BioWorld International Correspondent
BOSTON - Animal rights activists have not ceased their activities in the U.S. despite the passing of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in November.
"Many thought this was a tremendous victory, which it is. But they thought also that animal rights extremism would go way," Frankie Trull, President of the National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR), told attendees at the BIO 2007 Convention. "But [extremists] are very committed, and this is not the case."
The NABR continues to track activities across the U.S., and Trull said the movement is not slowing down. "The chill is not lasting long," he said.
The act amended legislation that was passed in 1992. Trull said it provides better tools to respond to extremists and broadens the range of organizations covered, to take in secondary and tertiary targets ranging from banks to catering companies that have been targeted for supplying services to pharma and biotechs carrying out animal experiments.
Phil Celestini, supervisory agent at the FBI, said the new powers are important, but added. "[Animal rights activists] are not going away. No amount of law changes or enhancements is going to affect true believers. We are going to have to play 'move and countermove.'"
NABR's monitoring indicates that activists are looking more at targeting biotech companies. "Pharma companies have been caught in the crosshairs for years. I think biotech thought it was more obscure. But the last couple of years have seen a sea change in that," Trull said.
Bill Trundley, vice president of corporate security and investigations at GlaxoSmithKline plc, agreed. "Pfizer, Novartis, GSK won't go away because of animal rights extremism. The danger is small biotech companies that don't have the resources are in danger of collapsing in the face of extreme action."
The current wave of extremism has it roots in the campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences in the UK, but has now gone global, Trundley said. From 2000 onward GSK recorded 3,000 animal rights incidents at its UK sites, and knows of many more involving secondary targets ranging from taxi firms to multinational companies that have GSK employees as nonexecutive directors on their boards.
With the growing crackdown in the UK following the passage of new laws, GSK has seen activity spread to its business units elsewhere, including its U.S. facilities since 2005.
According to Trundley, animal rights extremists also have exported their campaign to mainland Europe, and affiliated organizations have been set up in Japan, Australia and Russia. The number and type of criminal activities recorded in the U.S. in 2005 to 2006 were a mirror image of what had happened in the UK previously. "It is a global problem," he said.
Trundley said he believes it is essential for industry to present a united front. He said one major pharmaceutical company had negotiations with animal rights groups to prevent it being targeted and added that amounted to appeasement. "I find that offensive; it doesn't do anyone any favors. We have got to stand together."
To combat the problem GSK has created a single global team, pulling together security, a legal team to issue injunctions, government affairs to lobby for legislation and a centralized communications strategy.