Animal Rights Groups Wage War on Banks

When daredevils break into research laboratories to "liberate" the animals used in experiments it may hamper the work of scientists, but animal rights activists in Europe have found it is much more effective to focus on research companies' wallets, and now they are bringing such campaigns to the United States.

Police say 14 beagles were taken from the Huntingdon Life Sciences lab in East Millstone, N.J., on Sunday, and demonstrators gathered outside the company's office on Monday, but that is a minor annoyance compared to what animal rights activists have done in their focus on the banks and brokerage houses that deal with the lab's finances.

Huntingdon drew animal rights activists' attention in 1997, when undercover films made at the lab by British television showed beagles being hit in the mouth and thrown against the wall by laughing workers, monkeys being operated on as they screamed in pain and other horrors. Investigations in both England and the United States as recently as 1996 found violations at the labs.

On this side of the Atlantic the campaign has been relatively quiet, but having been successful in getting a handful of British financial institutions to drop their involvement with Huntingdon, which contracts drug testing for pharmaceutical firms, animal rights organizations say they are now turning their attention to a pair of U.S. firms that have stood by the lab.

The Animal Defense League, the Animal Liberation Front and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty save their fiercest tactics in the battle against the lab for the banks that provide its backing, battering away with e-mails, threats, demonstrations and bad publicity to convince investors to pull out.

And it has been effective.

Finely Focused Campaigns

In 17 months of intensive action focused on Huntingdon, the activists have convinced Merrill Lynch, Citibank, HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Dresdener Kleinwort Wasserstein and Trimark to discontinue their involvement with the lab. When the Arkansas-based Stephens Group Inc. stepped forward in January to provide backing, the lab's opponents sicced their troops on them, and they have also identified the Bank of New York as a target.

"The campaign isn't just a few people standing outside with placards," said a spokesman for Huntingdon, who asked that his name be withheld for fear of violence against himself and his family. "These people have been entirely focused on one company at a time. They use abuse, intimidation, threats, visits to people's homes. There have been cars blown up, two people beaten outside their homes. And as soon as people pull away, they move on to the next supporter and the next supporter."

A recent posting on one animal rights Web site called for animal rights activists to turn their focus on Stephens Inc., which according to a statement from Huntingdon helped the research company refinance and avoid bankruptcy after other banks had pulled out.

The posting calls for an all-out e-mail campaign against the investment firm, offering a lengthy list of addresses and a proposed letter to be sent.

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