Julia Stephenson: Green Goddess

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Although the public have seen through the subterfuges put out by the Government and made up their own minds about issues like the Iraq war and GM crops, when it comes to animal testing the majority of people still buy the party line that it's necessary for human health to test drugs on animals - despite growing evidence to the contrary. How I wish British fair-mindedness and free debate could be applied to this issue as well. It's vital that the subject is properly debated because the EU is poised to pass devastating legislation.

Since 1981, all chemicals have been tested on animals as a precaution for human health. However, all the chemicals in existence before this date have not yet been tested for human safety. The legislation being debated is called REACH (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals) and backs proposals to test these chemicals on animals - a process that will take at least 30 years and involve 50 million animals rather than just three years using non-animal methods.

There is a need to properly identify chemicals that pose a threat to human health, but testing on animals is flawed. Testing on animals slows down medical progress because it tells us about animals, not people. Animals react differently to many substances.

Eighty Aids vaccines worked in monkeys but all have failed in humans. Hundreds of stroke treatments work in animals but not one is successful for patients. And let's not forget the catastrophic clinical trial that left six volunteers fighting for their lives. They were given the new drug TGN1412 because it was shown to be safe in monkeys.

The painkiller Vioxx was shown to be good for the heart in animal tests but is thought to have caused 320,000 heart attacks and strokes (up to 140,000 of them fatal) - the biggest drug disaster in history. The devastating effects of these drugs could have been revealed in tests on human tissue. Yet these sophisticated tests are not required in order to license a drug, while animal tests are.

Fortunately, doctors and politicians are joining the debate and demanding a thorough evaluation of animal testing. Europeans for Medical Progress, an independent patient safety group, is calling for an evaluation of the effectiveness of animal tests. They are in good company: 83 per cent of GPs plus a majority of back-bench MPs support the idea. Today is the last day MPs can sign Early Day Motion 92, so I hope some of them are reading this.

Twenty per cent of the animal testing business is likely to come to the UK. Please join me in fighting for a thorough evaluation - this is no longer just an animal rights issue, it affects all of us, too.

To register your concern send a short, polite letter to the Minister of State for the Environment, Lord Rooker, at: Defra, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR. www.buav.org; www.curedisease.net

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