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A BETRAYAL OF PEOPLE AS WELL AS ANIMALS
Posted 21 November 2003
Statement by Animal Aid Director, Andrew Tyler:
John Prescott's decision to approve the proposed Cambridge primate centre is grotesque and astounding given that the government official who presided over the public inquiry at the end of last year was clear that permission should not be granted.
Despite having been given permission, Cambridge would be foolhardy to go ahead, given its massive annual financial deficit and the growing opposition to the project both within and outside the university.
Before the public inquiry even began, Tony Blair declared in a May 2002 speech to the Royal Society that the centre had to go ahead. This is despite clear public opposition to experiments on monkeys (see Editors' Notes). Even more ardent in his public support was Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury, a man with a sizeable financial stake in the biotech industry, a multi-million pound donor to the Labour party and a Cambridge University graduate. So much for an impartial process! No amount of Labour spin can conceal the fact that the Deputy Prime Minster's mind had already been made up for him by his boss and by his Party's principal sugar daddy.
Proponents of the monkey labs have sought to characterise opposition as being rooted in mere sentiment and/or extremism. In reality, the arguments advanced by opponents at the Public Inquiry were almost entirely based on scientific evidence. This pointed to the serious problems arising from using primates as 'models' for human neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's. Gratifyingly, the government inspector ruled that the university failed, at the inquiry, to make the scientific case for the new centre.
Detailed written and oral evidence was provided on behalf of Animal Aid and the National Anti-Vivisection Society by physician and former animal experimenter, Dr Ray Greek. Further evidence was given by other expert scientists and by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.
Dr Greek demonstrated that primate brain experiments actually hinder research into human neurological disorders. For example, countless treatments for stroke have been developed in monkeys and other animals - yet all of them have failed or even harmed patients in clinical trials. Equally, it is palpable nonsense to argue that a disease such as Alzheimer's - characterised by loss of intellectual powers including those of speech and cogent thought - can be 'modelled' by damaging the brains of marmosets.
Meanwhile, excellent research on human brains, both living and post-mortem - such as that conducted at the Cambridge Brain Bank Laboratory and Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre - goes unrecognised and underfunded.
The decision to approve the monkey research centre - the biggest in Europe - has nothing to do with medical necessity and everything to do with enlarging Cambridge's already over-stretched 'biotech cluster', so favoured by Lord Sainsbury. In other words, the decision was driven by business considerations.
Biotech clusters will generate financial and intellectual support for spin-off companies with links to the University. Experience demonstrates that new drugs for neurological disorders will be developed and tested in monkeys in the new centre, only to fail in human trials. The centre will eventually be recognised for the enormous white elephant that it is - a foolish and expensive monument to the past.
A parliamentary Early Day Motion (No. 1307) tabled in June, calling for the government to ban all primate research because of the suffering involved and because of 'important biological differences between people and primates', has been signed by 131 MPs.
Notes to Editors
The UK is the largest user of primates in experiments in the European Union. In 2002, 3977 experiments using 3173 monkeys were conducted in the UK alone.
52% of respondents to an Animal Aid-commissioned NOP poll said experiments on primates are morally unacceptable. Only 40% said they are acceptable - the remainder fell into the 'don't know' or 'refused' category. When asked whether they believe that results from primate experiments can be reliably applied to people, 43% said they can not, whilst 44% said they can. Amongst the younger age groups, a clear majority regards such tests as scientifically unreliable. The polls were conducted in April.
Opponents of primate research include Sir David Attenborough, Dr Jane Goodall and Dr Charlotte Uhlenbroek.
For more information contact Andrew Tyler or Claudia Tarry on 01732 364546.
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For background information see our Cambridge campaign index.