UK warns Europe on animal activism

January 13, 2006

The UK biomedical research community warned this week that animal rights extremism was no longer solely a British problem and should not be ignored in other European countries.

Last year, the UK Government cracked down on animal rights extremists with tough legislation and a renewed effort on policing.

As a result, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said this week that although the problem had not gone away, the ABPI had witnessed a decline in the number of threatening visits to the homes of people associated with animal research in the past eight months.

But key figures in the science community urged European countries, many of which shy away from publishing figures about attacks, to learn from the UK.

One scientist, who asked not to be named, said: "UK academics should say to colleagues in other countries: 'Are you sure and comfortable that what is happening in the UK isn't happening in your country? Look, and you might be unpleasantly surprised.'"

The scientist added: "We didn't manage to convince the Government that there was a problem until we collated the figures. At the moment, many European countries won't do this - they see it as a UK problem."

Simon Festing, executive director of the Research Defence Society campaign group, said: "The police are saying they are getting requests from European Union countries for advice on how to deal with attacks."

He added: "It requires co-ordination and, often, changes in the law. We will have to play a cat-and-mouse game, which will mean making sure there is a good awareness of the problem."

A spokesperson for the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations said: "We are studying the situation. There is a threat, but we don't think they have reached us yet. At the moment, I would say it remains a UK exception."

The US was hit hard when high-profile animal research company Huntingdon Life Sciences moved from the UK to New Jersey, taking hardline animal rights groups such as Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty with them.

A spokesperson for the US-based Foundation for Biomedical Research said:

"They have become very active and destructive - perhaps recently even more so than they were in the UK.

"Extremists are very vigilant in targeting universities in the US. They are extremely nasty and dangerous.

"A research facility was burnt down in Iowa, and the University of Wisconsin is an ongoing target, but virtually every university is at risk."

anna.fazackerley@thes.co.uk

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