ANIMAL rights groups are disrupting universities and government bodies with a flood of freedom of information requests, it has emerged.
Academics and research experts say the new tactic is designed to disrupt important research work.
The trend is a change from old-style campaigns that included mass protests, vandalism and violence.
One expert said it could be harming animals because it was dramatically adding to the work load of some animal welfare workers.
“It is a shift of strategy,” said Dominic Wells, of Britain’s Royal Veterinary College.
“The FoIs are particularly difficult because they very often ask a question in a rather large amount of detail.
“What’s required isn’t simply a matter of collecting information from document X and making it available. “People dealing with those requests very often have to spend a considerable time getting the information from a whole variety of different sources.
“My impression is that that’s a deliberate tactic to use time. “FoI is an entirely reasonable tool but I’m not convinced it’s being used in an entirely reasonable way.
“When they’re constructed in such a way to just use time that is definitely detracting from research.”
Roger Lemon, a professor at the Institute of Neurology at University College London, said that dealing with FoI requests could harm laboratory animals.
He said: “It takes up the time of those people who are specifically charged with looking after animal welfare.
“In small centres especially, staff employed to care for the animals could end up spending much of their time in front of a computer.”
Vicki Robinson, chief executive of the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, said of the FoI strategy: “It’s a distraction. I would much rather have scientists focusing on the main 3R replacement, refinement and reduction] opportunities.”
Katy Taylor, director of science and regulatory affairs at the antivivisection group Cruelty Free International, said: “Freedom of information requests are a legitimate practice, made necessary by the current culture of secrecy around animal experiments.
“Transparency is an important part of research and British taxpayers have a right to know about the experiments funded in their name.
“Cruelty Free International does not make requests to frustrate animal research institutions, but rather to shed a light on the suffering of animals in laboratories.”