LONDON, SEPT. 24, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Extremists in England bent on stopping laboratory tests using animals scored a recent victory in their long-running battle. Darley Oaks farm in Newchurch, Staffordshire, announced plans to stop breeding guinea pigs after ceding to a six-year campaign of intimidation, the BBC reported Aug. 23.
One of the more recent acts that spurred the decision was the theft of the body of a family member from the local churchyard last October. Over the years the owners of the farm, the Hall family, have been the target of harassing phone calls, bomb scares, and arson attacks. Local shops and businesses have also been targeted, to force them to cancel any commerce with the farm.
Commenting on the event to the BBC, the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry said the decision was “regrettable but understandable.” ABPI director Philip Wright said that guinea pigs had been essential in research into respiratory disease that led to breakthrough medicines.
Oxford University is also coming under fire from animal rights activists, the Independent newspaper reported Aug. 15. The university plans to build a substantial research laboratory, but construction has been suspended for the last year after the leading contractor, Montpellier, pulled out of the project following intimidation by extremists.
The organization leading the protest against the Oxford laboratory, Speak, is now targeting companies and charitable foundations that contribute funds to the university. Oxford University said it was concerned by the latest tactics, adding that some companies that were previously appeared on Speak’s Web site suffered criminal damage to property.
In July the university also suffered an arson attack on a college boathouse caused 500,000 pounds’ ($906,000) worth of damage. The Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the incident.
According to the Independent article, the British government has said it will support the building of the research facility, which is needed for research on problems such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer’s.
Breaking the law
During a meeting this past summer, animal rights extremists pledged to continue their campaign, the Telegraph newspaper reported July 17. Around 200 activists were present in Kent at the International Animal Rights Gathering 2005.
One of the speakers at the meeting was Steven Best, a philosophy professor from the University of Texas in El Paso. Best described himself as a sympathizer of the Animal Liberation Front, which is listed as a terrorist group in the United States.
He told his listeners: “Our power is not in the right to vote but the power to stop production. We will break the law and destroy property until we win.” Best compared the animal rights struggle to the fight against slavery and contended that violence is morally right if the cause is just.
Those present at the meeting were given instruction in unarmed combat and counter-surveillance, as well as advice on how to take “direct action” in the name of animal liberation, the Telegraph reported.
Activists were already taking plenty of action before the meeting, as the Guardian newspaper reported June 25. Over the preceding weeks, extremists unleashed an arson campaign against people with links to Huntingdon Life Sciences, a research laboratory that uses animals. Huntingdon has been targeted for many years by animal rights groups.
A new law recently came into force that means extremists could face up to five years’ imprisonment for “economic sabotage.” The effects of the law have yet to be seen.
Terrorists in U.S.
Extremists are also active in the United States. A May 9 report in the Washington Post described how the families of pharmaceutical executives are being targeted. The wife of one executive had her car broken into, and her credit cards stolen and used for unauthorized charitable donations.
Animal Liberation Front activists have targeted Forest Laboratories Incorporated as part of their campaign against one of the company’s contractors, Huntingdon Life Sciences. According to the Post, the FBI and New York police have launched an investigation into attacks on about 30 Forest Laboratories employees in the New York metropolitan area.
John Lewis, the FBI’s deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, told a U.S. Senate committee that environmental and animal rights activists are the nation’s top domestic terrorist threat, according to a May 18 report by the Associated Press.
The FBI said 35 of its offices have 150 open investigations, with activists claiming credit for 1,200 crimes from 1990 to mid-2004. Officials say the incidents have caused more than $110 million in damage. The biggest was an arson fire at a five-story condominium under construction in San Diego, California, in August 2003 that caused $50 million in damage.
And, as in Britain, university laboratories are being targeted, the Chicago Tribune reported June 9. One of the latest incidents was a break-in last November at the University of Iowa’s Spence Laboratories. According to the article, animal research labs have been targeted at the University of Minnesota; the University of California, San Francisco; Western Washington University; and Louisiana State University.
In the face of continued attacks by extremists, the Research Defense Society came out in defense of animal testing, the BBC reported Aug. 24. More than 500 British scientists and doctors signed a declaration stating that a “small but vital” part of medical research involves animals. Signatories include three Nobel laureates, 190 Fellows of the Royal Society and the Medical Research College, and 250 university professors.
The declaration states that researchers should gain the medical and scientific benefits that animal experiments can provide. But it also asks that scientists try to safeguard animal welfare and minimize suffering. Wherever possible, the statement adds, animal experiments must be replaced by methods that do not use them, and the number of animals in research must be reduced.
Earlier this year Archbishop Carlo Caffarra, of Bologna, Italy, entered the debate over the relationship between animals and humans. In a speech Jan. 15 before the school of veterinarian medicine at the University of Bologna, he argued that it is essential to keep in mind the “essential diversity” between man and animals.
The human person, unlike animals, has a spiritual life based on the soul and should not be reduced to the level of the natural world that surrounds us. This does not mean we have nothing in common with animals, the archbishop explained. Rather, what we have in common with animals is not all that makes us a person, he said.
This superiority justifies the use of animals by humans, the prelate said. At the same time, he acknowledged that animals are also creatures of God and that our dominion over them should not be violent. This does not mean, however, that animals have rights. Rights are something that should be reserved for the category of relationships between people.
Rather than basing our behavior toward animals on the concept of rights, we should found it on the rationality of the human person, Archbishop Caffarra argued. We owe it to ourselves as humans, he said, to act reasonably in our relations with animals.