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Biotech / Medical : Life Sciences Research, Inc (LSRI)

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From: leigh aulper1/31/2005 9:19:31 AM
   of 22
 
Animal Rights Group Aims at Enemy's Allies
Harassment Campaign Targets Suppliers, Customers of Product Testing Company
By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 31, 2005; Page A16

HUNTINGDON, England -- Greg Avery was a small-time activist on the fringes of the animal rights movement here when, one day in 1999, he trailed a truck full of cats from a breeding farm to its destination: the gates of Huntingdon Life Sciences, Britain's largest animal research laboratory.

Suddenly, he recalls, it came to him: Why focus on one little cat farm when you could declare war on a major publicly traded company that experiments on thousands of animals each year?

Over the next five years, the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign, known as SHAC, brought Huntingdon to the edge of bankruptcy and forced the company to cease trading on the London Stock Exchange and move its corporate headquarters to New Jersey. Activists with clubs assaulted two of its senior executives, while dozens of other employees reported harassment ranging from damage to their property to threatening phone calls and false allegations of pedophilia.

The campaign spread to the United States, where a federal grand jury in Newark last May indicted SHAC USA and seven individuals on charges that included violation of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The trial is scheduled for June.

The campaign against Huntingdon -- a company with 1,400 employees and $120 million in annual sales -- is the longest, most aggressive and most ambitious that the militant wing of the animal rights movement has ever conducted. It marks an escalation in tactics and a new internationalization of the movement, which to a large extent was born and bred in Britain and still follows the lead of British activists.

Proponents of animal testing argue that without it, most of the drugs and modern therapies developed to combat cancer and a host of other diseases would not exist. But animal rights advocates contend that testing is inhumane and largely unreliable. For activists such as Avery, testing is nothing less than mass murder.

The key to strangling Huntingdon, says Avery, has been to focus on harassing its suppliers and customers -- ranging from the bank that lent it money to the caterer who supplied its cafeteria food. "We decided to hit companies who don't need Huntingdon but Huntingdon needs them," he said. "These are banks with tens of millions of pounds -- why risk their reputation for some crappy little company? If they wouldn't make a moral decision, we would force them to make a financial one."

Brian Cass, Huntingdon's managing director, said his company has survived the onslaught and is back on its feet. But Avery, who insists that he and his supporters operate within the law, contends the campaign is well on its way toward driving Huntingdon out of business within the next two years.

Avery, 36, has waged his campaign with just a handful of paid organizers, a few dozen dedicated volunteers and a support system of several thousand sympathizers utilizing a network of cell phones and Web sites. "It's very much a David and Goliath thing," he declared.

But in this war of attrition, it's hard sometimes to tell David from Goliath.

An Obvious Target

On a crisp but sunny autumn Wednesday, Gavin Medd-Hall, 40, an unemployed computer technician, led a band of five protesters on a journey south of London. Over the course of the day, they visited three companies that supply services to Huntingdon or carry out animal research for it on contract. At each stop they unfurled a 10-foot-long vinyl banner with a color photo of a terrified cat strapped down for experimentation.

Outside the local offices of Fujisawa Healthcare Inc., a Japanese drug manufacturer, the protesters pulled out loudspeakers from a backpack and began their harangue. "Five hundred animals are dying every single day in a painful medieval torture chamber," intoned one of them. "You have blood dripping from your hands, Fujisawa, because of your disgusting lust for money and profit."

Huntingdon, which conducts experiments on up to 75,000 rats, mice, guinea pigs, cats, dogs and monkeys every year, is an obvious target. Two hidden-camera investigations in the 1990s uncovered deliberate abuse of animals by staff members in England and the United States. Company officials say that the incidents were isolated and that strong safeguards are in now in place to ensure they don't recur.

Huntingdon operates two labs in England and another in New Jersey that test new drugs, shampoos, food products and industrial chemicals on animals. The company produces toxicology, metabolic and other studies for pharmaceutical companies around the world that by law must conduct such studies before receiving product approval.

The company acknowledges that it kills thousands of animals during its testing, but insists that conditions under which the tests proceed are as humane as possible. An hour-long guided tour of portions of two buildings at the main site here revealed nothing to contradict those claims. Forty beagle puppies in one room were kept in kennel-style conditions. The floors were clean, food and water plentiful and the people in charge expressed affection and concern for the dogs.

Avery said he and each of SHAC's half-dozen full-time employees are paid less than $100 a week. He buys his clothes at a charity shop in London, and he and his family live in a house lent to the movement by a wealthy benefactor. Hundreds of other people donate money or time to the cause, and therein lies its real strength, according to Avery. "They call us extremists," he said. "But 7 million people in this country have cats, and 6 million have dogs. They all identify with animals in the labs."

In the early days of the campaign, Avery was arrested and jailed for threatening the life of a Huntingdon official. SHAC's Web site published the names and home addresses of company employees and urged supporters to harass them. A half-dozen cars of company workers were firebombed. Many of the attacks were carried out in the name of the Animal Liberation Front, an underground movement that has operated sporadically in Britain since the mid-1970s.

Three men in ski masks confronted Cass, the managing director, when he pulled into his driveway one evening in February 2001. They battered him in the head and ribs with pickax handles until a neighbor chased them off. An activist named David Blenkinsop, 38, is serving a three-year sentence for the assault on Cass as well as five years for his part in a firebombing campaign.

Avery insisted that he opposes violence and illegal activity, although he has been convicted four times for activities related to Huntingdon. He, his wife, Natasha Taylor, and his former wife, Heather James, served six months each in 2002 for conspiracy to incite criminal damage after the SHAC Web site published the names and addresses of the Huntingdon employees.

SHAC continues to publish the names, addresses and phone numbers of companies that do business with Huntingdon, although it posts a disclaimer that it "does not encourage illegal actions of any kind against these companies."

After SHAC published the name and address of BOC, a British supplier of gas to Huntingdon, a female employee's property was damaged. A message signed "ALF" was posted on Bite-Back, a Florida-based Web site: "If you don't think it is torture put yourself in that lab for one day. You would not be able to stomach it you sick freaks."

Last month, BOC announced it was severing ties with Huntingdon. A company statement called the move "a commercial decision."

Economic Pressure

A 10-foot-high fence topped by razor wire surrounds the headquarters of Huntingdon Life Sciences, 70 miles north of London, and the front gate is protected by a brick compound.

Cass recalled the time five years ago when demonstrators massed outside the complex every day, shouting abuse and taking down the license plate numbers of employees and suppliers. But the key moment, he said, came when SHAC targeted the company's financial base.

Huntingdon's fund manager, Phillips & Drew, sold its 11 percent stake in February 2000 after its London offices were evacuated following a bomb threat and the disclosure on the SHAC Web site of home phone numbers of the fund's directors.

The Royal Bank of Scotland dropped out a year later, calling in its $35 million loan. And when no other British bank would agree to assume the loan, the Bank of England stepped in to avert bankruptcy. The accounting firm Deloitte and Touche resigned as the company's auditor in February 2003. The company's insurance broker also quit, forcing the government to provide emergency coverage.

Huntingdon eventually found new financing with Stephens Inc., an Arkansas investment bank, and reincorporated in the United States as Life Sciences Research Inc. The American company's share price, which fell to less than $1 in 2002, has risen to more than $11, and it recently reported its 15th consecutive quarter of revenue growth.

"This company is in a lot stronger position today than it was in 2000," said Cass, who remains grimly defiant. On the bulletin board of his office is a photo of him in a SHAC sweat shirt that reads: "Spongers, Hypocrites Anarchists Cowards."

At first, he said, government officials were slow to react. But this past year, police arrested 202 people on charges related to animal rights activism. The government has enacted new laws to establish security zones around businesses and homes targeted by activists, to allow for the prosecution of people colluding in harassment, and to enable executives and boards of directors of targeted companies to keep their identities and addresses confidential.

Officials are acting in part out of concern that SHAC's success is spreading. Earlier this year, activists pressured Cambridge University into scrapping plans to build a primate research center, and a new campaign is seeking to force Oxford University to abandon plans for a new $35 million research laboratory.

Cass said the new laws have made a difference, although he maintains that activists still get away with intimidation. "I'll believe these things have worked when that phone rings and it's a High Street bank saying, 'We'd like you to open an account with us,' " he said.

Just as Huntingdon migrated to the United States, SHAC has followed. Kevin Kjonaas, a student at the University of Minnesota, traveled to England to work with Avery and James in the early days of the campaign. He returned to the United States and founded SHAC USA. Kjonaas is one of seven activists facing federal animal terrorism charges for allegedly conducting and encouraging violence, vandalism and intimidation against Life Sciences, Stephens Inc. and other companies. The activists, who deny the charges, argue that the authorities are violating their right of free expression by branding them as terrorists.

Despite the new pressures, Avery insisted that SHAC will triumph. Its most recent newsletter pledged to move on to demonstrations at British airports to block the importation of lab animals for testing at Huntingdon. "Time to close the gateways to hell," reads the headline, which appears under SHAC's motto: "We never give in and we always win."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company
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