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Porton Down by Andrew Tyler, Vegan Views 90 (Autumn 2001)

One of the most secretive animal research laboratories is run by the Ministry of Defence at Porton Down, near Salisbury in Wiltshire. Animals there are tested for the effects of biological or chemical toxins that might be used in warfare.

On 1st September, a group of local people helped organise a demonstration on the streets of Salisbury to make local people aware of the animal torture happening in their vicinity.

Now that there are growing fears that terrorists could use chemical or biological means of attack, the call for more animal testing might increase.

Two or three years ago, Andrew Tyler of Animal Aid made a speech on a similar occasion of which we were able to obtain the following transcript:

Animal rightists have been hammering at the gates of Porton Down for decades. It's a simple issue: What right have we to mutilate, irradiate and blow apart animals because we human beings are so uncivilised that we can't talk away our differences, we have to resort to violence.

Pigs are used in mustard gas experiments. They are shot and blown apart with plastic explosives.

Guinea pigs are driven to uncontrolled defecation and convulsions with Soman - the poison gas used a few years back on the Tokyo subway.

Dogs have been reduced to shivering, eyeball-swivelling wrecks with riot control agents. Mice have suffered infectious gangrene by being subjected to biological weapons.

These are wicked experiments, whose results can't even be applied to human beings. And there is also a large element of repetition by so-called 'scientists' whose concern is to get published and win brownie points from the academic hierarchy.

But not only are these experiments immoral and scientifically flawed, the British government has a lousy record of looking after its troops on whose behalf these experiments are supposed to be conducted.

In the 1950s, some 22,000 British service personnel were exposed to radiation during 21 British nuclear weapons tests at Christmas Island in the Pacific and in Australia. Many are now suffering cancers, but because the government won't pay up, won't acknowledge it's responsibility, the troops are having to go through the civil courts.

Currently we have the Gulf War syndrome - a cluster of malignancies, birth defects, brain and respiratory disorders afflicting hundreds of returning veterans. Again, the government has effectively disowned them - refusing to recognise that their damage could be Gulf-linked. They haven't even properly monitored their physical condition.

These soldiers were subjected to a whole cocktail of toxic materials. Agents given them included vaccinations for anthrax, plague, yellow fever, tetanus, typhoid, polio, cholera, meningitis, pertussis and hepatitis B; also, anti-nerve agent tablets, known as NAPS.

We must assume that all these agents were tested on animals. And yet where various mixes did turn up severe side-effects during animal experiments - and one that did do damage was a combination of nerve gas antidote and insect repellent - the testing authority said: well, you can't extrapolate from rats and chickens to people. Of course you can't extrapolate directly from a chicken to a man. You can't extrapolate from a man to a woman.

In announcing a new multi-million programme of animal research into Gulf War syndrome, the then Tory government made a string of confessions as to the mess the Ministry of Defence - of which Porton Down is a part - has made in handling the medical-related matters of the Gulf War. Among the revelations are:

* No proper records were kept of which vaccinations and tablets individual troops received.
* Many of the troops were given these potentially hazardous treatments without their consent.
* Once back from the Gulf, sick veterans often didn't get proper medical assessment, let alone treatment.
* Physicians treating sick vets haven't bothered recording and publishing data so that a picture of the syndrome could be pieced together.
* Central to our own case is the acknowledgement that a combination of vaccines (pertussis and anthrax) given to mice and then to guinea pigs produced entirely conflicting results. The mice became seriously ill, the guinea pigs showed no symptoms. And yet the data from these tests - supposedly carried out to help Gulf troops - was treated as unimportant and destroyed.

In the light of these revelations, Animal Aid repeats the case made in our October '95 report called No Defence: the use of animals in weapons tests is morally objectionable and scientifically invalid. We call upon the government to confine itself to proper medical and social support for sick Gulf War troops, backed up by research that is humane and rational.

Porton Down used 11,221 animals in 1996, a total that has more than doubled since 1992. Six of the Home Office licences the establishment holds are for the 'substantial' category - allowing researchers to inflict the greatest level of pain allowed.

As well as the thousands of animals consumed in experiments, an even greater number go from the breeding units straight to incinerators - destroyed as surplus. Between 1990 and 1997, around 30,000 mice and 45,000 rats met this fate, according to a Parliamentary answer.

Another worrying aspect is the false distinction this government has developed between experiments designed to test bullets, explosives and so on, and those to test antidotes to biological and chemical weapons. They say the latter type - which represent the vast majority of all weapons-related animal experiments - don't belong to the same category. They aren't even to be thought of as weapons tests. But there is no difference. They all involve enormous suffering and death and all claim some sort of 'defensive' purpose.

The simple truth is that War kills. War maims. These facts will not change, no matter how many animals are violated inside war research establishments. And let no one kid you that this is about defending the realm. The UK's weapons industry is the second largest in the world, topped only by the USA. It accounts for almost a quarter of the world trade in arms. Its weapons are built and sold to buy political and economic advantage. They are a symptom of Britain's greed for power.

At Animal Aid we will continue taking the campaign to the government and on to the streets. We shall continue to insist that the majority of the British public finds these experiments repugnant, and unworthy of a country wishing to call itself civilised.

Just as the live exports issue has proved pivotal in encouraging an understanding of the whole farm animal production business, so I believe the campaign against the use of animals in weapons tests can spur an understanding of the irrational cruelties inherent in all aspects of lab animal experiments - the medical research sector included.

Our opponents are often mystified by the level of commitment and anger we manifest. They think we are paid agitators. They think we are mentally deficient.

They are themselves insane if that's what they think. We do it because we have to. We have to carry on because, until animals find peace, we won't find peace either.

Andrew Tyler, Animal Aid, The Old Chapel, Bradford Street, Tonbridge, Kent TN9 lAW. www.animalaid.org.uk

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Cross-reference: Animal Rights