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CRUCIAL - Cambridge inquiry
Posted 1 November 2002
Andrew Tyler outlines our case against the Cambridge University primate vivisection lab.
We are now at the beginning of the public inquiry into whether or not Cambridge University should be allowed to build a massive new primate research centre. If the project goes ahead, hundreds of monkeys every year will have their brains deliberately damaged with chemicals and surgery. The claim is that this activity will help people with neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's and schizophrenia.
The inquiry will be the climax of a long and tortuous process during which the university has twice been refused permission to build the centre by South Cambridgeshire District Council - the first time because the proposed site is on Green Belt land; the second because of fears that public safety would be compromised by animal rights protests.
The public inquiry starts in Cambridge on November 26, presided over by a central government inspector. But the final decision will be John Prescott's - Prescott being deputy to a Prime Minister who has gone on record declaring that Cambridge University must be allowed to have its centre, as has science minister and biotech business mogul, Lord Sainsbury.
Despite these conspicuous signs of bias and political fix, we are proceeding on the basis that we do stand a chance of stopping the proposal and that by building public and political support our chances will be increased. It remains distressingly true, however, that from the outset, the planning process has remained as dead to the real issues as has the university itself. The planners have obsessed about whether or not the building will look pretty enough, whether it is in the right or the wrong place and whether people like us will interrupt traffic flow and cause any other kind of disturbance.
Key questions ignored
The two key questions - Is the proposed research morally justified and will it produce benefits for human medicine? - remain sorely neglected. The answer to both questions is an emphatic 'no'. How can we regard as morally legitimate the infliction of extreme harm on animals who are considered sufficiently like us to be able to serve as stand-in human beings - but simultaneously so unlike us that the pain, trauma and death inflicted upon them is of no lasting importance?
Animal Aid believes that if it's wrong to do such things to a human being then it's wrong to do them to any animal of whatever species. The argument is no more complicated than that.
The scientific argument is also essentially simple. While non-human primates suffer pain and stress as we do, there are key physiological differences between, say, a marmoset and a rhesus macaque, as well as between both those species and ourselves. Different viruses affect each species differently. They metabolise chemicals at a different rate and through different routes, which means that what poisons one won't poison another. And, of course, non-human primates don't get the brain diseases which the proposed centre wishes to explore.
Alzheimer's, for instance, is a dementia, characterised by loss of intellectual powers - the power of language and organised abstract thought. How do we recognise or measure such things in a marmoset? Because the primates don't get the diseases in question, the researchers destroy parts of their brains so that they manifest symptoms that superficially resemble those expressed by some human sufferers. Various drugs and other therapies are then administered to the damaged animals.
For example, one of our 2001 Mad Science Awards went to Cambridge University itself for an experiment aimed at understanding Huntington's Disease. Twelve marmosets were each injected 10 or more times in the brain with seizure causing chemicals. They were then set nine months of tests that included having them reach for food while their hands were immobilised with sticky tape and their feet with sticky postal labels. They were also injected with a speed-type drug that caused them to spin uncontrollably up to 300 times in a single 60 minute session. At the end of it all the researchers were forced to admit that the monkeys 'did not replicate the pathology or the symptoms of Huntington's Disease'.
This is what counts as cutting edge science in Prime Minister Blair's brave new Britain.
There are, thankfully, two positive developments with regard to the November 26 inquiry. The first is that the university itself has opened the way for us to argue that the experiments they want to conduct are unscientific. We wouldn't have had that opportunity had the university not asserted that, even though their proposed site was on Green Belt land, they had to proceed because the research is in the national interest. Our side will argue that the reverse is the case: the proposed experiments are a betrayal of people as well as of the animal victims.
The other good news is that the key local campaign groups - operating as X-CAPE (Cambridge Against Primate Experiments) - have come together to fight the project, alongside several major national anti vivisection groups. The nationals include the National Anti-Vivisection Society, British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Uncaged, Naturewatch and Animal Aid. The groups have jointly supported an X-CAPE leaflet and website (produced by Animal Aid) and are working together to make the best possible submission to the November 26 public inquiry.
Animal Aid has invited Dr Ray Greek to come over from the U.S. and give evidence on our own behalf. Dr Greek is President of Americans For Medical Advancement and Medical Director of Europeans For Medical Advancement. He is also author of Specious Science and the earlier Sacred Cows and Golden Geese - two books which set out impressively the scientific case against the use of animals in research. Both are available from the Animal Aid online shop. Dr Greek gave a series of full-house talks at last year's Animal Aid Christmas Without Cruelty Fayre. He will again be present at this year's event.
- Please circulate as widely as possible the new X-CAPE leaflet, which makes a powerful case against the proposed primate centre. Bulk copies are available from Animal Aid. First 100 free. Subsequent copies: £1.50 for 100; £6 for 500 and £10 for 1,000.
- Keep up-to-date with how you can do to help - see our Cambridge campaign index and the X-CAPE website - www.x-cape.org.uk.
- Support Animal Aid campaigns - get active.