Analysis: Researcher bows to extremists

By STEVE MITCHELL, UPI Senior Medical Correspondent   |   Aug. 8, 2006 at 5:29 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- The recent incident of a university researcher who ceased experiments involving monkeys due to pressure from animal-rights extremists has the pharmaceutical industry concerned activists could ultimately drive research organizations out of the United States.

Animal-rights groups, however, see this as empty rhetoric and think the movement is becoming stronger than ever.

"Our overriding concern is, if this country becomes non-conducive to doing biomedical research, the research won't stop but it will move offshore," Frankie Trull, president of Foundation for Biomedical Research, a group supported by industry, told United Press International.

"We will lose our R&D advantage and then we lose high skilled, high-paying jobs to overseas," Trull said.

So far, no pharmaceutical companies appear to have begun shifting their research to other countries.

"If they are, they aren't talking about it, but that doesn't mean it's not happening or that it's not on the drawing board," Trull said.

In the monkey research incident, Dario Ringach, a neurobiologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, sent an e-mail message last week to the North American Animal Liberation Press Office informing them he would be stopping his research involving animals.

Ringach's e-mail, obtained by UPI, reads, "You win. Effective immediately, I am no longer doing animal research."

Ringach requested NAALPO inform animal-rights groups and stop bothering his family.

The Primate Freedom Project, an animal-rights group based in Los Angeles, had led protests at Ringach's home, posted his home address and phone number on their Web site and distributed leaflets to his neighbors informing them of his research.

The group objected to experiments Ringach was going to conduct that, according to them, would have involved paralyzing and killing 30 macaque monkeys.

UCLA spokeswoman Judy Lin confirmed to UPI that Ringach sent the e-mail and released a statement from the university saying the case "illustrates the damage to society caused by the illegal terrorist activities of some animal rights groups."

UCLA also said it was cooperating "with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies investigating terrorist acts directed at university researchers."

Last month unidentified members of the Animal Liberation Front claimed credit for attempting to leave a "Molotov cocktail" at the home of another UCLA researcher, Lynn Fairbanks, who also conducts experiments with monkeys.

"Research involving laboratory animals has served as a vital cornerstone in the development of lifesaving procedures and medicines, from vaccines to open-heart surgery, organ transplantation to mental health treatment," UCLA said. "To be so extreme as to use violent tactics aimed at halting animal research is to take away hope from millions of people with cancer, AIDS, heart disease and hundreds of other diseases."

Jerry Vlasak, a spokesman with NAALPO, told UPI the increased efforts from the FBI and industry to crack down on animal-rights groups is an indication the movement is effective.

"I think it's stronger now than it's ever been despite all of law enforcement's best intentions," Vlasak said.

"We're increasingly effective, and we're going to see more Dario Ringachs in the future," he added.

Vlasak said that, in addition to opposing animal research due to the pain and suffering it inflicts upon animals, he sees the research as often unnecessary and not translating well to humans.

He doubted industry would move their research overseas but said that if they do, they will still encounter activists.

"Wherever they go, they will be followed," he said.

Trull said there may be other researchers like Ringach who are intimidated by the animal-rights movement.

"So many people are afraid to speak up for fear of being a target," Trull said. "A lot of other people have gotten out (of animal research) but didn't want their names used."

She said her group is aware of six researchers that have opted out of research over the past five years due to concerns about animal-rights groups.

"It's clearly a climate of intimidation and fear," Trull said. "It's inexcusable."

The pharmaceutical and biotech industries are concerned the activists might focus more of their attention on them.

Trull said the animal-rights groups' chat rooms and Web sites discuss making Big Pharma a primary target.

"They want to go after the biggest because that's how they get the most attention," she said. "Some of the big pharma companies have already felt some of this in the U.K.," she said.

Her group is urging Congress to act on the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which she says would improve law-enforcement officials' ability to thwart animal-rights extremists. The legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate.

© 2006 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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