Today, February 25, 2016 marks the 10th anniversary of Pro-Test, an international movement that supports biomedical research and the use of animal models and rejects the violence and intimidation often associated with animal-rights activism. After Oxford University began construction on a new biomedical facility in 2004, activists from the Animal Liberation Front and ‘SPEAK, the Voice for the Animals’ started a campaign to halt the construction of the facility. Threats were made to staff and shareholders of the contractor in charge of construction, Walter Lilly, causing them to pull out of the project. Construction resumed 6 months later, but the violence was far from over.
In October of 2005, animal militants set off a gasoline bomb inside a student-run Oxford boathouse, causing over $1 million in damages. This was followed by a violent campaign in which more bombs were placed around the college and under cars. Oxford students were subject to daily harassment and threats by activists with megaphones standing near the science area.
The destroyed boathouse
It was in this climate of intimidation and fear that 16-year-old Laurie Pycroft of nearby Swindon happened across an animal rights demonstration taking place at Oxford. He became frustrated with what he saw to be the lies and violent tactics being used by the animal extremists, so he drew up a sign that said “Support Progress – Build the Oxford Lab.” After receiving a torrent of abuse from activists and encouragement from the community, Pycroft began plans to hold a rally in support of the lab. Laurie got in touch with students at Oxford and together they organized an event to take place the same day as SPEAK’s animal rights march.
The group worked hard to raise awareness of their cause, and people began to take notice of their efforts and voice support for their message. The cause even caught the attention of the BBC, and support for rational debate and sound policy began to snowball. As February 25, 2006, the date of the two rallies approached, prominent researchers signed on to speak at the Pro-Test event, along with Evan Harris, the Minister of Parliament for Oxford. The police also prepared for the possibility of conflict between the two groups – a wise precaution given the history of violence from animal extremists.
The Pro-Test rally with over 1,000 supporters
On the day of the event, more than 1,000 people showed up in support of Pro-Test, far outnumbering the 200 who marched with SPEAK. Media coverage of the event praised the triumph of reason and science over violent intimidation and misinformation. The successful rally marked a turning point in the Oxford debate over biomedical research. When the world-famous Oxford Debating Society took up the issue, more than 85% of members voted to defend animal research at the university. Continued public attention led to Prime Minister Tony Blair signing a petition in support of animal research.
The Pro-Test movement went on to form groups around the world, including the United States, Italy and Germany. In 2008, Pro-Test members founded the popular website Speaking of Research, which continues to advance their message to this day. Speaking of Research also has a far more detailed history of the Pro-Test movement, which is well worth reading. Pro-Test is an inspiring example of a campaign that began with a single event, from the mind of one person, which has grown into a continuing movement that supports animal research and the “welfare of mankind.”
FBR wishes Pro-Test a happy 10th birthday and offers our support and encouragement to continue helping the public understand how animal research benefits all of us.