Two university academics whose scientific research includes animal experiments this week found themselves top of an Animal Rights Militia death-list should Barry Horne, the convicted animal rights arsonist on hunger strike, die.
They, along with Research Defence Society director Mark Matfield, are in this exposed position because they have been brave enough to defend publicly the use of animals in research by about 14,000 licence-holding scientists working in universities, institutes, government laboratories and pharmaceutical companies.
When Salman Rushdie was threatened with assassination for alleged blasphemy the great and good rallied in his defence. Where is the equivalent public support by scientists for colleagues whose work concerns life-saving medical therapies? Funding bodies such as the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, the Royal Society and the British Medical Association issue general statements of principle on using animals in research, but individual practitioners are left to mount their own defence,thereby making themselves targets.
The leaders of these institutions should be defending their colleagues. If the use of animals is stopped, medical research will be pushed abroad, where animals may not be treated as well and experiments not so scrupulously monitored; the UK will lose its position as a leading medical research nation; and UK citizens will be denied access to leading-edge treatments.
If animal activists are serious about reducing misery and harm they would do better to concentrate more on industries that feed healthy animals antibiotics to make them grow faster, and less on people who use animals sparingly for better reasons. Last year 1.9 million animal experiments were started for "fundamental biological research, or applied studies in human medicine or dentistry, or veterinary medicine". This Christmas Sainsburys' alone expects to sell 1.5 million turkeys - animals bred and fattened to be killed and eaten.