Huntingdon faces US test

Huntingdon Life Sciences, the animal testing group which faces losing its UK licence following a Home Office investigation into animal cruelty, will come under new pressure in the US on Monday.

A Virginian court is to rule whether Peta, an animal rights group, can show footage of animal cruelty at Huntingdon to the US Department of Agriculture, the media and the public. The Department is responsible for deciding whether a company is fit to conduct animal experiments.

The US represents more than one-fifth of Huntingdon's sales. Ingrid Newkirk, president of Peta said: "We are fighting tooth and nail for the right to show what was done to animals inside Huntingdon's New Jersey lab." Huntingdon, which was the subject of a disturbing Channel 4 documentary in March showing beagles being punched and shaken at its UK labs, had obtained a court order preventing Peta from showing video footage shot in the US.

Christopher Cliffe, Huntingdon's chief executive, said that he was confident the group would continue trading in the US. "The USDA inspected us in April and again in May. We have a clean bill of health."

Dealings in Huntingdon's shares were suspended yesterday. The company has until November to meet 16 stringent conditions imposed by the Home Office before it can apply for a new licence. Mr Cliffe said the company had already met many of the demands. "We are confident we can complete all the necessary changes.''

Several of Huntingdon's customers said that they would wait to see if the company was successful in re-applying for its licence before awarding new business. A spokesman for Novartis said: "We won't be placing any new studies with them and we will be monitoring existing studies more carefully."

Merck, the US drugs giant confirmed that the company did use Huntingdon in the UK and had not yet decided whether to commission any new contracts.

SmithKline Beecham said: "Our confidence in them has been completely dented. We won't be giving them any further work."

Zeneca said that the group "is no longer on our list of options" until it improved its standards.