Against vicious activism – iiTECHNOLOGY

Seven activists were sentenced last month to between 4 and 11 years in prison for running an intimidation campaign against animal-testing firm Huntingdon Life Sciences in Huntingdon, UK. Hopefully, these sentences will deter future UK activists from using similar tactics, which included threats, hoax bombs, character assassination and property destruction.

Unfortunately, such tactics are increasingly being used by activists attacking scientists in California, where researchers using animals are facing threats that include door-incendiary bombs. There is much to be found in the approach of UK officials to emulate as officials try to tackle this problem.

Firstly, activists who break the law should be strictly chased and prosecuted. Also, university leaders should establish safety plans for laboratories and researchers; Coordinate with local and federal police before any attack occurs; And make a clear policy clear to the students that legal protest is acceptable but acts of vandalism will be punished severely.

Second, US federal, state and university officials need to go beyond enforcement and take a clear, public stand that emphasizes the importance of drug testing and animal research to basic science – as former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair did it. It would be especially helpful if President Barack Obama made such a statement.

This kind of open support can make individual researchers more apt to speak about their work. The UK again provides a good model in the form of Pro-Test, an active group for those supporting animal research. Its efforts at Oxford have given a public face to proponents of animal testing.

Finally, scientists should remember that law-abiding cuts both ways. Researchers using animals must adopt appropriate regulations on their activities and run their laboratories such that members of the public can walk in at any time to take a look. If they are seen to be committed to high quality animal care, it can only improve their credibility among the public.

Indeed, the US regulatory framework on animal research needs to be streamlined and strengthened. The Department of Agriculture regulates the laboratory use of cats, dogs, primates, guinea pigs and rabbits under the Animal Welfare Act, but not the ubiquitous rats and mice.

It can impose fines, but does so in a very conservative manner. The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare oversees all non-human-vertebrate research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as by other agencies within the scope of the NIH’s parent body, the US Public Health Service.

But all it can do is withhold grant money if the institutions involved do not win its approval. Many laboratories accredit themselves by the independent Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Care International. Its big penal option is simply to withdraw recognition.

The federal government must thoroughly review regulations related to animal research to close gaps, ensure compliance, and strengthen penalties. Ideally, oversight powers would be consolidated within a single organization. But, in any case, such measures may increase public confidence in animal research.

In the long term, this multidisciplinary approach should not only protect the safety of researchers, but should also open up space for constructive conversations about issues in animal research – particularly the search for reduction, replacement and refinement of such experiments – that are open to the public. And both are related. Similar researchers.


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