Animal rights activists strike in Switzerland
Will US activists follow the militant lead of their European counterparts?
The chief executive of the multi-national pharmaceutical company Novartis was a victim of arson when his country home in Austria was razed on Monday, August 3. This incident follows desecration of the graves of his parents by activists spraying gravestones with the inscription "drop HLS now." This is taken to be a reference to Huntingdon Life Sciences, a frequent target of organizations such as the Animal Liberation Front.
A splinter organization termed the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty Group (SHAC) denied responsibility for the arson and graveyard incidents but was quoted by Reuters as stating "some like-minded person might have been behind them." Using e-mail and media outlets SHAC has vowed to continue campaigning against HLS which provides services to AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Roche. Novartis facilities and employees in other countries including Britain and France have been subject to random occurrences of vandalism.
In 2003 John Lewis the deputy assistant director for counter terrorism at the FBI stated that eco-terrorist and animal liberation activists had caused damages valued at over $100 million nationwide. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was passed in 2006 to allow federal authorities to investigate intimidation, violence and other acts directed against research laboratories and scientists.
Although militant activists have minimal support in the U.S. and are regarded as urban terrorists, there is considerable groundswell to enact and extend laws to change the status of livestock, pets and laboratory animals from possessions to beings. Allegedly moderate organizations including the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the so-called Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine are active in soliciting funds, lobbying legislators and influencing public opinion through the media. The overt criminal activities are carried out by splinter groups but with indirect financial support and encouragement from the mainstream organizations.
Animal rights activism including invasion of farms and laboratory facilities, “liberating” livestock and acts of vandalism may be expected following any rejection of voter initiatives to ban confinement of livestock or the passage of preemptive legislation to establish agricultural boards to determine appropriate housing, and management standards as in Oklahoma and Ohio.
The poultry industry must be ever vigilant regarding strangers, applicants for farm employment who appear over-qualified or do not have the requisite documentation and references. Farmers and producers are advised to maintain good communication with law enforcement in their areas of operation and to establish contingency response plans in the event of attempted or actual intrusion. Generally the low level of structural security on U.S. production facilities facilitates break-ins. To date most of the actions against poultry farms have involved videotaping and distortion of images to sway public opinion.
Zealots may become more militant as they take cues from their European counterparts.