The government is unlikely to introduce a single piece of legislation to curb animal rights extremists despite figures showing an alarming increase in attacks on pharmaceutical industry staff.
Lord Sainsbury, the science minister, has told the House of Commons science and technology committee that the government is not in favour of implementing a new act, similar to the Football Disorder Act, because it would take too long to implement.
But Lord Sainsbury said that the government was seeking to alter existing legislation to deal with animal rights activism. Exactly what legislation would be amended remains unclear.
The news was greeted with dismay by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, which said this week that attacks on its members by animal rights activists had increased dramatically.
A spokesperson for the organisation warned that tinkering with existing legislation would not be enough to control the problem.
According to new Abpi data from the first three months of 2004, 32 company directors received visits at home from extremists, compared with ten last year, and instances of damage to property doubled.
An Abpi spokesperson said: "In total, 54 of our members (including ordinary staff) were visited at home. Nine times out of ten this involved shouting or screaming abuse, or letting off fireworks, often at three o'clock in the morning."
At the launch of a new government centre for research into alternatives to animal research last week, Lord Sainsbury underlined the need for more research on animals and took a firm line on animal rights extremism.
He said: "We are very clear that this is completely unacceptable behaviour."
The new national centre will fund research into the "3Rs" - the replacement, refinement and reduction of animal experiments.
It will have an initial budget of £660,000 but this is likely to increase if there is sufficient interest from academics.
Lord Sainsbury said the centre's ultimate aim would be to replace the use of animals where possible, although it would also look at ways of minimising the suffering of laboratory animals where their use remained essential.
But anti-vivisection groups, hoping for a centre focusing solely on ways of eradicating animal testing, have denounced the centre as inadequate.
Wendy Higgins, campaigns director at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said: "There appears to be nothing new or radical on offer and nothing to signal the necessary sea-change in attitude from this government needed to truly elevate non-animal research to a priority status."
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