BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - More than 600 of the country's scientists spoke out in support of the use of animals in research, saying it is "vitally important" to send the message that animal research is crucial for medical progress.

The declaration came a day after activists claimed another victory in their bid to end animal experimentation in the UK, when the owners of a guinea pig farm said it was closing after a six-year-long campaign.

The announcement that Darley Oaks Farm in Staffordshire would stop breeding guinea pigs for biomedical research called into question the effectiveness of new laws introduced in April that make the sort of harassment and intimidation faced by the farm's owners criminal offenses.

Reacting to the closure announcement, Aisling Burnand, CEO of the BioIndustry Association, said the Hall family of Darley Oaks had been subjected to a violent campaign of intimidation by animal extremists.

"Commitment from the government on tackling animal extremism, together with new legislation, is a move in the right direction," she said. "We must continue to support adequate policing and resourcing to protect companies and individuals involved in, and connected with, groundbreaking biomedical research."

Burnand added that there was widespread public revulsion at the campaign, which included the theft of a family member's remains from a local cemetery. "These deplorable tactics go far beyond the boundaries of legitimate protest," she said.

Echoing Burnand's concerns, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry called for greater protection for individuals and companies targeted by animal rights extremists and for committed, long-term resources from the government to back the recently introduced legislation.

Although it was not timed to coincide with news of the closure of Darley Oaks, the Declaration on Animal Research is meant to justify the use of animals. The Research Defence Society (RDA) drew up the declaration, and in a month collected the signatures of more than 700 scientists, including 500 academics, 100 from industry and 100 from scientists overseas. The declaration states that the use of animals is vital to medical advances, but also says that, when possible, animal experiments should be replaced by other techniques.

The signatories vowed to adhere to UK controls on animal research, which are among the strictest in the world. There also is support for increased transparency, with a call for research establishments to provide clear information and foster rational discussion about the animal research they carry out. However, the declaration stated that animal rights extremism makes it difficult to be open about animal research.

Simon Festing, executive director of the RDA, said the statement, "showed the strength and depth of support for humane animal research."

One signatory, Nick Wright, dean of the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, said the declaration underlined the enormous contribution made to modern health care and public health by animals in medical research. "As the pace of discovery quickens, it becomes even more important if we are to maintain this momentum. This is why I believe that we should all publicly acknowledge our debt to animal research," he said.

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