The Animal Rights Militia has threatened to kill ten researchers if animal rights activist Barry Horne, on hunger strike demanding a Royal Commission on animal experimentation, dies. As The THES went to press Mr Horne was still alive.
"Everyone is scared to death," said Oxford scientist Colin Blakemore this week as a siege mentality took hold among academics and researchers who conduct experiments on animals.
Professor Blakemore, former president of the British Association who has consistently spoken out for experiments on animals, is one of two named academics on the death list. He has endured threats and attacks, including letterbombs, on himself and his family for many years. He spoke of the effect this had on scientists: "People are saying to me they wish they could talk out, but they have young children or their department does not think it wise."
He spoke of the terrible position this put individual researchers in. "I don't understand why organisations that represent medical research are not responding. All these organisations have made statements of principle. But this is too big an issue for them not to be pro-active. For individual scientists to carry the burden is outrageous."
He also spoke of the importance of vivisection. "Without animals medical research would simply stop. Literally no advances in medicine would be possible without animal research."
Last year 2.6 million animal experiments were started in the UK - a third of these in universities or medical schools, with a further 20 per cent in hospitals or public health laboratories. Professor Blakemore fears the government is in danger of making animal experimentation even more restrictive and the process of getting a licence harder still. "The effect on research would be catastrophic. It would drive biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies abroad and make it impossible for biology to continue."
Stephen Cox, executive secretary of the Royal Society, said the organisation had not spoken out publicly over the Horne case and the issues it has raised. However, he added: "We deplore any attempt outside the law to impede legitimate biomedical and scientific research." The society's approach was "responsible, appropriate and measured".
The Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the British Medical Association have yet to take a pro-active stance since the issue flared, though spokesmen for the MRC and the Wellcome Trust said they deplored any attacks to the public. Both have consistently sought to explain the need to experiment on animals.
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