Oxford to build animal facility

February 6, 2004

Oxford University confirmed this week that it is building a facility for laboratory animals, underlining determination in the science community that animal research will continue despite protests by animal-rights groups.

Oxford's move follows the announcement by Cambridge University last week that it was abandoning its plans to build a primate research centre. Its decision was described by some as a victory for the animal-rights lobby.

The science community is now campaigning hard for a law specifically aimed at controlling threatening behaviour by anti-vivisectionists.

Planning permission for the Oxford facility has already been given. It will provide state-of-the-art housing for animals, including primates. Unlike the proposed Cambridge facility, it will not be designed for research.

It will bring together existing animal accommodation from across the university's science departments. Research will continue to be carried out in laboratories across the university.

A spokesperson for Oxford said: "All animals will be accommodated in the highest quality conditions, with the university's veterinary services department on hand to provide care and advice."

She added: "Animals are used in research only when it is essential to do so because no effective alternatives exist."

Cambridge, which was forced to call off plans to build the primate centre when costs escalated from £24 million to £32 million, said it still believed primate research was of significant national importance.

A spokesperson for the university said: "We are exploring other options to take some of the research plans for the proposed centre forward.

"Where there is absolutely no alternative, we will still use animals for research."

The Home Office this week confirmed that it was considering representations from industry calling for a single piece of legislation to tackle animal-rights extremists.

A spokesperson said: "We have taken every opportunity to make it clear that the government believes it is unacceptable for this small minority to attempt to stop individuals and companies going about their legitimate business."

A ministerial committee, chaired by David Blunkett, the home secretary, is looking at how to deal with the problem.

The Home Office said amendments to the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, which came into force on January 20, would provide the police with additional powers to deal with protestors who occupy or invade buildings, as well as making it easier for them to tackle smaller groups that conduct intimidatory protests outside targeted buildings.

But a spokesperson for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said: "This is not enough. It won't prevent the level of intimidation and violence that scientists are subjected to on a regular basis."

Aisling Burnand, chief executive of the Bioindustry Association, said more specific legislation was urgently needed to improve policing and to make it easier to convict animal-rights extremists.

She accused the Crown Prosecution Service of a "woefully inadequate" response to activism.

The proposed new single law would provide courts with powers for restraining animal-rights activists with a criminal record or a history of threatening behaviour. It would allow companies to take legal action against extremists on behalf of their employees.

It would also make it illegal to mount protests outside a scientist's home, which the BIA describes as "thuggery".

But Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and member of the Commons science and technology committee, warned that a single new piece of legislation might be open to criticism from a civil liberties perspective.

He said: "What is really needed is a commitment from the police. New laws don't necessarily do that. There is an unwillingness to provide the policing required."

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