Government to keep animal testing secret

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Laboratories doing experiments on animals are toreceive an official exemptionto keep details of their worksecret.

Laboratories doing experiments on animals are toreceive an official exemptionto keep details of their worksecret.

Information about tests on new drugs and medical procedures will be withheld, even after the Freedom of Information Act becomes law, to protect laboratory workers from attacks by animal rights activists. Ministerial sources said yesterday that "protecting the personal security of scientists will be paramount".

The move follows hints from ministers that they may be prepared to use anti-terrorist information against activists who are violent towards scientists testing on animals.

But animal welfare groups fear that the Government is using threats from extremists as a "smokescreen" to withhold information about animal tests.

The decision not to disclose details follows a wave of protests outside laboratories such as Huntingdon Life Sciences in Cambridgeshire. The Home Secretary condemned the protesters, who firebombed cars of of laboratory workers and sent them threatening letters, and signalled a crackdown on such actions.

A government source said that ministers feared networks of animal rights protesters prepared to resort to violence could use the Freedom of Information Act to "intimidate or attack" scientists. Information about tests done on animals, including the number of procedures conducted by companies, is currently secret. But laboratories must apply for licences from the Home Office before doing new tests. These licences include details about the purpose of the tests, the number of animals involved and how they will be killed.

The Government wants such information withheld and wants to disguise who is doing the tests.

Ministers are examining laws relating to animal experiments that would be affected by the Freedom of Information Act, which comes into force later this year. The move follows lobbying by laboratories.

Anti-vivisection groups fear that they will be unable to gain access to basic details aboutanimals involved in experiments. They say that panic over intimidation by direct action groups is being used asan excuse for keeping details secret.

"There is currently no information about the numbers of animals used in experiments and the procedures being done, yet this information is in the public interest," said Sarah Kite, of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. "We are not interested in who is doing the experiment or where it is being done. We want to know what is happening to animals in these labs. The Government is using the threat of personal intimidation to hold back information about what is happening in laboratories. But this is in the public interest."

The Home Office said that it was fully aware of the need to protect scientists from intimidation and was currently examining the implications of the Freedom of Information Act on laboratory testing.