Animal Protection > Worldwide Actions > United States

Activists unleash attacks
Animal rights groups are making targets squirm with admittedly
 illegal acts executed by anonymous members

May 4, 2005

It's a subject that local biomedical companies and labs won't talk about in public: animal rights terrorism.

"We didn't have this conversation," said a spokesman for a Long Island biomedical facility.

"We don't want to be on their radar," said another.

Said a third: "We don't want to even go there."

The FBI and Nassau and Suffolk County police recently said they were investigating allegations that the Animal Liberation Front, a shadowy radical animal rights group, has waged a campaign of harassment against a pharmaceutical company executive and his wife who live on Long Island.

ALF said it has targeted these people because they are associated with Manhattan-based pharmaceutical company Forest Laboratories Inc., which has facilities in Commack, Farmingdale and Hauppauge. Forest Labs does business with Huntingdon Life Sciences, Britain's largest animal research laboratory, which tests drugs, food products and industrial chemicals on animals for other companies before they are brought to market. Huntingdon, which has a facility in East Millstone, N.J., has been the focus of an ongoing campaign by radical animal rights groups, which charge that Huntingdon is abusing the animals -- which the company has continually denied.

Those who closely monitor groups like ALF say such targeting is on the increase -- and has gotten very personal.

"They identify somebody's children; they follow the children home," said Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, a group sponsored by institutions that depend on animals for research. "They're going after the customers, like Forest Labs. They go after the support services -- the plumbing company, the electrical company. They go down to the deepest depths -- to the landscaper and to the caterer."

The ALF Web site clearly outlines its goals and strategy: ALF members act "directly to stop animal suffering. ... Direct action refers to illegal actions performed to bring about animal liberation. These are usually one of two things: rescuing animals from laboratories or other places of abuse, or inflicting economic damage on animal abusers. Due to the illegal nature of ALF activities, activists work anonymously... "

The group had posted on its Web site that its members went into the wife's unlocked car, stole a credit card from it and used it to buy $20,000 in traveler's checks that were sent to charities. The group also boasts that it spray-painted other executives' houses and cars and threatened to contaminate the food at the company's holiday party last December. Even the catering hall where the party was held came under fire: ALF called on activists to blitz the owner with phone calls to demand that it "not host Forest puppy killers."

Trull and others said it's hard to know just how many actions ALF and other related groups such as Earth Liberation Front -- which similarly targets those the group feels are hurting the ecosystem -- have waged against businesses and universities because many are reluctant to report them. Tim Horner, managing director of international security firm Kroll Inc., said, "We have quite a bit of business associated with these groups."

A Financial Times article noted that executives at BIO, the largest American biotech conference, were shaken last June when an FBI agent told them that most of the companies there were on a list of 1,100 potential corporate targets circulating among animal-rights activists.

FBI testimony last year before the Senate Judiciary Committee estimated that "ALF/ELF and related groups have committed more than 1,100 criminal acts in the United States since 1976, resulting in damages conservatively estimated at approximately $110 million."

Other costs to companies are harder to quantify but no less real, said Horner, a former captain in the New York Police Department's intelligence division. "Money and resources are being devoted to protection, where they weren't devoted before," Horner said. "This changes the business model ... and can affect the bottom line."

There's also, Trull said, the worry that "you're losing the next generation of brilliant minds to something less controversial" because they fear for their and their family's safety.

Compared with the United Kingdom, considered to be the hotbed of radical animal activism, U.S. institutions have been relatively unscathed. Yet that may be changing.

"Prior to the Internet, we used to say that what happened in the UK would happen in the U.S. five years from now. Now it's almost instantaneous," said Jacquie Calnan, president of Americans for Medical Progress, which represents 130 businesses and universities that support animal research. Because of the Internet, she says she worries about "the lone wolf," who derives support and ideas from ALF's Web site but acts on his own.

"I'm not hopeful it won't get worse," said John Miller, executive director of the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International, which does voluntary accreditation of 90 percent of animal labs in the country. "They have discovered that the tactics work."

Other animal rights organizations have mixed feelings about groups such as ALF. Ingrid Newkirk, the head of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said that PETA's and ALF's goals are the same, although their tactics are different.

She said ALF's tactics have stopped some experiments on animals. "It's sad that such actions bring change while petitioning, writing letters, being polite and so on should do the job," she said.

To Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, the largest animal welfare group in the country, the tactics are counterproductive: "It makes them [research companies and institutions] into victims and obscures the really important moral question raised by using healthy animals and making them sick or injuring them."

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