UK research lab prompts new animal rights row
LONDON - Scientists and animal rights campaigners are heading for a showdown over plans to build an medical research laboratory in Britain that would experiment on primates\' brains.
A public inquiry was launched this week into Cambridge University\'s bid to build a world-class, 24 million pound ($37.5 million) research centre into diseases like Alzheimer\'s and Parkinson\'s.
Leading scientists insist the facility, which has already received backing from Prime Minister Tony Blair, is a test case that would signal to the rest of the world Britain\'s willingness to conduct key medical research.
But they have met ferocious opposition from animal rights activists who say scientists will be pointlessly butchering thousands of primates.
Caught in the middle of the controversy are city officials who fear Britain\'s notoriously militant animal rights groups will resort to bloodshed to get their message across as they did at the laboratories of nearby Huntingdon Life Sciences.
The managing director at that facility was beaten with a baseball bat in 2001 and financial backers of the firm received repeated death threats, prompting banks to pull out.
This week, about a dozen protesters carrying posters and banners rallied outside the building where the government-led planning inquiry is being held but there were no incidents, a spokesman for Cambridgeshire police told Reuters.
Wendy Higgins, campaign director for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, one of the country\'s largest animal rights groups, said the union opposed violence but it was \"understandable why the frustration of some people leads them to take matters into their own hands\".
\"If this facility is built, it will be another regrettable example to many campaigners of how the government is ignoring them,\" she told Reuters.
Fears for public safety prompted the local planning authority to reject the university\'s initial bid to build the centre in January 2001.
The present inquiry will hear testimony from the university, the city council, police and animal rights groups.
Activists, outraged that an independent inspector has not been appointed, said the hearing is merely a show trial for a decision that has already been made.
One of the country\'s leading scientists, Sir Richard Sykes of Imperial College, London, has been quoted as saying that if the centre were not built, some of the country\'s top researchers would leave to work abroad.
A spokeswoman for Cambridge University defended the laboratories as \"vitally important for research into devastating and life-threatening diseases\" and added that animal testing was carried out under strict government guidelines.
Story by Corey Ullman
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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