The cosmologist, who suffers from motor neurone disease and is confined to a wheelchair, also launched an outspoken attack on animal-rights extremists who use violence and intimidation against scientific organisations.
Professor Hawking said: "I think the fuss over the use of animals in medical research is ridiculous. Why is it worse to use animal experiments to save lives than to eat them, which the majority of the population are happy to do? I suspect that extremists turn to animal rights from a lack of the more worthwhile causes of the past, like nuclear disarmament."
The Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University timed his words to coincide with a debate last night on animal experiments at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Cardiff, where scientists and anti-vivisectionists clashed over the use of animals in research. The meeting came as more than 500 animal rights activists faced police in riot gear during a protest at a farm in Oxfordshire that breeds disease-free cats for research purposes.
Professor Colin Blakemore, an Oxford physiologist and outgoing president of the BA, who has been subjected to a sustained campaign by animal extremists, said experiments are still vital to progress in clinical research.
His arrival at yesterday's meeting was disrupted by the demonstration at Hill Grove Farm, which is near his Oxfordshire home.Reuse content