The animal rights issue has killed more investment and science-based jobs than anything I can think of," said Jean-Pierre
Garnier, GlaxoSmithKline's CEO, at the company's second-quarter results conference in July.
The issue is again at the forefront of the news agenda in the United Kingdom. Earlier this year, Cambridge University decided
to cancel the construction of a primate research lab because of animal rights activists. Now those activists have shifted
their attention to Oxford, where the university is planning an animal research center.
Although the main contractor, Montpellier, has pulled out of the project after being firebombed and having threats made to
its shareholders, the university remains committed to completing the building. Animal experiments are necessary to understand
the fundamental causes of diseases, and various tests have to be performed to satisfy the licensing authorities before the
products are allowed onto the market. There is still no viable alternative.
Figures from the first half of this year throw the conflict into sharp focus. According to Philip Wright, science and technology
director at the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), 45 vendors capitulated to the activists—stopped supplying
pharma companies—between January and June. Around 110 directors and employees had their homes "visited" by activists, and
77 vehicles were attacked with paint stripper or had their tires slashed.
These shocking statistics have finally led the UK government to take action. But they have not gone as far as the pharma industry
would like. Instead of introducing a specific all-embracing bill, the government only plans to plug some loopholes in the
current law targeted at protesters, citing lack of parliamentary time as the reason for not putting forward a broader bill.
Several proposed measures should help, however. Protests outside homes that cause harassment will become an offense, and police
will be able to deal with protesters after the event, rather than having to catch them red-handed. In addition, offenders
will be banned from returning to the vicinity of the offense for three months. The government will also consider making it
illegal to cause economic damage to suppliers of companies engaged in the legitimate, licensed use of animals.
The government's proposal document is a clear statement of intent.The foreword from Prime Minister Tony Blair and Home Secretary
David Blunkett makes it plain that, while people have the right to campaign lawfully for an end to animal experimentation,
"they do not have the right to harass, threaten, or physically attack those involved in lawful business and research." Indeed,
the document states, "Animal rights extremists engaged in these activities should not be surprised to find themselves treated
as terrorists." In other words, they could be subject to general antiterrorism laws.
The UK government has not ruled out further, specific legislation in the future. The industry hopes that if the proposed tightening
of existing laws does not have the desired effect, more laws will be forthcoming. "We welcome the fact that the government
has listened to our arguments for legislative change, and we are pleased that the door had not been closed on a single piece
of legislation," said Aisling Burnand, chief executive of the Bio-Industry Association.
ABPI's director general, Trevor Jones, is also heartened that action is being taken. "The government has recognized that animal
rights intimidation is now an issue of terrorism. Action has been needed for some time. We earnestly hope that the extensions
of police powers will make a difference. But legislation is only part of the matter," he added. "We are pleased that the government
recognizes that it is equally important for the police to coordinate their work nationally, to treat animal terrorism as an
equal priority with other terrorist threats, and for the courts to punish accordingly."