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MINISTER BACKS ANIMAL TESTING - Fury over green belt lab
Posted 1 November 2001
This article appeared in the Observer, Sunday 4th November 2001. Animal Aid is campaigning against Cambridge University's plan to build a huge new lab for carrying out experiments on monkeys.
Science Minister Lord Sainsbury has triggered a row after giving strong support to highly controversial plans to build a massive new animal-testing laboratory in the middle of green-belt land.
The proposals by Cambridge University to build the multimillion-pound centre near the village of Girton, north of Cambridge, were unanimously rejected by the local authority earlier this year. But in a letter written by Lord Sainsbury, and seen by The Observer, the Minister has given full backing to the project, which he describes as 'nationally important'.
Lord Sainsbury's letter to Sir Alec Broers, vice-chancellor of Cambridge, states: 'The UK has world-class neuroscience and this centre would consolidate the UK's position as a global leader in neuroscience... Centres of this kind are key to translating government policies into reality.'
The Minister's intervention has been fiercely attacked by both environmental and animal rights' campaigners. They accuse him of going against the Government's policy on protecting green-belt land, as well as supporting an animal-research centre that will see hundreds of monkeys killed a year in medical experiments.
Kathy Archibald, science researcher at Animal Aid, said:
'The use of primates for medical research is simply unacceptable. They are very bad models and mislead researchers. Labour had always promised to cut back on using monkeys in such experiments, but Lord Sainsbury's interventions suggest they have made a complete U-turn on policy.'
Cambridge University claims that research at the neuroscience laboratory will be a crucial part of work to develop treatments for strokes, and Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases.
A spokeswoman for Cambridge University said: 'Studying health and disease in animals is sometimes the only way to answer critical questions in medical research and has led to the development of effective treatments for conditions such as whooping cough, polio, asthma and leukaemia.'
Planning expert Anthony Keen, who was commissioned to do a report on the university's proposals by the animal rights group Animal Aid, believes that, irrespective of animal rights' issues, the proposals run contrary to government green belt policy.
'They want to build something the size of three superstores on green belt land. It is totally inappropriate and in serious conflict with the Government's green belt policy. I think it is highly unusual for one Minister to intervene like this.'
Cambridge University does admit that its new centre will affect green belt land, but a spokeswoman claims the laboratory will be built on land where older buildings already stand.
Local councillors and residents fear that the proposed laboratory would be subject to violent protests similar to those against nearby Huntingdon Life Sciences.
John Reynolds, a local county councillor, says the laboratory would attract animal rights protesters, lead to an increase in traffic and crime in the area, and put an extra drain on police resources.
Animal rights activists claim hundreds of monkeys will be deliberately brain-damaged with chemicals or surgery and then set a series of tasks to test how it affects them. Most of the monkeys are then killed.
A spokesman from the Department of Trade and Industry said: 'Lord Sainsbury's letter does not comment on where the laboratory should be located, the letter states the location of the centre is a matter for the university and planning authorities.'