Around 4,000 experiments a year are carried out in Britain on monkeys. In Brussels this week, campaigners on both sides will exchange the first blows in a new fight to outlaw the practice across Europe. Science editor Robin McKie reports
Scientists, politicians and animal rights campaigners will confront each other this week in a battle that will ultimately determine the future use of primates in medical research in Britain and the rest of the European Union.
The public meeting - to be held in Brussels on Thursday - will mark the opening round of a campaign that could result in the EU banning experiments on macaques, marmosets and other monkeys in all member states.
'It is quite clear a serious battle over primate research is about to begin,' said Oxford neuroscientist Tipu Aziz, who will speak at the meeting. 'We should be under no illusions about the impact of primate experiment ban, however. It would force us to abandon research that could lead to new treatments for Alzheimer's, motor neurone disease, strokes and many other illnesses.'
Great apes - gorillas, chimpanzees and orang-utans - are no longer used in scientific experiments in Europe but other primates are involved in research into new drugs, surgical procedures and vaccines. Around 10,000 experiments, mainly on marmosets and macaques, are carried out every year, with Britain leading the field with an annual total of just under 4,000.