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article imageAnimal rights activists up the stakes, becoming more violent

By Karen Graham     Mar 18, 2014 in Crime
There has been a dramatic shift in the tactics used by animal-rights activists over the past decade, with individual researchers and the businesses supplying them being targeted instead of their universities.
This astounding information came out in a report released on Saturday by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), the largest group of biomedical research associations in the United States.
The report provides guidance to researchers and institutions around the world in dealing with animal rights activists. Titled "The Threat of Extremism to Medical Research: Best Practices to Mitigate Risk through Preparation and Communication," it comes out at a time when extremism is taking on a more violent persona, with individuals and their property becoming the main target.
Michael Conn, co-chair of the committee that created the report and senior vice-president for research at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas, said, “We wanted to create an international document to get people thinking about the potential of animal extremism. These activities can happen to anybody—no one is immune."
The report detailed 220 documented illegal incidents committed in the United States from 1990 to 2012. From 1990 to 1999, the committee found that 61 percent of the attacks involved universities, with only nine percent involving individuals. However, from 2000 to 2012, only 13 percent of the incidents involved universities, but 46 percent involved individuals. It is a definite indication that there has been a dramatic shift in targeting with activists turning their sights to hurting the specific people involved.
The incidents occurring in the 2000 to 2012 time frame included activists threatening to protest businesses selling animal feed to research facilities, as well as the airlines that transport animals used in research. Conn, himself was a target of animal rights extremism, receiving threatening phone calls and being followed by extremists in airports when he was administrator of an animal facility at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon. Conn says, “If all of a sudden companies refuse to supply you with paper towels or lab coats, you have a serious problem. It makes it very difficult to get your job done.”
The FASEB report has several recommendations. It suggests that researchers limit the amount of personal information they put on the Internet. Universities should assemble "crisis management teams," so scientists, security personnel, press officers, and legal consultants can respond quickly to incidents. And the report recommends that the public be actively engaged, and invited to tour facilities as a way to combat unwarranted propaganda.
The Chairman of the board of directors of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Eric Bernthal, said that while he agreed with the FASEB report, “We don’t condone terror and destruction of property,” pointing out that they have achieved their goals by working with legislators. Bernthal criticizes the report though, because while it outlines ways to mitigate attacks, it does not mention trying to find out why the attacks are occurring in the first place.
“If you’re going to give advice to researchers about how to solve this problem, the most constructive way is to use fewer animals in research,” he says, “not assemble crisis communication teams.” Barnthal says he would like to work with the FASEB and universities on ways to reduce the number of animals being used in biomedical research, adding, “There are still some circumstances where animal research is vitally important, but there are huge steps that can be taken to phase it out.”
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