Blair's hard line on animal testing will backfire, say campaigners

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Indy Politics

The new, hard-line stance by Tony Blair and big business against animal rights extremists will only increase the threat of violent action, campaigners warn.

Mr Blair's public support for animal testing where necessary prompted Alistair Currie, the campaigns director for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, to say: "This creates a real danger of reinforcing the activities of extremists.''

Although the Government made moves to curb animal testing when it was first elected, since 1998 it had supported the case for testing in scientific research, Mr Currie said. "They cannot simply ignore public concern about testing on animals," he said. "It will only reinforce the desire of some people to take a more extremist line."

Mr Currie, whose organisation opposes extreme action, said the Government should recognise that, while many people did not sympathise with violence and aggression, that did not mean they backed animal testing. "The Government has to develop a strategy to move away from animal testing. Animal experimentation is old-fashioned science - it may have been useful 50 years ago but in the 21st century we have a lot of techniques that we can use instead."

In a move welcomed by the scientific community, Mr Blair said yesterday that he would sign an online petition supporting animal testing to take a stand against "a tiny group of extremists". His intervention came as international financial institutions pledged to stand by the pharmaceuticals group GlaxoSmithKline, 50 of whose shareholders have been targeted by animal rights activists. The extremists sent shareholders letters warning them to sell their shares or have their details made public. GSK is linked to Huntingdon Life Sciences, the animal testing research laboratory which has been the subject of a long campaign by animal campaigners.

The move by institutional investors in GKS, such as ABP Investments and F&C Asset Management, indicates a change of tone among businesses linked to animal testing. Many have preferred to keep quiet or, like Securicor, break any connection for fear of being targeted in some way. The new defiance follows the success of the campaign in support of plans to build a medical research facility aligned with Oxford University; a second pro-testing demonstration is planned for 3 June. The university is seeking an injunction this week to curb the activities of anti-testing groups.

Coincidentally, both Jean-Pierre Garnier, the chief executive of GKS and Andrew Baker, the chairman of HLS, publicly criticised the City and the Government for not standing up to extremists.

In a joint letter from the institutions published in the Financial Times, they said: "While we understand the genuine concerns of animal welfare groups and support moves to reduce, refine and replace the use of animals in medicines research, there is no place for intimidation and violence in this process."

Four animal rights activists were jailed last week for a campaign of intimidation against a family which bred guinea pigs for use in animal experiments.