POST DEBATE: Emotive Issue with No Definite Right or Wrong; John Prescott's Decision Last Week to Over-Ride Planning Laws to Allow a New Medical Research Centre in Cambridge Has Reignited the Debate on the Ethics of Animal Testing. Katherine Courts Looks at the Arguments

Article excerpt

Byline: Katherine Courts

Brian pulls into his drive after a hard day at work when he is attacked by a masked gang wielding baseball bats.

He doesn't know them, they've never met him, and the attack is seemingly unprovoked.

But the attackers are animal rights extremists and Brian is the managing director of medical research facility.

He, like his colleagues, knows the risks but continues his work at the plant. They are as adamant that their work is worthwhile as the extremists are convinced it is cruel.

The increasingly familiar incident is symptomatic of the strong emotions that animal testing provokes.

Paul McCartney, himself a long-time supporter of animal rights was plunged into a quandary over animal testing when it was revealed that the drugs used to prolong his wife Linda's breast cancer had been tested on animals: 'Some of it, I suppose, is absolutely necessary when you come down to the final tests before people,' he said 'I suppose a limited thing is unavoidable, but it's very difficult for me to think like that because I favour the rights of animals.'

Almost three million animals were used in testing in 2002, although the annual number of animals used in testing has halved over the past 30 years. This number now seems to be levelling off.

Last week, Jean-Pierre Garnier, the chief executive of Glaxo-SmithKline, said the company was spending tens of millions of pounds on protecting its staff and buildings from militants, money that could better be spent on research and the development of new drugs. It's not that non-animal alternatives to procedures have not been introduced; insulin batches are now analysed chemically rather than in mice, and chemical burns tests are carried out using test-tube techniques rather than on rabbits.

However, protesters are adamant that the pharmaceutical companies, amongst others, have not gone nearly far enough and are determined to keep pressing the issue by whatever means necessary. …