There has been a significant drop so far this year in the number of companies or individuals in the UK ceasing contact with organisations targeted by animal rights extremists.

According to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), the number of so-called “capitulations” fell from 24 in the first half of 2006 to just two in the same period this year.

In general, violent activity by extremists against drug researchers and their associates hit “new lows” in the six months to June, the ABPI noted. There had already been a significant decline in violent harassment by animal rights protestors last year, when tougher legal sanctions introduced by the Labour government began to bite.

Damage to property, whether company, personal or public, by animal rights activists stood at 29 incidents by the end of June, compared with 31 for the first half of 2006. ‘Home visits’ by activists are on the increase, however, with 15 in January-June 2006 but 20 in the first half of 2007.

At the same time, the ABPI found, the number of advertised demonstrations by activists has increased “marginally”, showing that “the right to protest in a lawful manner has not been compromised”.

While welcoming the sustained low level of extremist activity, Dr Philip Wright, the ABPI’s director of science and technology, said it was essential to maintain the momentum at a time when new government departments were being formed under Gordon Brown, Tony Blair’s successor as prime minister. “In particular, it is critical the effective cross-departmental co-ordination through the Cabinet is not lost,” Dr Wright commented.

And despite the encouraging decline in ‘capitulations’, “more work needs to be done to build confidence across the business community to support companies going about their legal activities”, he stressed.

On the defensive

The figures come at a time when the UK government has been thrown back on the defensive over animal testing. The latest Home Office figures showed another annual rise in the number of scientific procedures involving animals during 2006.

The government’s record on ensuring animal suffering is kept to a minimum in UK laboratories under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 was also challenged last week in a judicial review brought by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV).

According to the BUAV, which won a partial victory in the High Court when the judge ruled that the Home Office had acted unlawfully in licensing invasive brain experiments on marmosets on the basis of a 'moderate' suffering banding, some 76% of the British public believe the government should, as a matter of principle, prohibit experiments on any live animals that cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm.

There is also a European dimension to this debate. Directive 86/609, which provides for the protection of laboratory animals in research across all EU industrial sectors, is currently under review. The legislative process for a revised Directive that would better reflect advances in science and technology is expected to start this autumn.

The European Coalition to End Animal Experiments in particular wants to see experiments on non-human primates outlawed in the review.