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This article first appeared in the Guardian newspaper on Monday 1 December 1997
By Danny Penman

The parent company of the Co-operative Bank, famed for its opposition to animal experiments, has a massive share-holding in Europe's biggest vivisection laboratory.

Huntingdon Life Sciences, in which a subsidiary of the Co-operative Wholesale Society owns shares, was exposed earlier in the year in a Channel Four documentary.

The programme showed technicians battering and violently shaking dogs. They also made repeated attempts to take blood samples from panicking animals.

There was also evidence of scientists making errors in their calculations when doing the animal experiments.

Following the programme, the company's licence was suspended whilst the Home Office investigated accusations of cruelty to animals. Two members of staff have since been prosecuted for cruelty.

The company tests drugs, pesticides and a host of household products on tens of thousands of live animals every year.

According to Home Office estimates, the company has more than 10 baboons, 1,000 dogs, 2,000 rabbits, and 4,000 guinea pigs to be used in experiments.

An investigation by the Guardian has discovered that the Co-operative Insurance Society (CIS) owns more than one and a half a million shares in the lab worth nearly £1 million.

The CIS is part of the Co-operative Wholesale Society which owns the Co-op Bank and more than 700 shops.

Chris Hirst, Investment Manager for the CIS, said that they were currently reviewing their holding of shares in the company.

"But," he added: "If Huntingdon does not do the animal experiments then somebody else will."

The revelation has incensed animal welfare campaigners. Many shop at the Co-op and use its banking and insurance companies because of its ethical policies.

Animal Aid, one of Britain's biggest animal rights groups, said it was now "reconsidering whether to bank with the Co-op".

Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid, said: "We feel conned. It seems that the Co-op is in bed with an appalling vivisection company.

"We've always recommended the Bank because we believed what they told us about their ethical policy."

The discovery has also caused consternation inside the Co-op group. A spokesman for the Co-operative Wholesale Society, which owns the CIS, said that they still "opposed animal testing".

"The problem is that two members of the Co-op group have a policy on animal experiments while the other [the CIS] does not. They have their own board and are not responsible directly to us."

"The Co-operative Wholesale Society and the Co-op Bank have a track record in campaigning against animal experiments. We have a policy of not selling products under our own label that have been tested on animals.

"We also have a policy of not selling products under our own label that contain ingredients that have been tested on animals."

The Co-op Bank has a rigorous ethical screening procedure for corporate customers. Its Ethical Policy Unit turns away nearly a quarter of potential corporate customers every year because they do not meet its environmental, humanitarian and social criteria. About 16 per cent of those are for animal welfare reasons.

Animal rights campaigners are calling on the CWS to force its subsidiary to sell the shares.

Neil James, spokesman for the Animal Rights Coalition, which is campaigning to try and close down Huntingdon Life Sciences, said: "We want them to dump their shares and apologise."

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