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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 April 2006, 23:23 GMT 00:23 UK
Animal research petition launched
By Rebecca Morelle
BBC News science reporter

Guinea pig (RDS)
People can sign up to the online petition anonymously
An online petition has been launched allowing the UK public to back medical research using animals.

The Coalition for Medical Progress, which includes drug companies and research agencies, started it at the suggestion of a member of the public.

It says the petition will give voice to the "silent majority" who accept the need for animal studies.

Anti-vivisectionists said it was misguided and would fail, accusing the media of sanitising animal experiments.

Desecrated grave

David Taylor is the man who dreamt up the new campaign.

He said recent events surrounding animal rights extremism, including the theft of the remains of Gladys Hammond, a relative of the owners of the Darley Oaks guinea pig farm, had prompted his idea.

"It made me think, 'How could this kind of thing be going on? Where was our resistance to it? Was there anyway we could register our support?'

"I wanted some way to be able to say 'I support the work of medical researchers, I think it should happen in this country, I think it is valuable, and I think that people who do it should be able to do their work and live without fear'."

Only a small handful of doctors will talk about animal research in public because of the threats against us
Professor John Martin, UCL
Mr Taylor, who has no links to medical research, took his idea to the Coalition for Medical Progress (CMP), an organisation that puts forward the case for using animals in medical research.

The People's Petition encourages the public to sign up to three statements concerning animal research. They are:

  • Medical research is essential for developing safe and effective medical and veterinary treatments, requiring some studies using animals
  • Where there is no alternative available, medical research using animals should continue in the UK
  • People involved in medical research using animals have a right to work and live without fear of intimidation or attack.
People can give their support anonymously. The website records their e-mail and internet protocol addresses to avoid multiple sign-ups, but does not publish them.

Contrasting visions

Jo Tanner, chief executive of CMP, said a recent Mori public opinion poll commissioned by the organisation showed 75% of Great Britain's population could accept animal experimentation as long as it was for medical purposes.

She hopes the new initiative will give a voice to what she calls a "silent majority".

Desecrated grave of Gladys Hammond (Staffordshire Police/PA)
The events surrounding Darley Oaks prompted the idea
John Martin, a British Heart Foundation professor of cardiovascular medicine at University College London, has in the past spoken publicly on his research using animals; and he added his support to the latest campaign.

"It has been fairly lonely for the last 15 years - only a small handful of doctors will talk about animal research in public because of the threats against us. We have had to confront, publicly and privately, a lot of intimidation to do with our research.

"I'm delighted with this initiative, whereby the public have its awareness raised, and is given a mechanism whereby it can say something in support."

But Alistair Currie, campaigns director at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, criticised the petition.

"Although the Coalition for Medical Progress has launched an (anonymous!) petition claiming to be the voice of the 'silent majority', we believe that if people could see the real suffering that goes on inside UK laboratories - instead of the sanitised version that usually gets broadcast by the media - the real majority would be those in opposition to animal testing.

"In fact other polls clearly support this - for instance, a 2003 poll found that 76% of people think that the government should, as a matter of principle, prohibit experiments on any live animals which cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm."

The founder of the petition explains why he set up the site

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