Founded in 1952, Huntingdon Life Sciences is a UK based contract research company. It specialises in biological, agrochemical and pharmaceutical experimentation. This company is most famous for it’s alleged animal rights abuses.

HLS is currently under siege by a group of activists who claim the company is responsible for animal rights violations. In addition to picketing the company’s campus (Just outside Huntington in Cambridgeshire), activists make their demands known outside the premises of Huntingdon’s customers and shareholders.

HLS’s share price has fallen as many investors dislike being hassled because they own it’s stock. Recently HSBC has refused to act as a broker for HLS shares. Public support for the campaign appears to be growing; the activists are well organised and have set up a network of fundraisers around the country.

The issue at stake is whether allegedly cruel experiments on live animals are good science. The activists claim that there is no justification for the pain that the animals suffer. They back up these claims with photographic and video evidence of bizarre experiments. A particularly evocative image you can find at any fundraising stall is a picture of a kitten with a computer socket implanted into its brain.

On the other hand, the scientific and research community insist on the necessity for continuing animal research. Although many advances have been made in alternatives, there are still certain investigations where there are no reliable substitutes for live animal experiments.

HLS claim that much of the evidence the protesters offer is fabricated, or else totally unrelated to their company. HLS do not deny that they routinely perform animal experiments, but when they do so, it is because there is no safe alternative. Clearly the consequence of an improperly tested drug could be detrimental to more valuable human life.

Should the interests of science and the progress of medicine be dictated to by an undemocratic, unscientific pressure group? Should ‘progress’ be allowed to amok, regardless of common sense and possible consequences?

This isn’t the first time that this kind of issue has divided the British public: In 1812, the Luddites fought against the industrial revolution. A similar battle is being raged over the introduction of Genetically Modified foods into farmland.

As the stalemate continues, some activists have resorted to violence. On the 26th of April 2001, Jack Straw MP (The British Home Secretary) visited Huntingdon Life Sciences. There he pledged that he would create a new police force that would ensure the activities of pressure groups are kept strictly within the law.

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