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The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"Welfare groups argue too many animals are used"
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Tuesday, 13 June, 2000, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
Animal testing appeal sparks protest
Animal rights campaigners
Animal rights activists: Scientists' plea is "outrageous"
More than 100 of the UK's most eminent scientists have asked the government to cut the bureaucracy surrounding laboratory experiments on animals.

In an open letter to the Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury, the scientists say that Britain will be overtaken by other countries in vital areas of research unless the burden of paperwork required for regulating animal testing is reduced.

Animal rights campaigners have condemned the scientists, calling them "outrageous and arrogant".

The UK's controls to protect the welfare of laboratory animals are among the toughest in the world.

Mouse injected in an animal experiment
Scientists insist they do not want cruelty rules relaxed
Amongst the authors of the letter are five Nobel Prize winners and an Oxford-based physiologist, Dr Colin Blakemore, who has received death threats from animal rights activists since the 1980s and now lives under police protection.

Red tape

The 110 scientists insist they are not demanding that the rules designed to prevent cruelty should be relaxed.

Instead, they argue that the red tape binding the regulatory system for experiments is causing long delays to research projects.

In the letter to Lord Sainsbury, they say that in the UK it can now take more than six months to obtain approval for a research project using animals, whilst in other countries that permission can be obtained in days.

"Researchers using animals in the UK are already in a situation where overseas competitors can complete a series of experiments and be exploiting the results, before permission to start would be given in the UK," they say.

It appears inevitable that a substantial part of the UK's research effort... will either become uncompetitive or be forced abroad

Letter to Lord Sainsbury

Insisting that research into biotechnology and genetics is increasingly dependent on animal testing, they issued a warning to the government.

"If this situation persists or gets worse, as it has recently, it appears inevitable that a substantial part of the UK's research effort, in many vital areas, will either become uncompetitive or be forced abroad."

They ask Lord Sainsbury to raise the issue with the Home Office, which grants licences for animal experiments.

He has agreed and has offered to meet a delegation from the scientists to discuss the matter further.

Lord Sainsbury said: "We must find a solution that reflects our commitment both to the science community and our duty of care to animals involved in experiments."

"Outrageous and arrogant"

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection was quick to criticise the scientists' call, accusing them of being "outrageous and arrogant" and "out of touch".

No scientist simply has the right to use animals merely as research tools

Michell Thew

They pointed out that the UK is the biggest user of laboratory animals in Europe, and that the number of animal experiments conducted here is on the rise.

They claimed that the legislation protecting animals was actually not tough enough, and was constantly being flouted.

Michelle Thew, chief executive of BUAV, said: "No scientist simply has the right to use animals merely as research tools as and when they wish.

"To call for a reduction in already inadequate safeguards flies in the face of increasing public concern over the use of animals in research at all," she said.

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