Tag Archives: pro-test

Pro-Test: The demonstration that changed a decade

“No more threats, no more fear, animal research wanted here”.

On February 25th 2006 that chant, and many others, rang out across the city of Oxford. Around 1,000 students, scientists and patients marched through the streets both to demonstrate support for the building of a new animal research facility, and to protest against the animal rights extremism that plagued scientists in Oxford and beyond.

The first Pro-Test rally. Image by Nick Anthis

The first Pro-Test rally. Image by Nick Anthis

Rival protesters set for bitter clash over animal testing lab” – wrote the Times. Police lined the streets – with horses and riot vans – as did journalists from all over the world. The world’s first pro-animal-research-rally, and on the same day, in the same city, as a national animal rights demonstration. The city of Oxford held its breath in anticipation. For all of us organising the event – myself included – we had no idea what would happen.

But how did we get here?

Animal rights extremism had been an intractable problem in the UK for decades, but the mid-1990s brought activists a string of successes. Campaigns in 1996 – 1997 shut down both Consort kennels and Hillgrove cat farm, which bred dogs and cats (respectively) for animal facilities. In 1999 the SHAC campaign began its 15-year campaign against HLS; the same year also marked the start of a campaign against Newchurch Guinea Pig Farm. Extremism continued unabated; in 2004 activists dug up and stole the remains of Gladys Hammond – a family member of the owners of the guinea pig farm. After petrol bombs and further threats the farm closed. The same year, the University of Cambridge abandoned plans to build a new primate research facility after intense pressure from activists including the activist group SPEAC (Stop Primate Experimentation at Cambridge).

In 2004, shortly after Cambridge abandoned plans for its new lab, the University of Oxford laid out plans for a new animal research facility which would combine many of the smaller labs dotted around Oxford into one new facility with improved welfare for animals. SPEAC activists immediately moved to Oxford, renaming the group SPEAK. The extremism that had plagued Cambridge also moved to Oxford. In July 2004 construction on the new lab was halted for six months after the original building contractors – facing intense harassment from activists – pulled out of the project (as had many other firms connected to the building work). In the summer of 2005, with building work restarted, extremists from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) targeted the students.

Boathouse Fire July 2005

The arson attack on the University of Oxford college boathouses caused approximately £500,000 worth of damage.

“We must target professors, teachers, heads, students, investors, partners, supporters and ANYONE that dares to deal in any part of the University in any way. There is no time for debate and there is no time for protest, this is make or break time and from now on, ANYTHING GOES.” – ALF Communique

The targeting of student run, student owned boathouses mixed with threats against all university members shocked the student population. But it wasn’t the activists that would set the student population alight – it was a 16-year old school dropout – Laurie Pycroft.

Laurie PycroftPlacardLaurie Pycroft walked through the streets of Oxford in January 2006. On his way, he came across an animal rights demonstration protesting the construction of the new animal lab. Laurie was bright, with a keen interest in science. He knew the only reason his grandfather was alive was because of surgery developed in animals. So Laurie went into a shop and bought a pen, and paper, writing “Support Progress – Build the Oxford Lab!”. He stood outside the demonstration holding his sign aloft. After receiving comments of support by passing members of the public, and screaming abuse by a number of activists, Laurie went home.

I got home quite late that evening. I hung up my coat, made my way to my room, sat at my computer, and made an entry about the whole incident on my blog. Within a few minutes, the comments started flooding in, with messages of support such as: “Genius! You truly are a hero to the people of Oxford! You’ve got to organise another pro-test.” – Laurie Pycroft

From one anonymous commenter, the Pro-Test name was born. News of Laurie’s one man demonstration hit the student press and a number of students – including myself – got in touch with Laurie to offer him our support.

“What do we want. The Oxford Lab. When do we want it? Now!”

In four crazy week we organised a demonstration that would be reported on almost every major news network in the UK. Despite the  proximity of animal rights activists and Pro-Test-ers, the event when off without violence. Mild-mannered scientists shouted along to chants. Students raised hastily created placards above their heads. The mood was positive despite efforts from animal rights groups to force the climate of fear upon the rally.

“Hundreds of police, some on horseback, prevented the two groups, which were at one stage just 20 yards away from each other, from clashing. On two occasions, anti-vivisectionists broke out towards the main march before being surrounded by police and moved away.” – The Guardian

It was a huge success. Debates about animal research raged across the media. Documentary makers lined up to tell the story of Pro-Test. The world-famous debating chamber – the Oxford Union – voted against a motion that “This house would not test on animals” by a whopping 85%. In preparation for a second rally in June, Prof Sir Robert Winston wrote in The Guardian:

“How disgraceful that a 16-year-old boy has put the medical and scientific establishment, drug companies and universities to shame.


It is time my colleagues got real. All British universities doing worthwhile research use animals, and, instead of hiding, they should be boasting of their achievements. Pharmaceutical companies could do far more to promote investigations that are humane, ethical and legal. Scientists should demonstrate the care taken in their research and the benefits it brings to society. And government? Shockingly, my family feels nervous because I speak out on animal research. So politicians have a duty to pursue animal extremists with vigour.”

Over the next two years the whole tenor of the debate changed – scientists became more willing to speak out – filling a vacuum that animal rights groups had filled with misinformation. In November 2008 the Oxford lab finally opened.

Speaking of Research owes its existence to Pro-Test. As the original spokesman for Pro-Test, I spent six months in the US, supported by Americans for Medical Progress, whereupon I founded Speaking of Research. As an organisation we have supported subsequent Pro-Test movements all over the world.

We supported the founding of Pro-Test for Science and helped it organise its first rally in Los Angeles after Prof Jentsch’s car was firebombed. We supported Pro-Test Italia in its first major rally in Milan. The successes of these rallies owed much to the actions of one sixteen year old boy.

Pro-Test march snakes along Westwood

Pro-Test for Science rally marches to support medical research

David Jentsch, the founder of Pro-Test for Science wrote:

“The resolve, determination and commitment to scientific research demonstrated by Laurie and the UK Pro-test 10 years ago during their confrontations with animals rights groups brought hope and inspiration to those of us in Southern California who were the targets of extremist activities. Without the example of UK Pro-test and its leaders, it’s hard to imagine how Pro-test for Science, or its in a passionate, informed and successful campaign to advocate for our scientific community, could have come to be.”

Pro-Test helped drive openness in the UK, and a fightback against extremism abroad. Every person who marched on the 25th February 2006 should be proud of the part they played.

And Laurie? He followed his dream. Studies Physiology at the University of Oxford and is now studying for a DPhil in Functional Neurosurgery at the university – even (sometimes) working in the very lab he helped to build!

Tom Holder

Birth of Pro-Test Israel

The following guest post is written by Shaul Peretz, a former Israeli investigative journalist and founder of Pro-Test Israel.

Three years ago I learned about Mazor Farm, a small farm located in Moshav Mazor, in central Israel, and the country’s only farm breeding monkeys for biomedical research. All the information about the farm on the Internet came from animal rights activists, who described horror stories.

They said the monkeys are kidnapped from Mauritius and taken to Israel, where greedy dealers sell them to the highest bidder for experimentation, including cosmetic toxicity tests.

For ten years of my life, I was an investigative reporter for the major Israeli newspapers Yedioth Ahronoth and Ma’ariv so I was curious about these claims. Frankly, I found it hard to believe what was written. I began to research animal experimentation is Israel and discovered that the claims being made by activists were a mix of lies and half-truths.

In truth, monkeys are not kidnapped. Rather, the government of Mauritius is begging research laboratories to take as many monkeys from the island as they can. Monkeys on Mauritius are considered to be a pest by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the local government so they control the population by euthanizing them. So the truth is that the fate of the monkeys in Mauritius is death by local authorities or being used for biomedical research for life-saving experiments.

macaque monkey animal testing israel

The monkeys at Mazor Farm are kept in large outdoor corrals

Investigating further, I discovered that macaque monkeys are not used for cosmetic testing, as claimed by opponents, but only for biomedical research to save lives and prevent suffering. Furthermore, contrary to activists’ claims, cosmetic testing on animals is prohibited in Israel, as it is in almost every other country.

I discovered that research using monkeys at Mazor Farm resulted in:

For many years, scientists in Israel have been threatened by animal rights activists. We determined that the person behind the threats against Prof. Moshe Abeles, Director, Institute for Brain Research at Bar-Ilan University, was Anat Refua, who might be called an Israeli equivalent of U.S. activist Camille Marino.

I tried to join the Facebook pages of animal rights activist including “Together we close the Mazor Farm” to bring the real information to the attention of its readers, but it was a lost cause. I was soon censored and blocked from writing. Animal rights activists support “freedom of speech” only if it is theirs. So I created two pages “Uncensored truth about animal research and monkeys” and “animal research is saving lives” that are designed to tell the truth about what animal research is and what it has given us.

macaque monkey animal research israel

The large outdoor areas allow the animals to socialise and play

As a result of our successful activities, animal rights activists began to harass and try to frighten me. They published an image of my then-young daughter, and I had to file a complaint with the police to protect my family.

They set up a page with a similar name to our page (“uncensored truth about research”) and called it “The official page.” As a result, some people who are looking for our page accidentally go to their page and read more lies about animal research.

Top contributors to our page who are physicians, researchers, and medical students have received threats in their personal email accounts.

We are going through a period of a great struggle against opponents of animal research. The Israeli media has given a lot of publicity to the growing trend toward veganism, a practice that many activists share.

The previous Environment Minister of Israel, Gilad Ardan – whose office signs the permits needed to export monkeys from of Israel – has added restrictions as a result of pressure from activists. The new regulation will prohibit the export of monkeys for biomedical research starting in January, 2015, although there is no restriction on importing monkeys to Israel for research here. Mazor Farm is expected to close since Israeli research institutions need only around 30 monkeys per year.

Our investigation revealed what is behind this decision. A month before a hearing was held into the future of Mazor Farm, Environment Minister, Gilad Arden received a private donation from the chairman of Let the Animals Live (comparable to PETA), which was actively trying to close the farm. A State Control judge is now investigating this.

monkey animal experiment playingTwo years ago, Israel’s largest airline, El Al, succumbed to activist pressure and stopped transporting any animals for research and lifesaving biomedical research. As a result, research institutions in Israel must charter private flights at a cost of tens of thousands of euros (Israel has no land transportation option).

However as a result of the activists’ tactics, public feeling in Israel is turning against them. In academia, people are starting to wake up and try to counter the lies.

Many wrote to the new environment minister, Amir Peretz, asking him to change the regulation and allow the export of monkeys for biomedical research so that Mazor Farm can continue. Hundreds of Israeli researchers and doctors have signed a petition to this effect.

As result of our activity and the spread of factual information – the activists lost their “exclusive ownership” of the publicly available information. More and more people in Israel understand the importance of animal research and confront activists’ claims on Facebook and elsewhere.

In the UK, US and Italy, scientists and members of the public have stood up against animal rights misinformation. Through the Pro-Test movements, activists have been challenged on their lies and harassment – this is what Israel needs. This is why I am founding Pro-Test Israel, to bring people together to defend the research behind life-saving medical research. I hope many will join me. If you wish to find out more, click here (website in Hebrew).

I am optimistic that the activist tactics will not last long:

You can lie all the people some of the time,
You can lie to some of the people all the time,
But you cannot lie to all the people all the time.

Shaul Peretz

What would you do?

We understand.

There is a segment of the population that opposes the use of animals in medical research and basic science.  Their reasons vary.  Some think all sentient beings ought to have the same basic right to life and freedom as any other human being. Some believe that the work amounts to scientific fraud and cannot possibly lead to any advancements in the health of humans. Some argue that illness is merely a product personal choices. In most cases, it is a combination of all of the above.

Of course, we disagree.

So what have we done about it?

We made the effort to open up dialogue and bring both sides of this important debate to the court of public opinion.  In 2010 Drs. David Jentsch and Dario Ringach, along the student group Bruins for Animals, organized a discussion panel at UCLA that many welcomed as a good first step at establishing some sort of meaningful debate.

In 2011, Dario Ringach and Robert C. Jones (an animal rights philosopher from California State University at Chico and a participant in the our 2010 discussion panel), organized a one-day symposium at UCLA on the similarities and dissimilarities of human and non-human primate cognition (video here).

Dr. Ringach participated in two public debates on the use of animals in research.  The first one at the Institute for Human Values in Health Care at the Medical University of South Carolina, where he debated animal rights philosopher Dr. Nathan Nobis.  A second debate took place at Rutgers Law School, where he debated animal rights scholar Prof. Gary Francione.

In 2013, Dr. Ringach also participated in the UW Forum on Animal Research Ethics that aims to provide a platform for all sides to share their views with the public.  He also published an article about the ethics and science of animal research and contributed a chapter to a book that describes the position of both sides.

After accepting an invitation to speak at a local high school, Dr. Ringach brought along animal rights philosopher Robert C. Jones to present to opposing view.  Their shared goal was to educate children that we can have a civil debate about moral disputes in our society.

And on top of all that, our strong commitment to providing the opposing side a platform to express themselves in public continued throughout a deplorable campaign against researchers that included threats, intimidation, and calls for violence by animal rights extremists.  Nefariously, our efforts were replied with increased “home visits” that clearly have no other purpose than to harass those they disagree with.

What would you do to stop the relentless attacks on your family and home? What kind of support would you want and expect from your community, professional societies, home institution and the government?

After more than 10 years of a sustained campaign animal right extremists left us with no options but to personally protect ourselves from their disgraceful behavior.  It was regrettable that, on our first attempt, one person within our group was overwhelmed with anger resulting from over a decade of mistreatment from animal extremism and acted in ways we do not approve of.

Our stated goal clearly was, and still remains, to peacefully prevent animal rights thugs from conducting orchestrated campaigns of harassment against the UCLA family.  We wanted to convey that message clearly to all our supporters.  Having said that, one must not let the bullies who openly support violence as a legitimate method to advance their cause to pretend they are the victims.

It is then for all the above reasons that we will gather once again on Saturday Feb 15th at 10:15am, in the Lobby of Franz Hall, at UCLA to defend the tranquility of our homes, families and neighbors from fanatics whose sole goal is to resolve their moral dispute by violence and force.  We will join hands and be proud of the fantastic science done at UCLA and in universities across the country in the name of society.  Work that will improve the well-being of humans and animals alike.

David Jentsch and Dario Ringach

Outreach, Not Out-of-Reach

This article updates an original article entitled: Time for a change?

This weekend’s counter-demonstration at UCLA is another sign of a growing movement and change in the approach the research community is taking towards defending public interests in scientific research. The actions and growth of Pro-Test, Pro-Test for Science, and Pro-Test Italia have all provided powerful examples of the strength of community efforts to stand for science. While far from universal, we are also seeing steady progress towards new standards for public engagement and education by institutions, organizations, and individuals. Nonetheless, too many institutions are still choosing silence instead of outreach. For them, it’s time for a change.

Press release comes in, journalist is demanding a comment, animal rights activists are arriving for their demonstration – what do you do? For too many organizations the strategy has been to simply ignore it – keep yourself out of reach of journalists and activists. Well there’s only one problem – it doesn’t work.

The science community often receives some fairly standard advice when they are targeted by the activities, press releases, and publicity stunts of animal rights groups. That advice often sounds a little bit like this:

  • If you don’t acknowledge them they will go away
  • Fighting back will just make them fight harder
  • Don’t give them free publicity, the attention just helps them grow.
  • Responding to them just takes time away from more important work

What is the impact in the short term? Will it make the activists go away? How does it affect relationships with journalists? What about your local community? How about your own researchers? Does it make those targeted safer? Does it support them? Does it decrease an institution’s exposure to activists’ campaigns and “bad” publicity?

What about the long term? Does it make an institution more resilient to future campaigns? How does it change long term perceptions about your institution? Is your research community safer in the long run?

Picture Credit: Lorenzo Todaro

Pro-Test Italia: They’re not ignoring the problem.

Unfortunately, there is little solid data or empirical study to support an evidence-based approach in selecting the best strategy for responding to various campaigns by groups opposed to nonhuman animal research.

What if we look to the current state and conclusions of those engaged in fighting back against other anti-science campaigns? How would we feel if those explaining climate change or promoting vaccination stopped discussing their work and let climate change deniers or anti-vaccination lobbyist create their own “truths” for the public. The reality is that more public engagement and accurate information is needed to mount an effective defense of the scientific truths. We must support a robust education on issues such as evolution, climate change, and vaccines.

We have written many times here about education and outreach programs for animal research and the perils of “no comment” approaches. For decades the scientific community has tried to ignore the animal rights activists and yet we have not seen a decline in their efforts. New laws – such as AETA in the US and the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act in the UK – have been effective in  stemming the extremist elements of the movement in some countries, but they cannot address the misinformation which is propagated legally by the movement. While extremism has fallen from the early 2000s, the animal rights movement has continued to grow in number, reach, income, and supporters. Consider PETA, for example. Founded by two activists in 1980, it is now arguably the most visible animal rights group in the world. They claim to have three million members and supporters. PETA’s 2012 revenue of over $30 million, with $15 million going to outreach and international grassroots campaigns, solidly demonstrates its growth over 30 years.

Ignoring PETA has not made them go away.The organization’s survival and growth relies on their regular publicity. They must continue to shock their supporters with new horrors and crimes against animals which justify their continued existence. While they can continue to convince people that atrocities are perpetrated on laboratory animals, they will continue to expand their celebrity line up, supporter numbers and, crucially, donations.

Scientific institutions must call out PETA (and other such groups) when it misrepresents them. They must call out PETA when it promotes violence against them. Many of the public supports PETA because it believes their messaging – it is important that those people have access to the true facts behind the, often groundless, accusations by PETA.

Early action is the best action. Effective communication with a journalist investigating an animal rights press release can help the reporter see that the claims are inaccurate the stop the story in its tracks.

Nor does PETA’s success depend upon attention directed at them from the scientific community. At this point in time, a mix of celebrity endorsements, stunts, and emotive campaigns successfully drive and sustain PETA’s publicity. Additional efforts by the scientific community to counter campaigns of misrepresentation, provide accurate information, and to condemn PETA’s promotion of violence toward scientists can at least make sure that the voices of scientists are heard in the media coverage. In some cases effective engagement early on can help journalists to see that the claims are inaccurate, and stop the story in it’s tracks. While we often see news coverage of accusations by animal rights groups, there are many more stories that never make the newspapers because the institution actively shows the journalist that the claims are without merit – through explaining the research thoroughly or offering tours of the facilities.

As we mentioned before:

An argument can be made that ignoring PETA’s escalating antics and failing to advance a public counter to their claims may have facilitated the success with which PETA has gained support. For example, if there is no public response or condemnation when PETA does something like releasing a videogame that promotes “beating up” scientists, the game is unlikely to go away. There will be little chance that scientists will reach this audience in order to counter the game’s gross misrepresentations of laboratory animal care. If we say nothing, the individuals playing the videogame, the game’s designer, and those providing positive media coverage of the game will fail to receive the message that it is not ok to promote violence against scientists (or others with whom you disagree). In effect, violence against scientists will be further “normalized” as a tactic that can be rationalized or acceptable.

PETA's MMA game depiction of animal research.

PETA’s MMA game depiction of animal research.

So what about the original question?

Press release comes in, journalist is demanding a comment, animal rights activists are arriving for their demonstration – what do you do?

Well the first, and most obvious thing to say is – plan now. Know who is responsible for providing comment. Know exactly who must sign off comments. Know who to talk to to get the journalists inside the lab. Know the facts of your research – how many animals, what species, what purposes. There is no risk in having a fact sheet about your animal research – including case studies – ready to go – better to have one and not need it than need it and not have it! Examples of good case studies can be found on Oxford University’s web pages dedicated to its animal research.

So the press release is in – the first thing to do is to try and give yourself some time to plan. Journalists may phone on a Friday wanting a comment for immediate print, so ask for a few days and promise to provide a full statement just for them. If you offer to invite them into your facility, they will often give more time – most journalists want to get to the bottom of the story – they simply don’t know or understand why and how research is conducted, having only seen an emotively worded press release full of shocking claims by animal rights activists. Your priority is to show them what your research is really about. That starts with how science benefits the public, why animal studies are conducted, and how the research community protects animal welfare.

Of course, why wait for the phone call? Get your journalist in to your lab today. Provide them with the facts of your research. Send press releases that highlight the important work that your researchers are doing. You may find that they not only ignore the press released claims by animal rights groups (which they have seen first hand are false), they may even give you an early heads and forward you the press release lest any other, less informed, journalist picks up the story. And while your at it why stop at journalists, successful outreach programmes have also enabled undergraduate students and members of the local community to tour laboratories and talk to scientists.

Laboratory tours and press releases are only two of  the many ways in which scientists and supporters of medical research can reach out to the public, policy makers and the press,  American Physiological Society has put together an advocacy resource and public outreach toolkit full of great examples and advice.

Putting yourself out of reach of those who would criticize your institution does not work. Organizations both in and out of the media spotlight must understand that outreach is the best way of preventing and handling a negative story created by animal rights groups. While many scientists, educators, and advocates already engage, it seems that too many organizations and institutions continue with the old approaches that don’t work for the short- or long-term. It’s time for a change.

Pro-Test Italia Stands up to Animal Rights Activists

Animal rights activism has long been on the rise in mainland Europe. Nowhere had this been more true than in Italy. In April 2012, activists stormed the Green Hill breeding facility and “liberated” a number of beagles from the facility. Since then they have threatened and harassed pharmaceuticals and breeders. In April 2013, five animal rights extremists broke into the University of Milan and coerced the university into giving away over 100 animals. For many scientists, this was the last straw.

Researchers across Italy, under the banner of Pro-Test Italia (formed November 2012), organised a rally in Italy for Saturday 1st June. So on a cloudy day in central Milan, hundreds of scientists, researchers and students gathered to celebrate the important role of animals in medical science.

Picture Credit: Lorenzo Todaro

Researchers show they are all in this together

At 2.30pm the Pro-Test Italia committee gathered at the Via Mercanti, by the iconic Duomo di Milano. A sea of balloons bearing the Pro-Test Italia logo were inflated and passed out to the growing number of attendees. As scientists chatted amicably about the importance of biomedical science, many took the opportunity to take photos.

As the number of people swelled upwards of 300, the chants began:

Lottiamo per la ricerca, lottiamo per la vita
[We fight for research, we fight for life]

As the chants died down, another set of voices could be heard. Animal rights activists from the groups “100% Animalisti” and “Animalisti Indipendenti” arrived with outdated photographs and ill-informed ideas to counterprotest. Rather than enter into the spirit of reasoned debate, the activists, many with masks over their face, tussled with the hastily-formed police line and attempted to break through into the rally (they succeeded several times before being dragged away by police).

Nothing says “let’s discuss this” like a bandana, hood and sunglasses

Nothing says “let’s discuss this” like a bandana, hood and sunglasses

Dr Dario Padovan, emcee of the day’s events, opened proceedings by riling up the crowd behind animal research. He quickly introduced Pro-Test Italia president Daria Giovannoni.

Daria Giovanonni

Daria Giovanonni

Daria Giovannoni gave the opening speech, thanking everybody who helped making such a day possible as well as explaining the importance of speaking up on this issue. Like subsequent speakers, Daria remained unphased by the attempted interruptions of nearby animal rights activists.



Alessandro Papale

Dr Alessandro Papale

After a rapturous applause, Dario introduced Dr Alessandro Papale. Dr Papale noted that it was the first time that scientists in Italy had begun to explain to the public what animal research involves. Furthermore, he said that researchers, scientists and professors must assert their rights since Italian politicians, sadly, appear to be listening to the activists who shout the loudest.

Photo Credit: Davide Rizzardi

Prof. Nicole De Rosbo

The next speaker was Professor Nicole De Rosbo of the University of Genova. De Rosbo has worked for years in the research against multiple sclerosis. In her speech, she spoke of the great strides in understanding the symptoms and time course of MS made possible through animal research. Without proper cures, people suffering from MS will be stuck in wheelchairs for life.

Photo Credit: Davide Rizzardi

Dr Nadia Malavasi

After motivating the crowd further, Dario Padovan introduced Dr Nadia Malavasi, the honorary president of TAIonlus. Nadia, a victim of the thalidomide tragedy herself, explained how the lack of proper animal research prior to the roll out of thalidomide (a morning sickness drug) was to blame for the disaster. This puts paid to the contrary claim by animal rights activists.

Photo Credit: Lorenzo Todaro

Pro-Test Italia balloons brought a little extra colour to the rally

Tom Holder

Tom Holder

Tom Holder, founder of Speaking of Research and member of the original Pro-Test movement, was next to speak. As the only speaker who lacked Italian he was translated by Dario Padovan. Holder spoke of his excitement at this new movement in Italy, but warned against complacency – both researchers and institutions must capitalise on this opportunity to speak out about the important work they do.


Photo Credit: Davide Rizzardi

The Call for Solidarity is handed to Bice Chini of the University of Milan

The next two speakers were Giuliano Grignaschi, head of the Animal Care Unit at the Mario Negri Institute and Ambassador for the Basel Declaration Society, and Bice Chini, a neuroscientist at the University of Milan . When news of the attack on the University of Milan came to the ears of the Basel Declaration Society, they organised a Call for Solidarity with the affected scientists. This struck a chord with many in research, and in a few days the call had attracted over 5,000 signatures. During the speeches, this Call for Solidarity was handed over to Dr Bice Chini (from the University of Milan) by Giuliano Grignaschi (on behalf of the Basel Declaration Society).

Photo Credit: Davide Rizzardi

Alberto Ferrari

After some more motivational speeches by the host, Dario Padovan, he introduced Alberto Ferrari, a fellow Pro-Test Italia member and neurobiologist working in molecular medicine and behavioural neurobiology at the University of Sienna. Alberto spoke about the importance of basic research and how animals play an important role in his field.

Photo Credit: Davide Rizzardi

Dr Marco Delli Zotti

Dr Marco Delli Zotti is an MD and member of Pro-Test Italia’s scientific committee. Marco spoke about the numerous surgical procedures which had been developed and perfected using animals.

The event was then wrapped up Dario Padovan and Pro-Test Italia president, Daria Giovannoni, who thanked all those attending. Many in the crowd left with the sense that a turning point was in sight on the animal research issue.

While the story in Italy is far from over, these developments may allow a space in the media that scientists can speak out of. While animal rights activists are allowed to spread their message unchallenged, the general public will lack the information necessary to make up their mind about the need for animal research. We should all hope that future animal testing stories are accompanied by the voices of Pro-Test Italia scientists and their fellow researchers across Italy. Italians will soon have to make a choice about who should be deciding science policy in Italy – the researchers or the activists.

Which of these groups do you want controlling Italian science policy?

Which of these groups do you want controlling Italian science policy?

This is just the beginning. Speaking of Research will continue to report on the developing situation in Italy. Also keep up with the latest information on the Pro-Test Italia website.


Nature has produced an article on the rally. They noted that:

About 300 researchers and students from around Italy demonstrated in Milan on 1 June to increase awareness of the need for lab animals in biomedical research. The protest was a reply to what the researchers call a “witch-hunt” led by animal-rights activists.

Also some nice coverage in The Scientist (with good pictures too).

For those who speak Italian, there were several Italian newspapers covering the event, including:

La Repubblica – Milano, animalisti contro ricercatori: alta tensione a due passi dal Duomo
La Stampa – Tensioni a Milano fra ricercatori e animalisti
Corriere Della Sera – La ricercatrice pro-test: “Gli animalisti esagerano”

Unfortunately these articles spent too much time discussing the small number of activists, rather than the message being listened to by the large number attending the Pro-Test Italia message.

Pro-Test to rise again

The following press release from Pro-Test Italia has had links added.

Pro-Test rises again: Scientists in Italy follow UK Lead and Stand up to Animal Rights Extremism

On Saturday 1 June 2013, hundreds of Italian researchers are to take to the streets of Milan in defence of lifesaving medical and veterinary research. In a demonstration organised by the non-profit organisation, Pro-Test Italia, scientists are making their voices heard at a time when many institutions have been silenced by the threat of extremism.

Animal rights activism has been rising in Italy at a time when Britain has seen the number of illegal incidents fall to its lowest level in several decades. The rally in Italy comes shortly after animal rights extremists broke into the University of Milan and took away approximately 100 animals, putting research into human psychiatric conditions back by several years.

The rally was inspired by the original Pro-Test movement in Oxford, UK, where 16-year old schoolboy Laurie Pycroft led 1,000 scientists, students and members of the public on a rally in defense of the since-completed Oxford Biomedical Sciences Building in February 2006. The original Pro-Test movement changed the climate of fear and harassment against those who conducted animal research in Britain.

The President of Pro-Test Italia, Daria Giovannoni, said:

Lifesaving research in Italy is under threat. Extremist attacks on breeders and research institutions prevent animal studies into diseases like cancer from being conducted. Pro-Test Italia aims to give scientists a voice to defend themselves.”

The rally will take place at 3pm on Saturday 1st June 2013 at Via Mercanti in Milan. Speakers will include Dr Guiliano Grignaschi of the Basel Declaration Society; Dr Bice Chini, a researcher at the National Research Council; and Dr Dario Padovan, coordinator of the Scientific Committee of Pro-Test Italia.

At 5pm the Basel Declaration Society will deliver a petition of over 5,000 signatures, calling for solidarity with the researchers at the University of Milan affected by the break in.

Laurie Pycroft, founder of the original Pro-Test movement in Oxford said:

“I was deeply saddened to see the heinous attack on research at the University of Milan in April – it was terrible to see the loss of years’ worth of valuable work as a result of a handful of misguided vandals. If anything positive can be gleaned from this incident, it is that the scientific community in Italy is now demonstrating that it will no longer bow down to threats, and will strive to defend research that improves millions of lives worldwide.”

Challenging Animal Rights Groups at Student Orientation Week

As another academic year begins many animal rights groups will be rubbing their hands at the prospect of attracting dozens of new members during the Student Orientation Week (Freshers’ Week in the UK) at their local university. Brightly coloured stalls with free gifts, vegan food and animal rights literature will appear on university campuses world-wide.

“Would you like a leaflet?”

The average response from scientists is this:


..do nothing and walk away muttering about anti-scientific madness. The result? The students manning the stall spend their entire day with only positive messages coming in from students who know little about the importance of animals in medical research.

It’s time to burst the bubble.

Go up to them, politely point out that:

  • without animal research the asthma inhaler in their hand would not be in existence
  • the leaflet in their hand is full of inaccuracies, not least that there are no alternatives that can completely replace animal research
  • the pictures on their stall are in no way representative of the true extent of animal welfare legislation
  • they look healthy – have they considered how vaccines (given to them and those they meet) have helped them remain so

Make sure you are polite and calm but assertive in what you are saying – it should at least give them something to mull over.

Of course you could go to the next stage and come up with a stall of your own:

Pro-Test at Oxford University Freshers’ Fair in 2008

I found a blog post from Pro-Test’s Freshers’ Fair stall from 2007

Pro-Test Success at Freshers’ Fair

Well over 700 individuals signed their support to Animal Research and th new Oxford Biomedical Facility at Freshers’ Fair over 3 days, making Pro-Test one of the most successful stalls at the event. Pro-test would like to thank everyone who signed, and the hundreds who added that they would like to get involved in the campaign. It was pleasing to see the odd double take, with people walking past before stopping with “…wait – did you say FOR animal research – give me a pen”.

The mass signups suggest a strong turnout to come at February’s march – and we look forward to seeing all those who signed, and more, at the rally. Generally it was great to see so much positivity surrounding our presence at Freshers’ Fair.


and one year later (2008):

Students at Freshers’ Fair show they are “Pro-Test”

The success of the Pro-Test stall at Freshers’ Fair shows once again that students are in support of the lifesaving animal research and the new Oxford Biomedical Facility. This builds on the success of Pro-Test at the last Freshers’ Fair, as well as the OUSU referendum in 2006, in which over 90% of students voted to support animal research and new lab.

This year the Pro-Test stall proved to be an enourmous success, with well over 700 signatures in a petition of support. Pro-test would like to thank everyone who signed, and the hundreds who added that they would like to get involved in the campaign. It was pleasing to see not just science students, but also art and social science students rushing over to sign up and show support for a cause that has obviously appealed to a wide cross-section of the university.

After seeing partner organisations being established overseas, including in the United States this year, it was great to see that this issue continues to enjoy huge support in the city where the original campaign was launched. No doubt this success predicts another exciting year ahead for Pro-Test and the hundreds of new members eager to get involved.


James Burgess

So please keep us updated about the locations of animal rights groups on your campus, and make sure not to stay silent.