Existing law on animal use must be enforced

December 15, 2000

The British statute book contains many laws to protect people and businesses. There are even some to protect animals. Now there is pressure for new legislation to guarantee the safety of people who produce and use animals in scientific experiments.

But no such legislation will address the central problem that public acceptance of animal experiments is falling. Investors have been selling their shares in Huntingdon Life Sciences, the animal producer that campaigners are fighting to shut down, because of shareholder and customer unease. This is more damaging than placard-wavers at the gates.

Instead of new laws, supporters of animal experimentation in universities and industry should concentrate on ensuring that existing ones are obeyed. This is a matter for police forces and prosecutors rather than for legislators. And they should back away from any idea that research using animals can be carried out in secret or that the shareholders in animal companies can be anonymous. More effective police and Crown Prosecution Service back-up for lawful animal use would allow the users to engage in public debate with less fear.

Since part of the future success of British universities, and of the pharmaceutical industry, a high point of the UK economy, depends on animal use, these are arguments that have to be won, not legislated away. The fact that "not tested on animals" has turned into a boast used in marketing suggests that, so far, the message is not getting across.

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