The pharmaceutical industry has welcomed the passage of new legislation by the UK Parliament that will give police new powers to intervene in public order offences, including those carried out by animal extremist groups.
The Anti-Social Behaviour Act of 2003 was passed into law on 20 November and contains two specific changes to the existing legislature that have come about directly as a result of lobbying by the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.
The first of these reduces the number of people constituting a public assembly from 20 down to two. The second extends the offence of aggravated trespass to include actions inside buildings, as well as in the open air. In cases of aggravated trespass, the police have the right to remove individuals they believe are committing or participating in the offence.
Earlier this year, the UK Science Minister, David Sainsbury, told the BIO 2003 biotechnology conference that the government was committed to stopping protesters who harass medical researchers and biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry staff who are involved in animal research.
"It is intolerable that people undertaking legitimate economic activities, required by regulatory agencies, should be subject to such high levels of harassment and abuse," he told the meeting.
One of the main drivers for the new Bill is the treatment meted out to Huntingdon Life Sciences, a contract research company that has been besieged by animal activists for years. This firm has already moved a large part of its operations to the US to try to get around the issue.
Latterly, the activists have started targetting Huntingdon's financial advisors, customers and suppliers and this seems to have spurred efforts to curb their efforts.
A spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry told DrugResearcher.com that the trade group welcomed the passage of the Bill, although he cautioned that it remains to be seen whether it will be adequately enforced.
While it is difficult to gauge the direct impact of the actions of animal extremists on the industry - particularly as their actions tend to be targeted at individuals in companies, there is no doubt that it has been taking up time in the boardrooms of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and could affect investment decisions in the UK, he said.
Others have also suggested that the measures do not go far enough, and that dedicated legislation to tackle the animal extremists is warranted.
For example, the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA ) believes that extremist animal activist groups to be brought within current legislation on terrorism.
It is also looking for an amendment to the Companies Act, to provide a measure of security on names and home addresses for directors and shareholders where public knowledge puts those people and their property at considerable risk.
Meanwhile, says the BIA, a National Crime Squad should be set up with central government funding to tackle the issue, with the remit of gathering information, establishing common policing practices, controlling demonstrations and protecting high-risk groups.