Animal rights protest group SPEAK this week handed over a 65,000-signature petition to Oxford University, condemning the opening of the Oxford University Biomedical Sciences Centre and calling for an end to all testing on animals.

A spokesman from SPEAK said the 65,000 signatures had been gathered for the cause of stopping animal testing at Oxford specifically and were ‘proof of the strength of feeling against its operations among the local community and tourists alike.’

The petition was accompanied by a march down Cornmarket.
Another activist told the BBC “We’re hoping the University will take notice at the amount of opposition to the experiments they do. We were hoping to either get the building stopped, or get it changed to a cutting edge lab looking at alternatives [to animal testing]. The new lab means we can now concentrate on all animals being tested on at Oxford University, and not just the new building.”

The moves were timed to coincide with the end of the World Month for Laboratory Animals, an international campaign with which SPEAK has been heavily involved. The group has organised demonstrations throughout the UK against animal research and testing. Similar groups overseas have also been involved in the month of protest, with one demonstration in California seeing a dramatic confrontation between pro-testing and anti-testing campaigners.

Toby Holder, a spokesman for the pro-animal research group Pro-Test, questioned the value of the petition. “Over the last five years, SPEAK has gathered this enormous amount of signatures, but I’m not sure what it hopes to achieve by handing it to Oxford University.”

“Even if it was 65000 signatures, they don’t have the right to halt the medical advances for the rest of us.”

The submission of the petition comes shortly after a major victory for the anti-testing movement, when the British Union of Anti-Vivisectionists forced Oxford and other universities to publish figures on primate testing, which they had previously refused to do.

The university have released a statement in response to the petition and protest, saying “Animals are only used when no other research method is possible.” The spokesman said further: “We recognise that people have a range of views on this issue. The university has always said the building (the Biomedical Sciences Centre) is going to be better for animal welfare and is supporting research into disabilities and deadly diseases.”

SPEAK’s spokesman dismissed this statement as ‘meaningless’, saying the public should focus on the animals that are ‘convulsing and dying at the bottom of their cages in the centre.’

The group’s website urges tourists to boycott Oxford, urging students and tourists to “Say no to the city that supports corruption and cruelty. Boycott Oxford and say yes to a science based on compassion that actually works.”

The petition has been met by mixed reactions from University students. Robert Smith, a Biochemist in his first year at St Hilda’s College, believes that one should focus on the rewards that animal testing can reap in the field of medicine, while still ensuring that animals were kept as comfortable as possible. “When we think of animal testing cruelty and exploitation are often the first things that come to mind. It is sometimes easy to lose sight of what it can actually achieve. As soon as one looks at the number of instances where new cures for human diseases have been found thanks to tests on animals it becomes much harder to condemn. That having been said I feel that measures should be taken to improve as much as possible the conditions in which laboratory animals are kept. Consideration for the animals’ welfare is equally important.”

A 2005 Cherwell survey showed that 86% of Oxford students are in favour of the university carrying out research on animals, with just 11% opposed. By a similar margin, 84-10, they also supported the new animal research facility. Many students said that the actions of animal rights campaigners had made them more likely to support testing.

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