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Animal Activists Storm DC

UPI Senior Medical Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- Animal rights advocates held demonstrations outside the Washington, D.C., offices of several major pharmaceutical companies Monday to protest testing of potential medications on animals.

The activists said they also conducted protests at the homes of several pharmaceutical company employees in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area over the weekend, including staff of Pfizer, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline.

The advocates object to the fact the pharmaceutical firms do business with Huntingdon Life Sciences, which conducts animal tests that the activists consider brutal and unnecessary.

"We're trying to bring attention to companies that are customers of Huntingdon Life Sciences; that they are killing 500 animals per day and that they're practicing fraudulent science," Camille Hankins, spokeswoman for Win Animal Rights, told United Press International.

"They need to make the ethical business choice to cut their ties to Huntingdon," Hankins said.

A group of approximately 13 activists held posters and chanted outside the Merck office on Pennsylvania Avenue. They also held posters and distributed flyers to passersby outside the offices of AstraZeneca and Novartis.

The posters had a picture of a beagle that had been cut open, apparently as part of a study conducted at Huntingdon, with the message: "Huntingdon Life Sciences, Puppy Killers."

Hankins led chants that included "500 animal died today, Merck pharma is to blame" and "Vivisection is a lie, How many animals have to die?"

Hankins said two other groups of activists conducted demonstrations at other pharmaceutical and biotech company offices in Washington, including Monsanto, Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline.

"We're hoping to raise consciousness, and people will see the graphic images and understand that what Huntingdon Life Sciences is doing is wrong," Hankins said. "The animals have no hope except for the people, like us, who go out and speak for them."

The effect on the pharmaceutical firms is unclear, but the companies apparently expected the protests. Increased security was in place at the AstraZeneca and Novartis offices and the security manager of the building said the protests were anticipated.

"There was a rumor going on that they might be coming," Madison Agnew, security director of the buildings that houses the Washington offices of AstraZeneca, Novartis and Sanofi-aventis, told UPI.

Huntingdon Life Sciences did not return UPI's call late Monday.

The protests are the latest incident in an intensifying battle between animal rights groups, law enforcement and the pharmaceutical industry.

The FBI has sought to crack down on the activists and one group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) USA, has all but been disbanded after its Web site was shut down and seven of its members were convicted in federal court in March of carrying out a campaign of intimidation and harassment against Huntingdon.

The case has had a chilling effect on animal rights advocates, but they say it won't stymie the movement and may only serve to stiffen activists' resolve.

"We're all scared ... in terms of our rights," Brenda Shoss, a former spokeswoman for SHAC and now with Kinship Circles, told UPI. Shoss participated in the protests Monday.

"It seems like large corporations can manipulate the law through the use of money," Shoss said, referring to the conviction of the SHAC 7, as the case has come to be known.

"The SHAC Website might have offended (Huntingdon), but since when is that illegal? And where does it stop?" she said.

But she added that the conviction of the SHAC members won't intimidate activists from protesting and could have the effect of making activists more determined.

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