The fact that the Animal Rights Militia (THES, December 11) allegedly threatened to kill researchers if Barry Horne died on hunger strike should not be used as a pretext to condemn the entire anti-vivisection movement. Most of those who support this movement campaign in a wholly peaceful manner, being opposed to violence against humans and animals alike. For the record, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection unreservedly condemns such threats.
Campaigners against animal experiments are motivated by legitimate concern for the suffering of animals in laboratories, aware that they may, among other things, be poisoned, burnt, blinded or irradiated. The legislation specifically permits the infliction of severe pain on animals, and in 1997 anaesthetic was used in only two-thirds of experiments. Many people are concerned also about the reason for animal experiments, as a large proportion are not for medical research. In 1997 tens of thousands of experiments were carried out to assess the toxicity of pesticides and household products.
With only 18 government inspectors to oversee 2.6 million experiments, it is impossible for them to be scrupulously monitored. Indeed, on each occasion that an undercover investigation into a laboratory has taken place, illegal practices have been found. Effective scrutiny of licence applications does not always take place: one project licence at a contract testing laboratory can cover thousands of experiments.
For many, the moral argument that inflicting pain on defenceless animals is wrong is sufficient reason to oppose vivisection. There is, however, also a wealth of scientific evidence to show that animal experiments may be misleading, telling us a great deal about animals, but not people. For example, the cystic fibrosis mouse, a mouse genetically engineered to have a cell defect similar to that of people with cystic fibrosis, has proved deficient as a model for human cystic fibrosis. Lung infections cause 95 per cent of deaths and disability in human patients, but the transgenic mice (the result of breeding hundreds of animals) showed few signs of airways abnormalities.
As the 21st century approaches, resources should be directed to non-animal alternative methods that frequently prove cheaper, quicker and more effective - as well as save lives.