Discussion

This EPQ has given me a valuable opportunity to widen my knowledge and insight into animal welfare, the law, animal ethics, animal uses, the value of animals to mankind and to discover more about how we think and what we think with regards to the use of animals in our society. It also encouraged me to arrange a trip to the Redbridge training centre for Guide Dogs to meet trainers, find out more about the Guide Dog Association and to meet a guide dog owner.

The answers to the online questionnaires were especially interesting in that they strongly implied that our attitudes towards animals is influenced by how much we have direct contact with animals. It seems that we are more sensitive to their needs in terms of animal welfare if we have formed a close attachment.

The most fascinating, unexpected and interesting facts that emerged from this study include the following:

  • The successful use of rodents in Tanzania to identify sputum samples containing tuberculosis. In the West our health service laboratories have sophisticated and expensive analytical equipment for these investigations. Such equipment is not available in many countries in the world and the successful use of rats for this purpose is a major breakthrough. Rodents can also be trained to sniff and locate the position of land mines. Their light body weight is ideal for ensuring that the explosive IED or mine is not triggered. See Videos
  • The timeline for changes in the law to protect animals has been very slow and protracted. The first law to be implemented in the UK was in 1822 and the protections offered to animals were very narrow and limited to cattle. The human conscience and society's attitudes to animals has taken a long time to adapt and be reflected in on the most recent Animal Welfare Act 2006, 184 years. It was only until this act was introduced that all owners of an animal could be prosecuted.
  • It is very easy to believe that use of animals in experiments can be successful without requiring vivisection. However my reading of the literature and reviewing the medical advances especially over the last hundred years demonstrated that this could not have been achieved without the use of animals. The dramatic drop in the incidence of polio, both in terms of mortality and morbidity figures, could not have been achieved at the time without using monkeys and live polio virus to develop the vaccine that has saved thousands of lives throughout the world.
  • The figures that I obtained from DEFRA on livestock slaughter in the UK are considerably higher than I could have expected. The breakdown of this information and its availability on the Internet is exceptional.
  • My meeting with Dr Anna Wilkinson at Lincoln University was especially enlightening. We all suspect that are larger pets, such as larger mammals, are far more intelligent than we give them credit for. The ability of a guide dog to determine a better route to a platform (as described during my meeting with a guide dog owner) is something that I could not anticipate. However, Dr Wilkinson introduced me to a reptile that has appeared on the BBC, which showed remarkable intelligence in watching a video on how to slide the gate open and put this learning experience into action.
  • A brief exploration of animal ethics taught me that many of my preconceived ideas about how we treat animals isn't as straightforward as expected. The arguments on what rights should be granted to animals are complicated.  The simple question about how we should transport chickens in lorries, for example, (squeezed together or not) generated an unexpected answer.
  • The number of organisations that are engaged in animal welfare through the World is enormous. I am familiar with the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs Home. However, I have discovered that there are hundreds of organisations engaged in animal welfare of which the RSPCA is the largest.

This EPQ also enabled me to find out a little more about how to construct and launch a website.  By using a WYSIWYG application, called Dreamweaver, and a template it was relatively easy to create and update pages online. The ability to include an online questionnaire in this website, as well as the online questionnaire hosted by my college intranet, was also easy to implement. The rate of response to the ‘public version’ of my questionnaire has been slow but I am hoping that this will improve in time as its rank rises in Google’s search index and the results will become more reliable and meaningful.

In answer to the question and title of this EPQ, “To What Extent Should Animals be Used by Humans”, I still firmly believe that we have a duty of care to constantly question our actions in the treatment of animals. Scientific understanding of animal intelligence and how they feel pain and communicate has changed exponentially in recent years forcing governments to re-evaluate and update our welfare protection laws. At the beginning of this project I was naïve in thinking that the use of animals for medical, veterinary and pharmaceutical research, for example, could be avoided. This EPQ has convinced me otherwise, so long as every effort is made to minimise pain and suffering to the animal.

In conclusion, I found this project fascinating and it has broadened my perspective considerably. I am looking forward to working closely with animals in the future.