BMJ 2002;324:444 ( 23 February )
Susan Mayor London
A UK patients’ advocate group has attacked anti-vivisection activists, alleging—in a report published last week—that they mislead the public and fail to invest in research designed to find alternatives to animal research.
The report, Anti-vivisection Unmasked, was published by the UK charity Seriously Ill for Medical Research. Its membership includes patients—many of whom are seriously ill with a range of conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis—and their relatives and carers. The charity’s medical panel comprises several leading researchers including Professor Roy Calne and Professor Robert Winston.
The report argued that some anti-vivisection groups use "tactics of deception" designed to manipulate public opinion. These alleged tactics included use of old photographs of unknown origin—some not even of research animals—in their propaganda to imply that these represented conditions in today’s laboratories. They tended to concentrate on species that people feel close to, including cats, dogs, and monkeys.
"Together these make up less than 1% of all research animals," the report said. A key criticism was the lack of expenditure by anti-vivisection groups on funding research into methods of replacing the use of animals in medical research. The report claimed that about £531 000 ($758 800; €871 500) was spent by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, the National Anti-Vivisection Society, and Animal Aid for 1990 to 2000, out of a total income of over £31.2m.
Andrew Blake, founder and director of Seriously Ill for Medical Research, explained the aim of the report: "[It] is about uncovering the truth. Anti-vivisection groups have been getting away with making incredible allegations over the years without ever having their own credentials called to account. At long last, these groups have been brought under public gaze."
Publication of the report followed the decision by South Cambridgeshire District Council on 6 February 2002 to refuse an application from Cambridge University for a neuroscience research laboratory at Girton College, Cambridge. The refusal was based on a warning from the local police that "on the basis of recent experience the proposal will result in protests." They considered that this would result in road blockages and a serious danger to public safety because the location was close to the junction of a busy road.
The councillors had previously refused the application on the grounds that it would cause harm to the "green belt" (area of land protected from development). The latest proposal had been amended to minimise this harm and was accompanied by a letter from the Department of Trade and Industry stating the national importance of the research that would be carried out at the centre. However, the council voted 17 to 4 to refuse the application as a result of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. This states: "It shall be the duty of each authority to do all that it reasonably can to prevent crime and disorder in its area."
A statement from South Cambridgeshire District Council reported that the application had attracted substantial public interest, with more than 2000 letters of objection.
Anti-vivisection Unmasked is available
from Seriously Ill for Medical Research, PO Box 504, Dunstable LU6 2LU
(or email email@example.com).