During the summer an Italian court ordered the temporary closure of one of Europe’s biggest dog breeding companies.
After an intense campaign by policymakers and animal rights groups, the Green Hill animal breeding firm closed its doors, having handed more than 2,500 dogs over to animal rights campaigners in line with the court ruling.
Activists – and plenty of ordinary tweeters who just love dogs – celebrated. If you almost never give much thought to animal research, a headline about dogs in Italy being saved rather than sacrificed looks like good news.
But could the Green Hill story prove to be a pyrrhic victory for animal rights campaigners?
A bit of background
The first thing to consider is how many dogs are used in animal research and why scientists have to use dogs at all.
Using dogs for cosmetics is illegal in Europe but limited use for medical purposes is permitted, under strict conditions.
Around 21,000 dogs were used in European research, according to figures from 2008. While rats and mice are the most commonly used animals in laboratories, larger mammals such as dogs are needed for certain kinds of tests. Many of these are required by EU regulations to ensure that medicines are safe and effective.
In the event that all research on dogs were to end, much of the current work scientists do in search for new cures of heart disease, cancer and dementia would reach a cul-de-sac.
That might be bad news for human and animal health research but what about laboratory animals themselves?
Europe has the strictest animal welfare standards in the world. If European countries were to become openly hostile to this kind of medical research, would it simply move elsewhere?
Is it unfair to suggest that the campaign against Green Hill is a case of ‘Not In My Back Yard’ – or NIMBY as we like to say.
And are European protests simply going to shift research to jurisdictions where standards are less rigorous?
For pragmatic animal welfare advocates – and dog lovers across Europe – the threat to animal research in Europe presents a dilemma: would pushing dog breeding out of Europe do more harm than good?