Analysis: Animal groups zero in on pharma

By STEVE MITCHELL, UPI Senior Medical Correspondent   |   July 26, 2006 at 6:01 PM

WASHINGTON, July 26 (UPI) -- An animal-rights advocate who recently made a presentation to law-enforcement officials at the FBI told United Press International this week she thinks activists will increasingly use financial attacks aimed at pharmaceutical companies in an effort to intimidate them to stop conducting experiments on animals.

The pharmaceutical industry anticipates the same thing and is concerned that what it perceives as a growing threat from animal-rights extremists will lead to violence and even murder of researchers.

"Financial attacks on companies, I think that is something that will be more commonly done because it seems to work better than anything else," said Charlotte Laws, an animal-rights advocate in Sherman Oaks, Calif., who was invited to speak about animal-rights philosophies in April at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va.

Laws said she was not an advocate of the financial attacks, which can include threatening to release personal details of shareholders of companies, making visits to executives' homes and other tactics designed to intimidate firms to stop research involving animals.

"I think it's better publicity to rescue animals because it creates more sympathy among the public," she said.

However, the financial attacks are effective, so other activists are likely to increasingly use the strategy. "Finding creative ways to financially hinder companies does make sense, and I think that's something that will be more commonly done," Laws said.

But she doesn't foresee the animal-rights movement using violence against researchers because it would be counterproductive to gaining public support.

"I don't think killing people is going to be something that will work, so I don't think that's going to happen," she said. "But you never know," she added, noting that any individual could claim to be a member of the Animal Liberation Front, an extremist group that has vandalized labs and targeted homes of researchers.

Earlier this month the ALF claimed credit for placing a "Molotov cocktail" at the home of Lynn Fairbanks, a primate researcher at the University of California in Los Angeles. The device apparently did not ignite or cause any damage.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which became involved in the investigation along with the FBI, said last week the explosive was placed at the wrong house and not the residence of Fairbanks.

Still, the ATF is taking the matter seriously due to concerns these kinds of tactics could eventually result in murder.

"Once a fire is set or an explosive is detonated, it is just a matter of time before someone is killed," ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Davy Aguilera said in announcing there was a $30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

Another group the pharmaceutical industry is concerned about is WAR, or Win Animal Rights, which targets several big pharma companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer and Novartis, because they do business with Huntingdon Life Sciences, a supplier of lab animals.

WAR posted a notice on its Web site earlier this month claiming its members visited the homes of two Bristol-Myers Squibbs executives.

"We paid a noisy visit to ... Sandra Holleran, Vice President of Bristol Myers Squibb, a major customer of Huntingdon Life Sciences," the WAR notice stated, adding they informed Holleran's neighbors "that BMS contracts in cruelty."

The statement continued, "Sandra Holleran, how do you sleep at night knowing puppies got punched in the face to pay for your apartment? Probably not very well in your lower level, street front apartment when there are noisy demos (demonstrations) outside."

Jacquie Calnan, president of Americans for Medical Progress, a group in Alexandria, Va., that is supported by the pharmaceutical industry, said the financial attacks against companies, including divulging personal details of stockholders or executives, are increasing.

"We are very grateful because the FBI are taking this seriously and local law enforcement are aware this is a national problem," Calnan told UPI.

She said her organization views this "as a growing problem" and remains concerned it will escalate to violence against researchers.

"Whenever there's an explosive device used, whenever activists urge others to commit violence against others, there's always a danger of somebody being hurt if not killed," she said.

Calnan said that although she doubts any animal-rights group would subscribe to violence against people, she's concerned an individual might hear the urgings and decide to take actions that could result in serious injury or death to a researcher.

"I'm very concerned it could be a single individual who would take matters into their own hands," she said.

Calnan, who talks regularly with pharmaceutical company groups, said the industry is "watching (the animal-rights movement) with concern."

But in general the industry remains committed to research involving animals and does not plan to cave in to the demands of the activists.

"Folks are resolved," she said. "There's not going to be any backing away from research based on criminal acts from a handful of activists."

The industry, however, can't ignore the advocates' tactics, and companies have been forced to put more money and resources into security for both researchers and lab animals, she said.

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