Leading article: Militants meet their match

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The Independent Online

On Saturday, a 16-year old student, Laurie Pycroft, who had marshalled support via the internet, and two Oxford professors led a counter-demonstration of townspeople, academics and students past the site of a controversial new research centre. They outnumbered the animal rights protesters three to one.

Given the record of the Animal Liberation Front, this was a brave thing to do. But the point being made by the new group, which calls itself Pro-Test, is incontestable. It is that experiments on animals have facilitated revolutionary medical breakthroughs in the past - such as penicillin - and will do so in the future, too. Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease are among the conditions to be researched at the new Oxford centre.

This newspaper has long complained that animals are still used too often in testing - for cosmetics, for instance - where other methods would be adequate. We have also argued that all primates should be included in the 1986 ban on vivisection that applies to chimpanzees. But we also recognise that sometimes there is no alternative.

The animal rights militants have had their way for too long. It is high time there was a cool-headed public discussion about the use of animals in medical research. By daring to demonstrate, Pro-Test has brought that day closer.