Double standards: why is a lab mouse better protected than a cow?

Historically, the UK has been a hotbed of heated debate about animal cruelty and the use of animals in research. A number of well-established organizations in the UK such as the (National Anti-Vivisection Society) and the (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) have shed light on animal cruelty and gained public support for better regulation of animal research. For example, a famous photo published in 1975 shocked readers of The Sunday People magazine and had a huge impact on the perception of animal experiments.

Since then, ethical standards for animal research have changed markedly for the better, but the UK still has one of the highest rates of animal experimentation in Europe. In 2015, there were experimental procedures carried out on various animals.

Most ethical codes for the use of animals in experimental research are based on three principles, also known as the “three Rs” (replacement, reduction, refinement): replacement (if possible, replace animal experiments with other research methods), reduction (if there is no alternative, use in experiments as few animals as possible) and improvement (improving methods to minimize the pain and suffering of experimental animals).

The principle of “three R” is the basis of most of the existing policies around the world, including the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of the European Union of September 22, 2010 on the protection of animals. Among other requirements, this directive establishes minimum standards for housing and care and requires an assessment of pain, suffering and long-term harm caused to animals. Therefore, at least in the European Union, the laboratory mouse must be well cared for by experienced people who are required to keep the animals in conditions that ensure their health and well-being with minimal restrictions on behavioral needs.

The “three Rs” principle is recognized by scientists and the public as a reasonable measure of ethical acceptability. But the question is: why does this concept only apply to the use of animals in research? Why doesn’t this also apply to farm animals and the slaughter of animals?

Compared to the number of animals that are used for experimental purposes, the number of animals that are killed each year is simply enormous. For example, in 2014 in the UK, the total number of animals killed was . Consequently, in the UK, the number of animals used in experimental procedures is only about 0,2% of the number of animals killed for meat production.

, conducted by the British market research company Ipsos MORI in 2017, showed that 26% of the British public would support a complete ban on the use of animals in experiments, and yet only 3,25% of those participating in the survey did not eat meat at that time . Why is there such a disparity? So society cares less about the animals they eat than the animals they use in research?

If we are to be consistent in following our moral principles, we must treat all animals that are used by humans for whatever purpose equally. But if we apply the same ethical principle of the “three Rs” to the use of animals for meat production, this would mean that:

1) Whenever possible, animal meat should be replaced by other foodstuffs (principle of substitution).

2) If there is no alternative, then only the minimum number of animals necessary to meet nutritional requirements should be consumed (reduction principle).

3) When slaughtering animals, special care should be taken to minimize their pain and suffering (improvement principle).

Thus, if all three principles are applied to the slaughter of animals for meat production, the meat industry will practically disappear.

Alas, it is unlikely that ethical standards will be observed in relation to all animals in the near future. The double standard that exists in relation to animals that are used for experimental purposes and that are killed for food is embedded in cultures and legislation. However, there are indications that the public may be applying the three Rs to lifestyle choices, whether people realize it or not.

According to the charity The Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK makes veganism the fastest growing way of life. they say they try to avoid using things and products derived from or involving animals. The availability of meat substitutes has increased in stores, and consumers’ purchasing habits have changed markedly.

In summary, there is no good reason not to apply the “three Rs” to the use of animals for meat production, since this principle governs the use of animals in experiments. But it is not even discussed in relation to the use of animals for meat production – and this is a prime example of double standards.

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