One of the most recognisable names and faces of post-millennial UK pop, in recent years Will Young has attempted to use his status to draw attention to causes close to his heart – notably, the continuing (and underreported) existence of puppy farms for medical science purposes. He spoke about it to Antonia LeVay.
What first brought your attention to the fact that medicinal testing on dogs is still going on?
During COVID, when I used to be on Instagram – I don’t go on any social media anymore – I heard about puppy farms breeding beagles for testing, thinking “that can’t be true,” which of course it was. I just thought that animal testing had stopped, particularly testing on dogs. Dogs are obviously sentient beings – of course rabbits, mice, rats, pigs, monkeys, horses, songbirds are all sentient as well, but dogs make it so obvious, and are so domesticated. You know 14 million of us have dogs in this country, which is a huge amount.
So I handcuffed myself to the gates [of MBR Acres, a puppy farm in Cambridgeshire] to bring awareness to that, and then just started educating myself more in animal testing on a wider level. I got very excited learning about the new science: how much more efficient and effective it is, and how much more correct; how it doesn’t involve hurting any living thing.
Then I started meeting a few people in government, and that was quite disappointing. And that’s me being quite controlled and not saying what happened. I did meet one Tory MP from my area – I’m not a Tory supporter, but she was great, and did end up asking the question [in Parliament]. She had a beagle herself. Then I had a great meeting with Keir Starmer, which sort of kicked off my relationship with Labour.
It seems like this is becoming the forefront of what you actually do – have you found that it’s more of a calling for you? Being, essentially, the voice for the voiceless?
I think when you perceive injustice or wrongs – areas where things have been forgotten about; areas where humans or animals don’t have a voice – then there is something very rewarding about bringing that to the fore. I hadn’t realised how much my politics degree had helped when I’m having meetings with people in parliament and things like that. Perhaps I’ve got a little less hot-headed – well, that depends who I’m with. I don’t massively like dealing with Tories, but I don’t mind dealing with people from Labour.
I think doing good in any capacity is important in our lives, otherwise we are spending a lot of time navel-gazing. Particularly the jobs that I do, in music, are very much centred around the fact that I’m a solo artist: it’s my name, so it’s very much all about me. That can get quite boring if I’m honest, and I don’t think it’s that healthy. So, for all those reasons, I have been doing this for quite a long time, but this has become more focused in a parliamentary, social, political kind of way.
It really is shocking; clearly, most people don’t realise this is still going on.
We harvest their [beagles’] blood. They are stuck in there now just being drained of blood for all of their life. That can be seven years, but there’s no timeline on how many times they can be bred, like there is for domestic dogs. I said to one minister, “If you torture them without medication, and literally drain them of their blood, why not do it for two years rather than seven years – their whole life?” And that got met with nothing.
The alternative testing methods are readily available; I assume the reason they’re not being used is down to costs, and ‘we’ve always done it like this so this is how we are doing it’. So what is the next step?
Yes, that’s it, it’s costs. The budget for development and science is colossal, and non-animal testing methods get 0.02% of that, even though that industry is growing at 700% a year, which is quite remarkable. Even companies like Pfizer and AstraZeneca stood up at a world conference in Toronto three months ago and both of their representatives said “We don’t actually want to test on dogs; we don’t need to”. The laws need to be changed – it’s bureaucracy, tied into funding for a lot of universities and the need to educate younger students. We’ve seen it with cosmetics: they passed the law, no testing on animals for cosmetics, and that was it, it’s all been fine.
Would you consider going into politics on a more full-time basis?
I’m a bit too free with my mouth to be doing that. I’d get into trouble. I would just tell someone to fuck off.
When your petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it goes to Parliament – what’s the time scale from thereon?
Well, I hope it reaches the 100. This is why I’m doing all these interviews. People don’t like cruelty, but maybe don’t have the bandwidth to think about it. So if the petition gets to 100,000, which will only be if people sign and share it, then it can be debated in Parliament, and I’ve already got things in place for that to be debated.
But also, what that petition is allowing is for me to talk about it and gain awareness, and that’s just as important and knowledge, as I think we need to know that this goes on in this country, because as you say, we started off this conversation, people think this doesn’t happen. At least it’s my duty to let people know that it still happens.
Find Will Young’s petition, ‘Ban the use of dogs for testing and research purposes in the UK’, here
words ANTONIA LEVAY