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This little piggy

8 March 2010

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Category: Communications & media

alps–sign.jpgThere are some strange animal-related things happening in Europe, but sometimes sense can prevail. This weekend, a Swiss referendum emphatically rejected calls for animals to have legal representation.

The Press Association called it 'a proposal that would never even come near a referendum in other countries'. The BBC said that Switzerland already has very strict welfare legislation: 'Pigs, budgies, goldfish and other social animals cannot be kept alone; horses and cows must have regular exercise outside in summer and winter; and dog owners have to take training courses to learn how to care for their pets.' The Swiss constitution states that citizens must respect the dignity of animals and even plants.

Austrian and Italian scientists, writing in the science journal Nature a couple of weeks ago, called for a public information campaign in mainland Europe about animal research. Alluding to the UK student group Pro-Test, they called on fellow scientists and politicians to inform the public about 'the value of well presented, unbiased, evidence-based information from ethically evaluated animal experimentation'.

The scientists had been forced to abandon experiments using anaesthetised pigs in January. Their study of survival after avalanche burial involved monitoring 29 animals in snow at 1900 metres. It had been approved by Austrian federal ministry of science and research and was supervised on site. The experiments were underway when animal rights campaigners initiated an 'avalanche' of misrepresentations, false accusations, and threats, including a bomb threat to a bank. The scientists were forced to stop the tests after ten of the pigs had died, and the surviving pigs were handed over to the Tyrolean Animal Protection Association rather than sent to the slaughterhouse.

In their letter to Nature, the scientists said

'Most fellow scientists and the relevant government ministries remained silent during this totally unexpected, hostile campaign, failing to support our attempts to correct misinformation and justify our investigation. The enormous gap in public awareness of the scientific benefits of strictly regulated animal research fosters such misconceptions and encourages manipulation. Schools and universities can help to correct this by conveying the value of well presented, unbiased, evidence-based information from ethically evaluated animal experimentation to the widest audience.'

At around the same time, questions were also raised by antivivisection groups about the use of anaesthetised pigs to study blast injuries in the UK between 2006 and 2009. The tests 'saved many lives' in Iraq and Afghanistan due to improvements in post-traumatic techniques, defence minister Quentin Davies said in response.

The Sunday Times ran with the somewhat sensationalist line: 'Live pigs blasted in terror attack experiments'. But many of the online comments following the article suggested that the British public may be rather scornful of such attempts to raise sympathy for animals more commonly used for food. It seems that some other European countries can now claim to top the league of nations of animal lovers.

See also 'pig' in our A to Z of animals used in research.