There has been a rise in animal rights extremism across much of Europe for some time. Movements have increasingly focused on the breeding and transporting of Beagles used in animal experiments, however some seem to be broadening to all research.
While the UK has locked up the worst extremists (and those who have since been released have been under strict control orders (ASBOs) to prevent them from causing further trouble), the rest of Europe has not been as effective at tackling these problems. Furthermore, scientists in the UK have worked hard to explain the importance of the research they do to the British public, resulting in regular mentions of animal research within science-based stories (e.g. on potential medical breakthroughs). The Pro-Test movement in Oxford, UK, also did much to push the important contribution of biomedical research into the media spotlight.
In February activists began to campaign against AstraZeneca to release dogs being moved from a Swedish facility to a British one. The pharmaceutical agreed to rehome 80 dogs after approval from the veterinarian, however the remainder were considered important to continued medical research efforts. If AZ were to release the remaining animals, it would only require them to breed more later, negating any possible welfare benefit. Nonetheless activists tracked the shipment, protesting at both the departing flight and arrival hours later. This shows signs of increasing international cooperation between animal rights groups.
Elsewhere, five activists broke into a breeding facility in the Netherlands and stole six of their dogs. The activists promptly turned themselves into the police, but we must be concerned by this new found confidence in breaking the law by European activists.
The pressure on airlines also continues, with Vietnam Airlines joining the large number of airlines that publicly refuse to transport animals for research. This pressure has tended to be a mix of “mass communication” (emails, tweets, FB messages, letters) and office protests – activists were at the London office of Vietnam airlines only days before they caved.
However, it is in Italy where there is most concern.
In April 2012, activists stormed the Marshall Green Hill beagle breeding facility and “liberated” dozens of beagles – handing them over the fence as the police did little more than watch.
In March 2013, activists blockaded the transport of 8 beagles to an Italian pharmaceutical, Menarini. Menarini caved and decided to give away the eight beagles in hope of placating the activists. Clearly all this does is show the activists that if they keep pushing the boundaries of legal activism, they will get what they want.
In April 2013, during World Week for Animals in Laboratories, activists broke into the University of Milan’s animal labs (hundreds more protested outside). They purposely mixed up the records of the animals, effectively destroying much of the research being done on psychiatric diseases. Activists chained themselves to emergency exit doors, and demanded the release of the animals, occupying the facility for 12 hours. Incredibly, the University caved – they agreed to give almost 100 of the animals over (mice and rabbits) then and there, and promised to negotiate the release of hundreds more (though the Rector of the University has since released a public statement saying that there is no agreement with the extremists, that no more animals will be handed over, and that the University will be taking the extremists to court and seeking damages).
All of this comes under a backdrop of poor policing of protests, and a legal system and media which seems hell bent at turning its back on science.
A Silver Lining?
There are glimmers of hope. Our previous post mentioned the scientists and researchers who are standing up against extremism in Italy. Around 60 people rallied under the banner of Pro-Test Italia, the third such movement to appear around the world (after the original Pro-Test in Oxford, and Pro-Test for Science in California. Pro-Test Italia stood in defence of important research using animals. As Italian researchers say enough is enough, there is a real chance that the balance of the animal research debate can be redressed. Hopefully more people will now begin to speak up about why animals are used – without this, there is little hope of changing the mind of the Italian public.
Speaking of Research