A small band braved the snow in Market Square last week to protest against the breeding of beagles for vivisection. For four hours the local Save the Harlan Beagles organisation held a wintry candlelit vigil against Harlan Laboratories, the UK's only breeder of beagles for use in vivisection.
The protest was part of several across Europe aimed at raising public awareness about beagle breeding for vivisection. However protestors were looking close to home, at the Harlan lab in Wyton, Cambridgeshire.
They accused Harlan Laboratories of mistreating beagles, after a former employee reported seeing staff kick and punch the dogs, scribble on their faces with felt tips and keeping them in cramped and dirty pens.
Protesters argue the lack of transparency in such laboratories naturally leads to mistreatment of animals. Subra Sivarajah, who has been campaigning for animal rights for thirteen years, said "In labs they have carte blanche to do what they want". They also noted that Harlan sells UK-bred beagles in countries where rules on animal testing are less strict.
Protesters also criticised local Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a contract testing laboratory in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire which they accused of sourcing beagles for medical testing from Harlan Laboratories. They also alleged mistreatment of beagles at HLS. A 1997 undercover Channel 4 documentary led to Huntingdon employees being fired for animal cruelty.
HLS employees have since been assaulted, and animal rights activists sent to prison for harassment and intimidation of HLS staff.
Asked about the effectiveness of raising awareness, Sue Hughes, leader of the protest, mentioned protests in Italy which provoked animal rescue raids and led to the shutting down of animal testing labs. "We ought to close down Harlan eventually" she said.
Andrew Gay, Communications Manager at HLS, said "Every Nobel Prize in Medicine, every Nobel Prize in Physiology and every medical drug has involved animal research", and noted that since the abuse incident sixteen years ago there has been no evidence of animal cruelty at HLS. He also noted that only 1% of the animals tested at HLS are dogs - several hundred a year, and the company does not do beagle vivisection.
In response to claims that only 2% of drugs tested as safe on animals made it past the human stage of testing, Mr. Gay argued that the nature of scientific testing was that large proportions of drugs would fail at each stage. He went on to say that "It is a matter of the potential benefits to mankind against the rights of the animal and every government in the world comes down on the side of humans".
Adam Clark - Deputy News Editor