Mob rule is no way to protect animal rights

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The Independent Online

The decision by the Montpellier Group to pull out of a contract with Oxford University to build an animal research centre represents an unwelcome victory for those who would use intimidation and violence, rather than democratic debate, to achieve their goals.

The decision by the Montpellier Group to pull out of a contract with Oxford University to build an animal research centre represents an unwelcome victory for those who would use intimidation and violence, rather than democratic debate, to achieve their goals.

Animal rights activists are entitled to protest against such research centres. Indeed, The Independent has long been opposed to vivisection on primates. Although this would not have been the primary function of the Oxford centre, it would certainly have been carried out there. The physiological similarities between primates and humans are such that live experiments on these creatures are abhorrent. Vivisection on chimpanzees has been prohibited since 1986; it is time to do the same for all primates.

It is not just experimentation on primates that is a concern. A good deal of animal research is unnecessary, and technological developments will eventually, we hope, make it obsolete. But in some instances, there are no viable alternatives at present - and it is worth bearing in mind that the aim of this research is to alleviate the suffering of human beings. The Oxford centre was intending to conduct research into leukaemia and Alzheimer's disease.

Animal rights activists may have a just cause, but they do not have a right to intimidate and attack innocent people. A handful of fanatics are resorting to common thuggery, spreading fear and eroding sympathy for their cause.

And the signs are that these particular bullies are getting bolder. They succeeded in preventing a similar research centre being built in Cambridge earlier this year, and this latest victory underlines the lengths they are prepared to go. It is time for the Government to back its words with deeds and show it is prepared to confront these bullies. Scientists, company directors and shareholders alike need greater protection, while guarantees should be given to companies who undertake to construct such research centres. This may take the form of protection for managers and, if the market will not provide it, insurance. The alternative is mob rule.

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