National Anti-Vivisection Society

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National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS)
National Anti-Vivisection Society logo.jpg
FocusAnimal welfare
Area served
United Kingdom
Key people
Jan Creamer, chief executive

The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) is an international not-for-profit animal protection group, based in London, working to end animal testing, and focused on the replacement of animals in research with advanced, scientific techniques. Since 2006, the NAVS has operated its international campaigns under the working name Animal Defenders International (ADI), and the two groups now work together under the ADI name.


The NAVS of the UK is the world's first anti-vivisection organisation, founded in 1875 by Frances Power Cobbe, a humanitarian who authored articles and leaflets opposing animal experiments.[1] Many notable people of the day supported NAVS.[1]

The Society was formed on 2 December 1875 in Victoria Street, London, under the name of the Victoria Street Society.[1] At the time there were about 300 experiments on animals each year. Public opposition to vivisection led the Government to appoint the First Royal Commission on Vivisection in July 1875; it reported its findings on 8 January 1876, recommending that special legislation be enacted to control vivisection. This led to the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, which reached the statute book on 15 August 1876. This Act remained in force for 110 years, until it was replaced by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.[1]

The Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 regulated legal vivisection, as well as providing secrecy to the vivisectors and to the laboratories, with no public accountability. The Home Office awarded licences to vivisectors in secret and the locations of laboratories were secret. No access was allowed, - whether Member of Parliament, media, public, or local authority. And so, the numbers of animals used and the number of licences awarded continued to rise for a century, protected by successive governments. However, opposition to vivisection also increased, and in 1897 the growing Victoria Street Society changed its name to the National Anti-Vivisection Society.[1]

In 1969 NAVS formed the International Association against Painful Experiments on Animals (IAAPEA).[2]

In 1990 the Society, having outgrown the premises in Harley Street it had occupied since 1964 (a move engineered by the then Secretary, Wilfred Risdon), moved to Goldhawk Road, London, with a subsequent move in 2006 to Millbank Tower, London.


From the outset the Victoria Street Society had demanded the total abolition of vivisection, and whilst this has always been, and remains the prime objective of the NAVS, at a Council meeting on 9 February 1898 the following resolution was passed:

The Council affirms that, while the demand for the total abolition of vivisection will ever remain the ultimate object of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, the Society is not thereby precluded from making efforts in Parliament for lesser measures, having for its object the saving of animals from scientific torture.[1]

The resolution was carried by 29 votes to 23. Miss Cobbe did not approve of this as she did not want the Society to promote any measure short of abolition.[1] As a result, after the Resolution was passed, Miss Cobbe left the NAVS and formed the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection to demand total and immediate abolition of animal experiments. This resolution of 1898 has remained the policy of the NAVS.[1]

Brown Dog affair[edit]

In 1906, a statue was erected in Battersea Park of a brown terrier dog, one of a number of animals described in the journals of two Swedish anti-vivisection campaigners that was reported to have been illegally dissected during a demonstration to medical students at the University of London. The inscription on the statue reads:

In memory of the Brown Terrier Dog done to death in the laboratories of University College in February 1903, after having endured vivisection extending over more than two months and having been handed from one vivisector to another until death came to his release. Also in memory of the 232 dogs vivisected at the same place during the year 1902. Men and women of England, how long shall these things be?"

The statue became the target of animal researchers and London University medical students; students rioted at the site; anti-vivisectionists defended their statue; the elderly Frances Power Cobbe was attacked in her office. After years of conflict, the statue mysteriously disappeared in 1910.

The NAVS and others[citation needed] erected a new statue with the same inscription in 1985, again in Battersea Park, where it remains to this day.

Second Royal Commission on Vivisection[edit]

In 1906 the Government appointed the Second Royal Commission on Vivisection. This Second Royal Commission heard a great deal of evidence from the NAVS and other interested parties. It published its findings in 1912, recommending an increase in the numbers of Home Office Inspectors; further limitations with regard to the use of curare (a paralysing drug which does not deaden pain, but can heighten it); stricter provisions as to the definition and practice of pithing; additional restrictions regulating the painless destruction of animals which show signs of suffering after experimentation; a change in the method of selecting, and in the constitution of, the advisory body of the Secretary of State*; and keeping of special records by vivisectors. (*This body, under the new 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, is called the Animal Procedures Committee).

This was a long way from abolition; it did not deal with the issue of secrecy and public accountability; it left the vivisection community protected from outside control and scrutiny. Although each successive Home Secretary attached ‘pain conditions’ to all experiments, the ‘conditions’ were so worded that they afforded no protection to the animals whatsoever.

The NAVS believes there are good scientific arguments against the use of animals in research, not least because of the misleading results from animal experiments, due to species differences. Thus, they argue, abolishing animal research would be in the public interest. However, to pursue such a case would be prohibitively expensive.

In 1963, with animal experiments running into millions each year and a public deprived of information on the issue, the Government set up a ‘Departmental Committee on Experiments on Living Animals’ to consider the use of animals in research, and whether any changes in legislation were necessary. In 1965 the Littlewood Committee, as it was known, published 83 recommendations, and although none of the recommendations were designed to bring an end to animal experiments, no legislation was passed to put any of them into effect anyway.

Throughout the 20th Century, the NAVS lobbied government and drafted various Bills against a seemingly unstoppable rise in animal experiments ‘reaching almost 6 million per year in the UK by the 1970s’. When the trade in monkeys for use in vaccine tests devastated India's population of rhesus macaques, NAVS representatives went to India and successfully lobbied for a ban on the export of these animals, which was introduced in 1978.

In 1973, the NAVS, now based in Harley Street, London, sought a new strategy and founded the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research.[1] The Fund was named after Lord Dowding, the Air Chief Marshal and Battle of Britain WW2 hero. After the war, Lord Dowding became President of the NAVS and in the House of Lords made many impassioned speeches on animal experiments. His wife Lady Dowding was also an NAVS Council member (later becoming President after her husband's death).[1]

This new strategy was to make positive steps to replace the use of animals in research, and to show that animal research is not necessary for medical and scientific progress. The Lord Dowding Fund continues to be responsible for ground breaking medical and scientific research that does not involve animals. Tens of thousands of animals have been saved, through the introduction of techniques and technology funded by the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research.[1]

London and Provincial Anti-Vivisection Society[edit]

In 1957, the London and Provincial Anti-Vivisection Society (LPAVS) became part of the NAVS. This amalgamation was administered and encouraged by the contemporary Committee Secretary, Wilfred Risdon, who became Secretary of the NAVS thereafter. An earlier active member of the LPAVS was former British Union of Fascists member Norah Elam who had been a member (possibly even founding member) from its very beginnings around 1900. Elam was a prominent suffragette who was put forward as a candidate for the British Union of Fascists for the Northampton constituency in 1937 and who was also part of the Pankhurst inner circle from late 1912 to 1917 (under the name Dacre Fox).

During 1916 and 1917, Elam obtained work as supervisor of a typewriting pool at the Medical Research Council (MRC), gaining a wealth of information she was to use later in articles published under the auspices of the LPAVS during 1934 and 1935. In March 1921, Elam advertised in The Times and chaired a public meeting of LPAVS to discuss 'The Dog's Bill' (Bill to prohibit the vivisection of Dogs) that was being debated in Parliament at that time. The meeting was held at Aeolian Hall in London and as Chair, Elam read out 20 letters from Members of Parliament in support of the bill, and stated that, 'A large majority of the public were strongly in favour of the measure, and she felt sure that victory would be theirs if a determined effort were made, especially if women made proper use of their new political power'.[3]

In 1932, the MRC had produced a paper called 'Vitamins, A Survey of Present Knowledge'. Elam's 1934 response was entitled 'The Vitamin Survey, A Reply' and was a critical appraisal of that survey and its results. This was followed in 1935 by 'The Medical Research Council, What it is and how it works'. The second paper was based on the same arguments about MRC research practices and remits as the first paper, but distilled and argued more cogently on a broader front. Elam's argument was that 'powerful vested interests' had managed to 'entrench' themselves behind 'State-aided research', and had managed to make themselves unaccountable; the public were unable to influence the decisions about what research should be undertaken, and it operated like a closed shop, only answerable to itself. Elam also argued that the research involved the cruel and inhumane use of animals, and that any thinking person had to question how and why research and results based on animal models could safely be extrapolated to humans. Finally, she complained that animal experimentation was doubly cruel because of the unnecessary repetition of experiments to replicate or prove the same point, which in many cases she argued could have been arrived at by simple, common sense. These papers were widely distributed and copies could be found in libraries throughout the UK.[3]

Modern movement[edit]

After sustained lobbying by animal welfare organisations and other interested parties, in 1983 the UK Government announced that it intended to replace the Cruelty to Animals Act (at that time still in force despite it being introduced nearly one hundred years previously) and published a White Paper that (after consultation) would eventually form the basis of the new legislation. In light of its perceived weakness of the Government's proposals, and realising that outright abolition was unachievable in the current political climate, NAVS worked with other UK groups such as BUAV, Animal Aid and the Scottish Society, in the drawing-up of a list of key experiments that should be banned under new legislation. This list included a ban on the use of animals in tests for cosmetics, tobacco, alcohol products; warfare experiments; psychological and behavioural tests; a ban on the Median lethal dose and Draize eye irritancy tests, as well as other measures in relation to the administration of the legislation. Although the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act received Royal Assent on 20 May 1986 and was later described as being an important factor in the UK having the "tightest system of regulation in the world",[4] this view was not supported by animal welfare organisations.[citation needed]

It would not be until the late 1990s that a change of Government brought in bans on the use of animals for cosmetics research and a ban on the use of great apes would start the process of change. These were followed by the UK's Freedom of Information Act, which permitted wider public scrutiny of some scientific procedures.

More recently, in 2009, the year in which the European directive on animal testing regulations was being comprehensively reviewed for the first time in over two decades, NAVS and its animal and environmental group, Animal Defenders International, joined a call for a Europe-wide ban on the use of non-human primates in research. Although only minor concessions were secured in this area when legislation was subsequently passed in September 2010, the authors of the directive acknowledged that it was "an important step towards achieving the final goal of full replacement of procedures on live animals for scientific and educational purposes as soon as it is scientifically possible to do so".[5] The authors also recommended that the directive be regularly reviewed so as to reflect the scientific advances made in this area, thereby leaving open the possibility that future legislation will incorporate more safeguards to ensure the protection and welfare of animals used in scientific experiments.


The NAVS works to educate the public, parliament and researchers about the suffering caused to animals used in research, and how research outcomes are affected by species differences, as well as the biochemical effects of fear, anxiety and stress in the animals. Research results have been known to be affected by an animal’s age, diet, even bedding materials. NAVS promotes the adoption of advanced, scientific, non-animal techniques to replace the use of animals, especially through its non-animal research wing, the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research. (See also Animal Defenders International)


From 1897–1889 the NAVS published The Zoophilist magazine.[6] In 1900 it became known as The Zoophilist and Animal's Defender and later The Animal's Defender and Zoophilist.

NAVS is associated with Animal Defenders International and the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research which publish the Animal Defender magazine (latest issue 2017).[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "The history of the NAVS". National Anti-Vivisection Society. 24 July 2012. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  2. ^ David Henry Smyth — Alternatives to animal experiments, p. 218 — Scolar Press, 1978 — OCLC 465121635
  3. ^ a b McPherson, Angela; McPherson, Susan (2010). Mosley's Old Suffragette - A Biography of Norah Elam. ISBN 978-1-4452-7308-2.
  4. ^ "Select Committee on Animals In Scientific Procedures". Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  5. ^ "Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes". Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  6. ^ "Zoophilist". Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  7. ^ "Animal Defender UK Magazine". Animal Defenders International. Retrieved 2 May 2021.

External links[edit]