Janet Street-Porter: Animal rights activists are simply thugs

Forget about having a debate with the activists, they don't know the meaning of the word.
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Can someone talk me through the tortured mindset of the animal rights activist? My, oh my, what sophisticated tactics they employ in order to advance their cause! These include digging up the grave of a relative of the part-owner of a farm which bred guinea pigs for medical research and removing the body. Sending letters falsely accusing one of the same establishment's suppliers of being a paedophile. Terrorising a village so completely that the residents seek (and fail to obtain) an exclusion zone of 77 square miles in which protesters would be banned from entering. Attacking laboratory workers and their cars, sending threatening letters, hurling bricks through windows, setting fire to homes and offices and in general creating a climate of utter fear.

Is this truly the way to convert people to your cause? Is this the behaviour of intelligent, concerned folk who wish to engage in a passionate public debate displaying an intense commitment that would win them fresh supporters? No, these people are thugs, pure and simple.

Any civilised person, pet lover or loather, doesn't want to see an animal suffering, just as much as they don't want to see a child starving or a family made homeless as a result of tribal war or famine. But at what point do you cross the line and decide that animals are worth bombing for? Do animal rights campaigners ignore the pictures of malnutrition in Africa or switch off Live8 because they're busily planning their next "liberation" of a bunch of hamsters?

Did they ignore the tsunami appeal because they would prefer to channel their funds into spray cans for desecrating village signs in Stafford (Newchurch became Scumchurch) where a farm bred hamsters for research? Instead of donating to Save the Children or Oxfam, did they post their pounds to the Animal Rights Militia or the Stop the Newchurch Guinea Pigs Campaign? It would be nice to know.

Forget about having a debate with animal rights activists, they don't know the meaning of the word. There's only one way to run the world, and that's their way. Over the past decade, their activities have become clandestine and more violent. They intimidate shareholders, building companies, distinguished universities, eminent scientists. In what they see as a war to the bitter end, the closure of one farm breeding hamsters is seen as a victory, the culmination of a six- year campaign which has seen 460 separate incidents, 60 arrests and a police operation costing millions of pounds.

The publication this week of a letter from the Research Defence Society signed by 500 eminent scientists pledging their support for the use of animals in scientific research will make no difference. Emphasising their commitment to the three Rs, Replacement of the use of animals whereever possible, Refinement of techniques, and Reduction in the number of procedures which use animals, the letter merely underlines the unbridgeable chasm between the two camps.

The scientists say they wish to be more open, to provide more information about the use of animals in research, in the hope that this will foster rational discussion about the way forward. Fat chance! They've got about as much hope of engaging in reasoned conversation with an animal rights activist as persuading Stella McCartney that roast chicken is a great Sunday lunch.

There is no way you can convert these people. They have closed the shutters on the concept of discussion because that involves seeing another person's point of view. In their own way, they are as single minded as suicide bombers.

Most ordinary people buying this newspaper must feel a sense of despair when reading about the antics of animal rights activists. Of course we would like all experiments which use animals to be confined to the unavoidable. They are already conducted under strict guidelines. At the same time, we want a cure for Aids, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and cancer. We all have friends and relatives who are suffering more horribly than any hamster in a laboratory from these modern plagues.

Scientists must be more open about their techniques and procedures. They should be accountable to us all, but at the same time, they should not have to work in fear of their lives. And the police, having set up an Environmental Protest Unit aided by new legislation aimed at stopping economic sabotage (which now incurs a jail term of up to five years), should be far more rigorous in protecting innocent members of the public who either work for, or live near, establishments where animals are either bred for research or scientific work using them goes on.

Campaigners are always talking about the "pain and suffering" that animals used for medical research endure. Each year, about 2.3 million scientific procedures involve the use of animals, roughly the same amount over the past five years, but about half the level of the early 1970s. Cosmetics have not involved animal testing since 1998.

The Nuffield Centre for Bioethics published a report earlier this year which stated that more effort was needed to monitor and assess the welfare of animals used in research. At the same time, we have to accept that until new methods are created, animals are fundamental to work in progress mapping the human genome, studying ways of preventing diseases, investigating how the brain works, and testing new medicines.

Perhaps this is one of those occasions where the Government could appoint a well-respected scientist to act as an independent monitor for all research using animals in the UK. Not to act for the "rights" of animals, but to reassure all of us that experiments using animals are being reduced and policed and every effort is being made to phase them out wherever possible.

A few weeks ago in Paris, Milan, New York and London models tripped up and down catwalks parading the latest fashions. For every hamster that has escaped the scalpel, another hundred weasels, foxes, lynx, badgers, monkeys and squirrels have been turned into trimmings for fur-hungry wealthy women. Turn the pages of any glossy magazine this month and you'll see all the luxury brands paying for expensive ads for alligator bags, ostrich purses and ponyskin boots.

The closure of one small farm in Stafford means nothing in the global balance sheet of animals slaughtered or tampered with by humans - that particular supply of rodents for research has already been replaced anyway. In the end, animals which are used in British laboratories may be imported from abroad and bred in far less stringently controlled environments than at present. And digging up the grave of an innocent granny hasn't stopped one woman wearing fur this winter.