Medical research boss in House of Lords bid to silence critics of animal experiments

Posted on the 5th October 2011

The head of the organisation representing medical research charities has exploited his membership of the House of Lords to urge the government to neutralise criticism of the animal research funded by his members.

The Victims of Charity campaign launched in June by Animal Aid exposes appallingly cruel experiments funded by Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, Parkinson’s UK and the Alzheimer’s Society.

The four bodies are members of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), of which Lord Willis of Knaresborough is chairman. In the House of Lords yesterday (October 4), Willis asked Home Office Minister Lord Henley ‘…what steps will he or the Government take on campaigns such as those led by Animal Aid…’ which, he said, ‘could be incredibly dangerous to the health of our research base’.

It is unclear precisely what government action Lord Willis is seeking. At the least, he wants help with his organisation’s lobbying on behalf of the animal research establishment. A more sinister interpretation is that pressure should be brought to bear on Animal Aid to cease its Victims of Charity campaign because it aims to hold AMRC members to account.

The Victims of Charity scientific report describes experiments in which charity-funded researchers deliberately inflicted on animals brain damage, heart attacks and crippling movement disorders. The report also contains a wealth of fully referenced evidence demonstrating that the ‘animal models’ so central to the strategy of Lord Willis’s members are, in fact, scientifically invalid, and a barrier to medical progress.

In recent months, Animal Aid has brought these issues to public attention through dramatic national newspaper ads and dozens of central London billboards. In response, AMRC has kept a low profile, hoping to avoid what would be, for its members, damaging public exposure.

An NOP poll commissioned last month by Animal Aid shows that people are overwhelmingly opposed to their donations being used for vivisection. Eighty-two per cent of respondents would not ‘knowingly donate to a medical research or health charity that funds experiments on animals’.

Says Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler:

‘Lord Willis has shamelessly exploited his privileged position as a peer to seek to stifle legitimate criticism of cruel and medically worthless animal experiments that are funded by members of the organisation of which he is chairman. In contrast to the secrecy he favours, we would greatly welcome further open debate on this issue, and challenge his Association to an impartially chaired public forum.’

Notes to Editors

In his Question to Home Office minister Lord Henley (see below), Lord Willis claims that Animal Aid argues for new medical devices and products to ‘go straight to human trials’ without any scientific validation. This has never been our position. Animal Aid argues that there is a multitude of high quality non-animal testing and validation methods that can and should be employed (examples can be found here).

Lord Willis: I thank the Minister for that helpful reply and in so doing declare an interest as the chairman of the Association of Medical Research Charities, whose members contribute over £1 billion a year to UK medical research. I wonder whether my noble friend agrees that if the UK wishes to remain a world leader in health and medical research, it requires its scientists to have access to good animal models that are well regulated and well cared for. If he agrees, what steps will he or the Government take on campaigns such as those led by Animal Aid, which tend to persuade the public that you can go straight to human trials rather than trial new devices and products through using animals? That is quite wrong and could be incredibly dangerous to the health of our research base.


More information

  • Contact Andrew Tyler: 01732 364 546. Out of hours: 07918 083774.
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