Pro-Test, the Oxford-based pro-animal testing group, held its five-year anniversary talks at Balliol last Friday.
The group was set up to “dispel the irrational myths promoted by anti-vivisectionists and to encourage people to stand up for science and human progress”. During the talk the speakers emphasised the progress the group has made in increasing awareness of the potential benefits of animal research.
Balliol College had taken several precautions to increase security. No tourists were allowed into the college, staffing levels were increased, and the front gate was only half open, with ropes set up to create a funnel as people entered the college.
Despite concerns, there was no evidence of animal rights activists protesting near the college and the talks were not disrupted. Opening the talks, the founder of Pro-Test Laurie Pycroft spoke of his reasons for establishing the group.
He described the situation five years ago as “a climate of fear and harassment from animal rights extremists”. Action from animal rights activists culminated in 2005, when three Oxford boathouses were set on fire, causing an estimated £500 000 worth of damage.
Before Pro-Test, Pycroft said he felt “that those opposed to vivisection [testing on animals for the purpose of scientific progress] were dominating the public debate on animal research” and that the lack of defence for animal research could cause it to be pushed abroad to countries that do not have the same controls as the UK.
He said he had been frustrated when he saw animal rights activists calling for the closure of the Oxford lab. The then 16-year-old said: “Disagreeing and feeling contrary, I walked behind them chanting, ‘Open the Oxford testing lab’”.
Pycroft discussed the potential benefits of animal research in the UK, describing it as “crucial, irreplaceable and tightly regulated” and claiming that “literally millions benefit each year from treatments, which are derived, at least partly, from animal testing.” He compared animal research to the meat industry, which he said was much worse in terms of numbers and the conditions in which many animals are kept.
Professor Tipu Aziz of Oxford University also gave a presentation last Friday. He discussed the importance of animal research, and his role in using tests on monkeys to develop treatments for Parkinson’s disease.
Commenting on the actions of some protestors during the establishment of Pro-Test, he said: “It seemed wrong to me that a minority group of extremists could halt a nation’s progress.”
The final speech was given by Tom Holder, founder of Speaking for Research. He said that the construction of the new lab in Oxford in 2008 was evidence of Pro-Test’s success. He pointed to a change in public perception, claiming: “Unlike a few years ago, it is now socially acceptable to speak in favour of animal testing.”
He cited that last Friday Pro-Test had a stall on Cornmarket Street and in the course of two hours, only one person said that they disagreed with animal testing.