Animal Rights Extremism
There is a wide spectrum of views about animal research and, although public opinion research shows that most of the public can accept the need for it, a range of different groups campaign against it using a variety of tactics.
Animal welfare groups work with researchers to improve the conditions for animals in laboratories. The moderate antivivisection and animal rights groups campaign within the law – by leafletting, peaceful demonstrations, lobbying, etc – and society must protect their right to do so.
Only a small minority of radical animal rights extremists are prepared to use intimidation or outright violence to further their cause.
Animal rights activists are not concerned about better conditions for laboratory animals, they simply want an end to all animal research regardless of the consequences. Extremists try to impose their views on others by criminal activity, violence, intimidation and harassment. This is fundamentally undemocratic, as well as extremely distressing for the targets. Perhaps ironically, it also has the effect of polarising and silencing sensible debate about the use of animals in research.
The current extremist tactic, of targeting organisations involved in animal research by attacking the individuals that work for them or the companies that supply them, dates from the mid-90s. The threat to medical research became so serious that 10 years later the UK government developed a strategy and drew up specific laws to crack down on extremist activity against animal research. A special national police unit called NETCU was established.
The crackdown on UK animal rights extremism has been largely successful, but the tactics used by extremists have been exported to many other countries.
Animal rights extremists (ARE) are those whose beliefs make them willing to take direct action. Sometimes this direct action takes the form of illegal behaviour ranging from moderate (misdemeanour crimes such as trespassing, criminal vandalism, public order offences, etc) to serious (libel, arson, assault, etc). ARE groups are usually careful to say they engage in lawful behaviour, but direct action – often illegal – almost always occurs wherever they go. The two main UK-based ARE groups are SHAC and SPEAK.
Antivivisection groups, in the main, believe that all use of animals by humans – for any purpose – should be abolished. Those who are not strictly abolitionist may acknowledge a small degree of legitimacy for the use of animals in medical research, but few groups even concede this. These groups engage in passionate debate and sometimes employ radical propaganda techniques. With the exception of infiltrations – which may involve breach of confidentiality clauses and violation of contract terms – they operate legal campaigns, often marshalling arguments from a few sympathetic scientists. Examples of these groups include the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), the National Anti Vivisection Society (NAVS), Safer Medicines Campaign, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Darley Oaks Farm, in Staffordshire, closed its guinea pig breeding business in 2005 after a six-year ARE campaign. More than 400 criminal acts were logged in just two years. The business was run by two brothers, one of them Christopher Hall. In 2004 the remains of Christopher Hall’s mother-in-law, Gladys Hammond, were taken from her grave. IMAGE © PA PHOTOS