Professor Marian Dawkins has been presented with the RPSCA’s Sir Patrick Moore Award for her work to improve animal welfare, in a move criticised by some animal rights activists.
Dawkins is head of the Animal Behaviour Research Group at Oxford, and works on animal welfare. The aim is for good farm animal welfare to benefit humans by changing attitudes in developing countries, encouraging people to view animals as sentient beings rather than solely as a source of food.
Speaking to Cherwell, Professor Dawkins said, “My work involves research on animal welfare and working with farmers towards high welfare farming that enables farmers to make a living and for me, winning this award means that animal welfare science is now accepted as a scientific discipline.”
The award has been met with some controversy due to Oxford University’s use of animals in scientific research. The chief executive of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, Michelle Thew, said of the award, “Humane alternatives already exist so Oxford University should be leading the field in pioneering alternatives to animal experimentation, instead of causing more suffering and distress.”
Oxford was responsible for the deaths of 202,160 animals in 2012, according to a recent Freedom of Information request by Cherwell.
The University defended its use of animal research. “Research using animals is a small part of the University’s overall programme of world-leading biomedical research into solving pressing health problems which cause suffering and death. There is overwhelming international scientific consensus that some animal research remains essential for medical progress. Animal research in the UK is limited and very strictly regulated. Where use of animals is essential, the University is committed to very high standards of animal welfare. Almost all the animals used in Oxford research are mice.”
A medicine student at Somerville, the college where Professor Dawkins is a fellow, told Cherwell, “Marian’s work is important for the advancement of animal rights in the less developed world, and I think it’s a real shame that the benefits of the work she has been carrying out are being overlooked by some simply because of the fact that she is affiliated with Oxford in her work… Clearly the wrongs that are committed are not Marian’s doing, so she should receive the recognition she deserves.”
A Wolfson student disagreed, saying, “I frequently attend protests to prevent animal testing, and strongly believe that it is wrong to do so. Furthermore, any good work that Dawkins does for animals is negated by the fact that she chooses to associate herself with an organisation that thinks it is acceptable to test on animals.