Animal rights activists have begun to target individual researchers rather than universities, according to a report released today by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). The FASEB is the largest association of biomedical research organizations in the United States. Also targeted have been groups that support the researchers.
The report is meant to deliver guidance to researchers worldwide in dealing with animal rights extremists.
Individual researchers have increasingly come under personal attack by these groups. The report looks at the period in the U.S. between 1990 and 2012. From 1990 to 1999, only 9 percent of extremist attacks were against individuals, with 61 percent involving universities. From 2000 to 2012 however, 46 percent of incidents were against individuals and only 13 percent against universities.
Personal attacks have included threatening emails, animal rights activists going to researchers’ homes in the middle of the night and threatening families and children, and desecration of the graves of relatives of researchers. One researcher’s car was set on fire. Laboratories have been vandalized, with smashed equipment, stolen animals, and spray-painted walls. At a University of Iowa laboratory more than $400,000 in damage was caused.
Attacks have also increased against businesses that support animal research, such as animal feed suppliers and airlines that transport research animals. Michael Conn, senior vice president for research at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock and a co-chair of the committee that created the report, says if companies start refusing to supply basic items such as lab coats or paper towels there will be serious problems getting the job done.
Conn says FASEB wanted to generate an international document that would get people to realize that these activities can happen to anyone, as an increasing number of individual researchers are targeted by animal rights activists. He himself has been the target of extreme animal right activists, receiving threatening phone calls and being followed through airports by activists.
The report endorses the active engagement with the public by institutions and researchers, such as inviting members of the community to tour their centers. Oregon Health & Science University offers regular tours of its primate research center to local residents. It also offers summer programs for grade-school age students such as Camp Monkey, a summer camp that allows students to get an up-close view of what a research lab and its animals are like.
Eric Bernthal, the chair of the board of directors of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) says their organization does not tolerate terrorism and destruction of property, and notes that HSUS has worked with legislators to achieve its animal welfare goals. He says they would like to continue to work with other scientists to find ways to reduce the number of animals used in biomedical laboratories.
The report encourages universities to assemble crisis management teams consisting of security personnel, legal consultants, scientists, and press officers so that they can quickly respond to incidents. It also contains a number of recommendations that can help prevent animal rights activists from targeting individual researchers; for instance, advising them to limit the amount of personal statistics they make public, such as in Internet biographical information.
By Beth A. Balen