Apr 16, 2002
By Manfreda Cavazza
LONDON, (Reuters Health)
Animal testing is essential for discovering and testing human medicines, the British government said on Tuesday, sparking anger and disappointment from animal rights groups.
In a speech to the Association of Medical Research Charities in Northampton, Health Minister Lord Philip Hunt for the first time set out in full the government's policy on the use of animals in medical research.
"Of course, animals should only be used in experiments where there is no alternative," he said. "But it is also clear that properly regulated animal research is absolutely essential to the discovery of new treatments, as well as to the assessment of the safety and efficacy of medicines."
"That is why we have strengthened the law that protects all involved in research--in the private, public and charitable sectors--to ensure that this vital work can continue."
Britain's oldest animal laboratory, Huntingdon Life Sciences, has been the target of a determined and sometimes violent campaign by protesters to cut off its funding.
In January it quit the London stock market for the USA where laws protecting shareholders are stronger, prompting the British government to vow it would not allow other firms to be hounded overseas.
"The Government endorses the right to democratic protest," Lord Hunt said on Tuesday. "Equally, we condemn the violent intimidation that has taken place, and have introduced strong measures against harassment of people involved with animal research."
Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid, the largest animal rights group in the UK, condemned the announcement, calling it "part of a rather sordid and unconvincing propaganda offensive from the Government, because the argument for animal testing is slipping away from them."
"Scientists and physicians from France, Italy, Germany and the US are all saying that data obtained from animal testing is not reliable," Tyler said. "Humans act differently to animals. Animal testing is simply not necessary and can even be a danger to public health."
Jan Creamer, director of the National Anti-vivisection Society, also expressed disappointment.
"We are just as in favour of medical research as anyone else. We are people after all. But all we are asking is to give us a chance to challenge the need for animal testing."
"Every time the government has issued licenses to use animal testing, we have been able to find an alternative method," she said.
Currently, most scientists believe that tests in animals are still the
best way to study disease or to gauge the effectiveness of treatments before
they are tried in humans.
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited