human health. It’s a fundamental concern.

NC: Dogs and cats and primates are highly cognitive creatures, do you approve of that?

OS: All of that is true, and all pharmaceutical companies have tried over recent years to use more computer modelling to reduce the use of animals in testing. And they have massively reduced the use of animals in testing. But the reality is, it’s impossible at the moment to entirely eradicate the use of animals, we should be seeking to reduce it to its most minimal amounts. But it’s impossible, I’m afraid, to safely not use them at all and I think the most important thing is to ensure human health is protected. 

What is clear from the response is that Owen Smith isn’t simply going to pander to people by condemning animal studies – instead taking a more nuanced 3Rs line.


As it stands , this is all the information about animal experiments we could find on the two men. If this was the only criterion for picking a Labour leader, then Smith would have our vote, but of course the choice of leader is much bigger than this one issue, and Labour Party members will need to decide who they believe can best lead them to victory.