Animal Aid

OUR TRIUMPHANT PERFORMANCE - Now the long wait for a decision

Posted 1 December 2002

ProtestAndrew Tyler summarises events at the crucial inquiry into the proposed Cambridge primate labs.

Two weeks of witness evidence, on whether Cambridge University should be allowed to build a massive new primate research centre, came to a close on December 6.

The government-appointed inspector who has presided over the public inquiry will hear closing submissions on January 8 from barristers of the main parties - including the lawyer representing Animal Aid and the NAVS. Stuart Nixon will then write his report and make his recommendation, but Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, has decided that the final decision will be his. The outcome might not be known for seven or eight months.

Animal Aid, working alongside a group of superb local Cambridge campaigners - including Pat Griffin, Joan Court and Sue Hughes - played a leading role in bringing together the NAVS, Uncaged, PeTA, Naturewatch and local activists, X-CAPE, for joint written and oral submission. Our evidence, it has to be said, was of the highest quality. And the two principal organisations - Animal Aid and NAVS - worked together effectively and harmoniously.

The 'coalition's' scientific witness was Dr Ray Greek MD, medical director of Europeans for Medical Advancement and co-author of two ground-breaking books on the failings of the 'animal model' for human medical research.

Dr Greek, supported energetically by the coalition team, brilliantly demolished the case put forward by Cambridge University, which hopes to conduct hundreds of lethal brain experiments on monkeys every year. Through such traumatic experiments, the university claims it will be able to advance the understanding of specifically human neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and depression.

In two and a half hours of scientific evidence and another two hours of cross examination, Dr Greek cited a succession of scientific papers to support his case. He noted that the University had made rash assertions but had provided no solid evidence that the proposed labs would be in the national interest. The University's case, he said, could be summarised as: 'it works because we say it works'.

Dr Greek's other key points included:

  • While animals and humans are similar at the gross level, the key differences lay at the molecular level - especially in the way regulatory genes determine responses to drugs or diseases.
  • Science should work on the basis of evidence not by a vote through the old boy network - the theories of Einstein, Darwin and other great thinkers were once rejected.
  • Scientists are so scared to speak out against their employers and the scientific establishment that one researcher resorted to having his face blacked out and his voice disguised for a television debate about the use of animals in research.
  • The use of chimpanzees for Aids research in the USA has been discredited because it has provided no gains.
  • Someone qualified to conduct primate experiments would not be allowed to operate on a pet monkey.
  • We've got rid of blood-letting and mesmerism, now it is time to get rid of animal experiments.
  • A US congressman has noted that much medical research is now being conducted to attract funds rather than funds being sought to conduct important research.

The University's star QC, Robin Purchas, failed to dent Dr Greek's case. An increasingly irritated Purchas also made no impact upon the meticulously constructed evidence offered by Animal Aid/NAVS' planning expert, Anthony Keen, who followed Dr Greek onto the stand on the final day of witness evidence. Anthony argued that the university had not made sufficient effort to find an alternative, non Green Belt site, and that the proposed development - the size of two retail superstores - would almost certainly result in harm to the visual and rural character of the area. Concerns about security would likely result in the introduction of eyesore measures such as metal gates, barbed wire and floodlighting.

The first day of the inquiry's second week was also a key day for opponents of the scheme. The Inspector allowed a wide range of expert, non-expert and local speakers to take the witness stand. All those who spoke opposed the planned centre.

  • Professor Claude Reiss, representing Doctors and Lawyers for Responsible Medicine, explained that 'no species can stand as a biological model for another species'.
  • An impassioned Greg Avery of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) insisted that, despite Cambridge University's statements to the contrary, his group would actively oppose the new centre, should it be built.
  • Cyril Rosen, Honorary Secretary of the UK branch of the International Primate Protection League, warned of the serious potential risk to local people of monkey-borne viruses.
  • Margaret Wright, principal national speaker for the Green Party, lamented that 'the Green Belt is now seen as an impediment to those who seek urban expansion'.
  • Sue Hughes spoke on behalf of hundreds of local residents who have signed petitions against the plans.
  • Joan Court, Cambridge graduate and founder of Animals, People and the Environment (APE), said that many more people, herself included, would engage in civil disobedience if the centre is built.
  • The bursar of Girton College worried that ongoing protests would increase the risk of traffic accidents, heighten security costs and threaten the college's conference business.
  • The Reverend Dharmavidya said the proposal would be a regressive move in a progressive society, shifting the ethical bounds in the wrong direction.
  • Lynn Sawyer spoke movingly of her injurious experiences at the hands of Cambridge's police and how they served to strengthen her resolve to fight even harder for the animals.
  • Professor Greenwood of the London School of Economics, a Cambridge graduate and local resident, was incensed by the lack of consultation by the university and the dismissive way locals have been treated.
  • Dr Jerry Vlasak of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine - a US-based group representing more than 5,000 physicians - said that the lab would generate volumes of useless data at vast expense to the taxpayer and of no value to patients.
  • Pam Ferdin of the California-based Primate Freedom Project said she would be calling for a US-wide tourist boycott of Cambridge if the centre was built.
  • Louise Owen spoke on behalf of the Medical Research Modernisation Committee and of Seriously ill Against Vivisection on the harm caused by the continuing use of the animal model and the betrayal of patients it represents.
  • Annabel Holt said the enterprise would be a betrayal of knowledge and of humanity.

The day began with evidence from Michelle Thew, director of BUAV, including a screening of their powerful Cutting Edge undercover exposé. This revealed the horror and futility of primate research at Cambridge University itself.

The inquiry has already attracted major articles in New Scientist, The Guardian, The Observer, The Independent, Daily Telegraph and Daily Express, as well as much national and local television and radio coverage.

One of the hearing's most surprising aspects was the unprofessional written and oral evidence presented by Cambridge University itself. Apart from offering no detailed expert material on why its proposed experiments would supposedly benefit human medicine, the university failed to demonstrate that it had properly studied alternative, non-Green Belt sites. Set against the quality of our own submissions, a positive outcome should, in all justice, be assured. But John Prescott - who ultimately decides - is Deputy to a Prime Minister who months ago offered public support for the proposed centre. Support has also been forthcoming from Science Minister and biotech business mogul, Lord Sainsbury.

Knowing that a political fix potentially awaited us, it was still essential that we made as a good a case as possible - which is what we did. How Prescott decides will tell us a great deal about the moral bearings of this Labour government.

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