Animal Rights Groups Wage War on Banks

ByABC News
April 3, 2001, 9:55 AM

April 4, 2001 -- 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.