Some animal rights activists have used similarly extreme tactics in the past, including digging up the corpse of a guinea pig farmer’s relative, and have particularly focused on those associated with Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a preclinical contract research organisation (CRO).
Novartis appears to be the latest target of these attacks, with the company claiming that animal rights set fire to Novartis’ CEO Dan Vasella’s lodge in Bach, Austria. Swiss authorities have said they do not know who is responsible for the attack.
No organisation has claimed responsibility for the attacks and the animal rights group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) has denied involvement in the arson. A spokesperson for SHAC speculated that the arsonist may be a lone antivivisectionist.
Whoever the arsonist is they have the support of some sections of the animal rights community. A press officer the Animal Liberation Front said: “We personally can only regret that Mr Vasella was not present in the home when it burned.”
The press officer speculated that the attack was motivated by the belief that Novartis works with HLS. Novartis has stated that it is years since HLS carried out a study for the company.
Novartis also alleges that activists have dug up Vasella’s mother’s urn, spray-painted “Stop HLS Now” on her gravestone and increased attacks on employees’ houses and cars.
Focus on HLS
HLS became the primary target of activists following undercover investigations into animal welfare practices at the business.
The company’s website states that it is “committed to providing the highest levels of animal husbandry and welfare” and explains the benefits of such research but attacks HLS, its employees and those that work with the company have continued.
As a consequence of this the company relocated its financial centre to the US where shareholders have a greater level of anonymity.
The company’s US based parent company, Life Sciences Research, posted an operating income of $4m (€2.8m) in recent financial results. This represents a 60 per cent decline on Q2 2008.