Animal Aid

ANIMALS AND THE GENERAL ELECTION

Posted 1 March 2001

Animal rights is at the very top of the national news agenda - with the hunting bill and Huntingdon Life Sciences' financial dramas. On the last issue, the government's performance has been especially crude and dishonest. Determined to defend the money-spinning pharmaceutical/biotech industries, Blair's government has taken on the role of chief champion of beleaguered HLS; the same morally, scientifically and financially bankrupt company that had its operating licence taken away - by the government itself - following a 1997 Channel 4 exposé.

HLS is once more the subject of devastating revelations (see www.xenodiaries.org). They relate to organ transplant experiments on genetically engineered pigs and monkeys - work commissioned by the recently-defunct Cambridge biotech firm, Imutran. Uncaged Campaigns had asked a High Court judge to overturn a temporary gagging order awarded to Imutran in respect of a huge cache of the company's internal documents that exposed the suffering and incompetence at the heart of the organ transplant research.

But on January 11, the judge refused, saying the public doesn't need to see the leaked material. It can trust the Home Office to do what's necessary. Uncaged are now considering an appeal and contemplating the possibility of a huge financial penalty in the form of legal costs. The judicial and legislative branches are supposed to be separate. But how much of a cue did the judge take from the Home Office's earlier decision to dismiss out of hand the compelling dossier presented to them by Uncaged? Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien not only refused an independent inquiry, he has refused even to stage a special departmental investigation into the damning evidence. Instead there will be a 'routine assessment' by his tainted Inspectorate.

O'Brien's decision is a significant betrayal of laboratory animals and of all those who act on their behalf. It will not be forgotten. Nor will the lies and slanders mouthed against animal advocates by various government ministers during the heat of the HLS loan battle. These betrayals will be especially uppermost in people's minds as we approach a general election, out of which Labour is hoping for a good second term majority.

The government probably thinks that, whatever it does, it has the animal vote in the bag, given that the only alternatives (in England, at least) are William Hague - no friend of animals - or a 'wasted' vote on the Lib Dems, or on The Greens. That would be a serious misjudgement. When it comes to welfare/rights policy, there is plenty to commend the Lib Dems, not least its inexhaustible welfare spokesman Norman Baker. Green Party policy on animals is in another league altogether; far and away the most animal-friendly of any national party. It could be argued that the Greens should be rewarded, and thereby strengthened, for coming this far.

Traditional Labour voters also have the option of not turning out for their party. That depends how sickened or encouraged they feel by its record to date. Plusses include: leading the fight in the European Union to achieve 'sentient being' status for animals, and passing an act to ban fur farming. Failures include the refusal to stage a Royal Commission into vivisection (a pre-election promise); doing nothing meaningful to end live exports; and nothing to curb the accelerating use in laboratories of genetically engineered animals.

In prospect is something less than a complete ban on hunting with dogs, despite the clearly established wishes of the public and the majority of MPs.

Also in prospect are new anti-democratic measures relating to animal rights demonstrations and a 'fast track' approach to the approval of new vivisection projects - courtesy of Science Minister Lord Sainsbury. Here is a man with a stake in biotechnology, a seat on every key government biomedical regulatory body, and who recently made a gift of £2 million to his party. Who in the government is going to tell him 'No!'

How do we vote? It's not for Animal Aid to get partisan at a time like this. What we can say is: every party must be held to account, whatever its record or public pronouncements. Animal advocates are a powerful and numerous lobby. Let the politicians know we demand to be taken seriously.

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