The UK Government’s proposal for jail sentences of up to five years for animal rights protesters who are found guilty of damaging research laboratories has been given a warm welcome by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

Announcing the move, trade and industry secretary, Patricia Hewitt, said: “Animal rights extremists put medical breakthroughs in areas like AIDS, cancer and Alzheimer’s directly at risk. This new law would not affect the important right to peaceful protest, while cracking down hard on those committing crimes – and some horrific acts – against innocent people.”

The Government’s plans, which will form part of the Serious and Organised Crime Bill “directly address what the ABPI has called for,” the association noted, adding that it believes “this legislation will deal with the intimidatory and threatening activities of animal extremists faced by researchers.”

The ABPI’s director general, Richard Barker, added: “Pharmaceutical companies will see this as a watershed not just in terms of removing a key concern about further investment into the UK, but also in the drive to develop new medicines for patients,” while the association’s director of science and technology, Philip Wright, praised the Government for listening carefully to all stakeholders affected by animal rights extremism.

“No-one wishes to curb those who wish to make legitimate, peaceful protest within the law,” he declared, “but the activities of animal extremists have descended into a pattern of harassment, intimidation and violence that cannot be tolerated in a civilised society.”

The proposals are clearly a positive response to fears the APBI expressed early this year that more and more drug suppliers in the UK are being forced to stop providing their services to firms that specialise in animal research, because they are being targeted by protesters [[20/01/05b]]. Whether the measures will be enough to stop the extremists remains to be seen.