Lord Philip Hunt, Great Britain’s Health Minister, gave a speech this week to the Association of Medical Research Charities in which he outlined the Labor government’s policy on animal research. Hunt said,
Of course, animals should only be used in experiments where there is no alternative. But it is also clear that properly regulated animal research is absolutely essential to the discovery of new treatments, as well as to the assessment of the safety and efficacy of medicines. That is why we have strengthened the law that protects all involved in research — in the private, public and charitable sectors — to ensure that this vital work can continue.
Hunt repeated previous government statements that the sort of situation that occurred with Huntingdon Life Sciences would not happen again. According to Hunt,
The Government endorses the right to democratic protest. Equally, we condemn the violent intimidation that has taken place, and have introduced strong measures against harassment of people involved with animal research.
Predictably, animal rights groups attacked the speech. According to Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler, the speech was “part of a rather sordid and unconvincing propaganda offensive from the Government, because the argument for animal testing is slipping away from them.”
Michelle Thew of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection complained that, “There is a policy vacuum within the government — no vision, no strategy, no radical agenda for reform and no recognition to reflect the considerable and growing public concern about animal experiments.”
Jan Creamer of the National Anti-vivisection Society chimed in by claiming that “Every time the government has issued licenses to use animal testing, we have been able to find an alternative method.”
Of course, Reuters summed up the reality of the situation noting that,
Currently, most scientists believe that tests in animals are still the best way to study disease or to gauge the effectiveness of treatments before they are tried in humans.
And in most cases they are not just the best way but rather than only realistic way to test.
Animal research essential, UK government says. Manfreda Cavazza, Reuters Health, April 16, 2002.
Minister defends animal experiments. The BBC, April 16, 2002.