Letter to the Times
Darwin's honest bewilderment over our species' exploitation of other animals ('Darwin understood the need for animal tests', Times Opinion, 12th February) shows succeeding scientists in a poor light in developments reducing avoidable cruelties; and animal welfarists must share blame in ignoring enterprise and purpose in adopting increasingly feasible lifestyles and alternatives such as vegetarianism, epidemiological studies of significance and precautionary principles in the replacement of experimentation inflicting avoidable harms and hurt.
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer just after WW2 was Sir. Stafford Cripps, a vegetarian, as were many members of the leftist lentilists of the Fabian Society; other exponents were Gandhi and Bernard Shaw (whose Doctor's Dilemma alluded to some of the social and medical challenges Colin Blakemore and his predecessors have faced).
The RSPCA is lacklustre in recognizing the importance of vegetarianism while nearly a billion livestock a year in the UK are slaughtered - massacred would be an apter word - "humanely", but with numerous violations in breeding, rearing, and killing of the Farm Animal Welfare Council's Five Freedoms; and the RSPB's protective function counts for nothing for the less equal birds confined in battery cages or produced as oven-readies and is demonstrated fitfully for "managed wildlife".
In the early 1970's the Oxford Vegetarian Study used human volunteers in comparisons of healthy lifestyles, and a subsequent project, begun in what is now the University of Surrey, assessed relative ages of onset of degenerative diseases and consequent costs to the NHS of vegetarians and human omnivores. We, as scientists of the Vegetarian Nutritional Research Centre, collating information and research after WW2 on the millions of people whose diet was essentially vegetarian, tricked out with small amounts of meat and game, and with lactose intolerance, launched the scientific journal, Plant Foods for Human Nutrition and followed this up with a Green Plan for research on farming, food, health, and the land in 1976, when the thrift and other benefits, as well as demography, were emphasizing the wastes and harm in intensified farming methods, some already exposed in 1964 by Ruth Harrison's seminal book, Animal Machines, and cogent still.
Our present Minister of State at Defra, Hilary Benn continues the example set by Sir Stafford Cripps and easily adopted by all scientists, as some atonement for the suffering entailed in hope, as in war, of ultimate benefit. Such experimentation was governed by the honestly-described Cruelty to Animals Acts. We look forward to a common purpose and example with Colin Blakemore in his chairmanship of GACS, a Government Advisory Committee on Science assembled by the Food Standards Agency.
The Philips BSE Inquiry indicated the necessity for resolute commitment, development, and exemplified in the self-discipline scientists should set. "More nuanced debates" don't cut the mustard. Experts offering testimony at the Inquiry were required to declare if they had changed their eating habits at the height of the epidemic. Some of the scientists who furnished the evidence are still advisors, apparently still untroubled by the qualms that taxed Charles Darwin and with a discretion as fallible as the hapless veggie-baiting John Gummer, apparently a fervent believer of some religious sophistry.
A couple of years ago we were involved at a conference of the Nutrition Society in developing a Portfolio of Eating Plans (not just ephemeral diets) to produce recipes and guidance based on continually and nutritionally-assessed examples, described and labelled in the full FSA manner, and as subjects for further scientific evaluations. They demonstrate a will to attain production of foods and meals that are meat-free, dairy-free, and cruelty-free; we hope that Colin Blakemore and other scientists, learned societies, and journalists ally themselves to such merciful enterprise and example.
Dr Alan Long, Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health, Associate of the Veterinary Public Health Association
Hon. Research Adviser, VEGA Research
(This letter was not published by The Times)