Animal Rights extremists are having a serious impact and are being seen as a real threat to the UK's pharmaceutical industry:
The number of companies that have stopped supplying services to U.K. organizations involved in animal research because of intimidation by animal rights activists is rising, a drug industry group said.
Some 42 of the 113 suppliers that cut ties in 2004 with drug companies and others that use animals in research reported doing so in the last quarter of the year compared with 26 in the third quarter, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said today in an e-mailed statement. Comparable figures for 2003 are not available, the ABPI said.
Some companies that provide services or supplies to drugmakers or laboratories are distancing themselves from animal researchers as some activists step up harassment campaigns, the ABPI said. The number of threatening phone calls made to companies in 2004 nearly tripled to 108 from 38 in 2003, ABPI figures show. Reports of damage to company, personal or public property rose to 177 from 146.
``Increasingly companies are getting more and more concerned about this continuing problem,'' Richard Ley, a spokesman for ABPI, said in a telephone interview. ``It's increasingly something which companies are taking into account when they think about where in the world to place their research and development work.''
Companies that have stopped providing services to animal researchers range from banks and insurers to companies that sell laboratory supplies or provide building maintenance, Ley said. . . .
I previously reported that a worried National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF), a private organization that controls some 20% of the the British Stock market, has become allied with local and national government in combatting the terrorists (link, link, link), together offering rewards, coordinating tactics and drafting legislation.
Here's another move by the government to craft helpful legislation:
A law creating a new type of criminal offence, which targets "economic sabotage" by animal rights activists, is expected to be announced by the government within weeks.
[ . . . ]
The decision to act swiftly on the measure - announced in principle by Tony Blair last November - reflects government concern at the impact of activity by extremists on Britain's hopes of becoming a magnet for life science companies.
Increasing numbers of suppliers are pulling out of dealing with British drug companies that engage in animal research because of pressure from animal rights activists, according to industry figures released yesterday. [See figures above — ed]
[ . . . ]
But the number of visits paid by animal rights activists to the homes of company directors and employees dropped, signalling a possible switch in tactics. Nor were there any recorded incidents of fireworks aimed at private homes, unlike the previous year.
The overall increase in activity took place in spite of greater police activity in the final six months of last year, the ABPI said.
"The fact that more and more suppliers are being forced to drop their business with companies involved in animal research is especially ominous," said Philip Wright, the ABPI's director of science and technology. If the trend continued, it was "by no means fanciful to suggest that pharmaceutical companies will seriously consider whether it is still appropriate to carry out this essential research work in the UK".[Emphasis added — ed.]
These are not idle threats. If the figures above are correct, what, exactly would be the incentive for the pharmaceutical companies to remain in the UK when there are other countries who would welcome their presence (including, I dare say, the US)?
The UK has a really big problem here . . .
Ministers have already included measures in the organised crime bill to give police greater powers to deal with physical intimidation or harassment by activists.
The government now plans to amend further the bill to introduce a new type of offence, designed to target activists who aim to deter drugs companies by targeting their suppliers, financial backers, investors and customers, as well as their employees and directors.
The Department of Trade and Industry, which is working with the Home Office on finalising the wording of the new law, said yesterday it would be "coming forward with measures to protect companies in supply chains from economic damage caused by animal rights extremists". Ministers are still debating whether the offence should cover all extremists, not just the animal rights activists who are its principal target. One option would be an animal rights provision that could be extended to other activities by secondary legislation.
The ministers see the picture clearly enough: understanding the need to protect suppliers, investors and clients of pharmaceutical companies is spot on.
MPs will today debate the issue, when the Liberal Democrats introduce an amendment to the organised crime bill proposing an offence of "intention to cause economic loss" to organisations conducting animal research. The amendment is set to be superseded by the government's forthcoming proposal but the debate will provide the first chance for MPs to discuss the potential legal minefield created by such an offence, such as the risks of criminalising protests such as boycotts. Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP, said the experience in his constituency of "outrageous intimidatory behaviour" by activists targeting Oxford University's new biomedical research laboratory had persuaded him a new law was needed.
This, of course, is exactly why meaningful legislation is so difficult to write: an "intention to cause economic loss" is an over-broad category that could be applied willy-nilly to virtually anyone who, as the piece notes, calls for a boycott, the whole purpose of which is to "intentionally cause economic loss."
So the problem becomes how one crafts legislative words to create a law that is broad enough to avoid loopholes and allow broad discretion of law enforcement people and the courts, but specific enough to protect civil liberties of people from the capricious or malicious application of the law.
That's going to be tough, since such a law would have to harmoniously reconcile two conditions (laws for security vs the absence of laws for freedom) that appear to be mutually exclusive. Or sacrifice one for the other.
I see the problem as being roughly equivalent to the problem of trying to outlaw pornography in the US. There have been and will continue to be all kinds of contentious definitional and enforcement problems. The problem is insoluble.
The university was forced to stop work on the laboratory last year after companies involved in the construction - including Montpellier, the contractor, and subcontractors such as RMC, which supplied concrete - resigned their contracts, citing intimidation by protesters.
It said in November it planned to resume the building work after securing wide-ranging injunctions against protesters.
This is another one of those "it's going to be interesting to watch" things . . .
Personally, I think the most promising legislative approach might be to bundle the kinds of coercive things the AR people are doing with "stalking" laws.
And again I fall back on my plaintive refrain: laws are fine, but they aren't worth a tinkers damn unless the the laws themselves are enforceable, and the government has the will and resources to do so, and to make those convicted pay a stiff penalty.
Though legislation and aggressive law enforcement and punishment are necessary conditions for stopping the coercive, thuggish and terroristic tendencies of the AR extremists, they are not sufficient.
And so I come to this: why on earth should the pharmaceutical companies look to government for the lion's share of their protection? Why are they not actively engaged in protecting themselves?
Perhaps there's something here I fail to appreciate, but it seems to me that the NAPF and the pharmaceutical companies could with relative ease mount a large and effective public relations campaign, a campaign that might well damage the solvency of the AR industry by changing public opinion and discouraging well-meaning but naive people from contributing to the AR coffers.
From a tactical point of view, it seems to me the campaign should have two goals: the first would be to attack the Animal Rights movement head on. Publicly and repeatedly reveal the incoherence of AR "philosophy," the logical consequences of following its precepts and abandoning animal based research, and the tactics of the movement (what AR propaganda is and how it works, the abundant hypocrisy of AR luminaries, and the tactics of intimidation, coercion and violence).
How hard or expensive could it be to create spot TV and radio commercials, place adds in newspapers, and plaster posters in the cars of the underground?
The second goal would be to defend animal-based research. Surely the citizenry of the UK is well enough educated to be able to understand how drugs are developed and brought to market, the difference between basic and clinical science, and how and why animals are irreplaceable in modern health care.
Don't just tell the citizenry that animal based research and testing are necessary for modern medicine, tell them how science works, and why there are no substitutes. And don't be shy — assume the best of the citizenry — that they are smart, interested and willing to listen to what research really is and how it works (as opposed to research as distorted by AR ideologues).
Again, there is no earthly reason why newspaper adds, radio and TV commercials and posters wouldn't be an extremely effective way of getting the message out.
Up until now, the pharmaceutical companies have been playing defense: the AR people have been allowed to frame the questions to their advantage, and the forces supporting research have reacted to questions of the "do you still beat your wife" variety.
Were the supporters of research to go on offense, they could frame questions the way they want them framed, and make the AR people play a little defense.
And wouldn't that be interesting . . ..
UPDATE: 2/6/2005. The NAPF has precipitously reversed course, and has squashed any notion that it might provide substantial funding to oppose AR terrorists.