More MS news articles for Jan 2002

Scientists criticised for lack of leadership on animal testing

http://www.newscientist.com/

14:10 30 January 02
Gaia Vince

Leading British scientists must educate the public on the importance of animal experimentation to medical research in the face of increasing public support for anti-vivisection, says a committee of the government's House of Lords.

Members of the Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures say scientists have been reluctant to be openly pro-animal testing, and that a new generation of children are growing up hearing only anti-testing views - storing up problems for the future.

"There has been no effective engagement by the science community to put forward the case for testing," said Professor the Lord Smith of Clifton, chair of the committee, on 29 January.

There is a wide gap in opinion between the UK's Royal Society - which maintains that experiments on animals are vital to scientific progress - and anti-animal testing protesters, who want to see a ban on all laboratory animals.

The issue came to a head last year when the government spoke out publicly in defence of Huntingdon Life Sciences, the British drug-testing company beleaguered by protests from animal rights activists.

Change in attitudes

Smith said some scientists may have been afraid to publicly speak on the need for animal testing following attacks on Huntingdon property and staff.

Royal Society members giving evidence to the committee proposed plans to liase with the department of education to better inform schoolchildren about the need for some animal testing.

"There has definitely been a change in the attitudes of young scientists. Undergraduates approaching animal experimentation for the first time don't want to deal with dissections," Patrick Bateson, vice-president of the Royal Society told the committee.

This restricts the vital animal research that can be conducted in the UK, he says.

Developing alternatives

Bateson announced on Tuesday that the Royal Society is considering setting up an institution devoted to investigating and developing alternatives to animal testing - although he stressed that in many cases there are no alternatives.

Such an institution would be funded by research councils, charities and would be the first of its kind in Europe. A similar institution in the US - the John Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing - was set up 20 years ago and has proved very successful, he said.

The committee is expected to conclude its hearings by June 2002. The government then has two months to respond to its recommendations.
 

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