UPI Senior Medical Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Dec 22, 2006
Despite intensified law-enforcement efforts and the passage of a new federal law aimed at animal-rights extremists in 2006, the year ahead looks to be a busy one, with pharmaceutical companies squarely in activists' crosshairs. Earlier this year the FBI, which considers animal activists one of the biggest domestic terrorist threats, helped prosecute and essentially shut down a group called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty that was focused on financially ruining Huntingdon Life Sciences, a firm that conducts animal research for pharmaceutical companies.
In addition, President Bush signed into law the industry-supported update to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which imposes fines and imprisonment for activists targeting individual researchers and businesses.
But both animal-rights activists and research supporters say these actions will probably not be enough to stifle the diehard extremists in 2007.
"There's going to be a lot of activity," Frankie Trull, president of Foundation for Biomedical Research, a pro-animal research group supported by industry, told United Press International.
Trull said she thinks activists will target businesses conducting biomedical research as well as other secondary and tertiary targets.
"There's a lot of activities being carried out by activists that, if added up, would have a significant effect on biomedical research," she said.
Activists this summer succeeded in intimidating UCLA professor Dario Ringach into discontinuing animal research, and Trull said those kinds of personal campaigns will probably continue to increase.
On the prosecution side, she said she anticipates law enforcement will increase oversight, including using expanded powers of wiretapping, such as monitoring Internet communications of activists, granted under the PATRIOT Act.
"Getting the AETA law passed just moved all of this up on law enforcement's priority list," Trull said.
She said another campaign that will likely increase is the focus on contract research organizations (CROs), such as the one currently going on in Chandler, Ariz., over Covance's proposed animal-research facility.
The activists' activities could ultimately force pharmaceutical companies and others engaged in biomedical research to relocate their U.S. operations to other countries, Trull said.
"This is creating a climate that is not conducive to animal research, which is going to drive companies offshore," she said.
However, Jacquie Calnan, president of Americans for Medical Progress, a pro-animal research group supported partly by the pharmaceutical industry, told UPI she's not aware of any evidence that is occurring.
"I haven't seen that," Calnan said. "I don't think you're going to see any major pharmaceutical company that has a presence here in the United States pack up to go overseas."
Calnan said AETA may not deter extremists, but she hopes it sent a message that they will be held accountable for their actions and that it may make it harder for them to recruit new members.
However, it also might intensify the actions of the extremists.
"Those who are already in the field might try to step up their campaigns, but I don't see the number of members increasing," she said.
Calnan said her group plans to launch a campaign featuring patients who have benefited from animal research and technicians and veterinarians who work with the animals in the labs.
Called "Raising Voices, Saving Lives," the campaign's intent is to make people more comfortable speaking out in defense of animal research. The campaign will consist of a series of posters and efforts at the grassroots level to encourage supporters to discuss the benefits of animal research in their community.
AMP's campaign, however, will be competing against a campaign from animal-rights groups.
Camille Hankins, who represents Win Animal Rights, told UPI her group would be launching a campaign "to educate people about the horrors the drug companies are responsible for."
This includes targeting companies that work with Huntingdon and asserting that animal research is unreliable and leads to drugs that could potentially harm people, Hankins said.
She noted that one company WAR will focus on is Pfizer.
"We're going to be really focusing on that one particular company to get it to cut its ties to Huntingdon," she said.
The Pfizer campaign will include setting up a table in front of the firm's headquarters in New York and offering ex-employees of the pharmaceutical giant help finding employment with companies that are "cruelty-free," Hankins said.
In addition, they will be calling for a boycott on Pfizer products and setting up a hotline for whistleblower employees who want to divulge negative experiences they've had while working for the company.
Jerry Vlasak, spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, told UPI he anticipates there will be more underground activity, such as vandalizing labs and releasing research animals, as a result of AETA.
"Things are picking up," Vlasak said, noting that he's received several anonymous communiques in the last week from extremists claiming they've carried out illicit actions, including vandalism of fur stores and alleged poisoning of hundreds of bottles of POM Wonderful's juices.
However, POM, which was targeted by activists for funding animal research to show the health benefits of its juices, says this appears to be a hoax and it has detected no evidence of foul play.
"It's not going to make this thing go away," he said. "I don't think you're going to find anybody deterred," he said, adding that people who carried on legal protests and demonstrations are now worried about being prosecuted under this law and are leaning towards underground activities.
"There's a lot of people willing to die for the cause," Vlasak said.
Source: United Press International
Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty
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