|LONDON - Britain is establishing a new center designed to minimize the number of animals used in medical experiments, the government said last week.|
The decision follows fierce controversy about laboratory animals and violence from a small group of animal rights extremists which pharmaceutical companies say is jeopardizing future investment.
Earlier this year, plans for a primate research lab in Cambridge were scrapped in the wake of violent animal rights protests. The new center will seek to reduce the numbers of animal experiments and improve standards of welfare by backing the \"three Rs\" - the replacement, refinement and reduction of animals in research.
This will include studying non-animal alternatives such as computer modeling, human volunteers or cultured cells grown in test tubes.
The UK drug industry, which includes global giants such as GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, welcomed the move. But leading anti-vivisection group Uncaged dismissed it as \"mere window dressing.\"
\"The only adequate approach is wholesale replacement of vivisection. The notion of best practice in animal research is a contradiction in terms,\" said Uncaged campaigns director Dan Lyons.
Some 2.7 million animals - mainly mice - are used in experiments in Britain each year. The number has fallen sharply in the last 25 years, but scientists and drug firms say animals will remain necessary for the foreseeable future.
\"It\'s impossible for years and years and years to see a day when we won\'t use animals in medical research,\" said Trevor Jones, director-general of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.
The drug industry says violent protests by a small number of extremists, which it estimates at no more than 30-50, is undermining confidence among companies considering doing medical research in Britain.
\"I can see no further investment in this country in research and development unless this is resolved rapidly,\" Jones said.
Victims of animals rights activists have received death threats, had their cars vandalized and graffiti daubed on their homes describing them as animal-killers.
The National Center for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research will be based at the site of the Medical Research Council\'s existing center for best practice in animal testing in London.
Story by Ben Hirschler
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE