Animal lovers range in intensity from those who wouldn't needlessly harm animals but definitely put human life ahead of animal life, to those who see them as equal, to those who put animal life ahead of human life. The public at large, I'd venture to guess, belongs to the first group for the most part, and is unable to fathom the acts that extremist animal rights groups make.

Recently, an animal rights group has been harassing and intimidating Novartis (NVS) employees and CEO Daniel Vasella in particular, as well as disfiguring company properties and setting several fires.
In the past year, several employees' cars were found with explosive devices under cars (which didn't explode); employee homes have been painted and vandalized; the company's sport facility, tennis center and restaurant in France have been set on fire; and last week an urn containing the ashes of Vasella's mother was taken from her grave site. Now, his summer home in Austria may have also been set on fire, although police are pointing to an electrical box malfunction despite an anonymous claim of responsibility. Responsibility for most of the actions has been claimed in the Bite Back Magazine site.

The activists want Novartis to cut its ties with British animal-testing laboratory Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS). A group known as SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) denied its involvement, although police say they didn't rule it out. SHAC targets AstraZeneca (AZN) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) as well among others. Meanwhile, Huntingdon said it is taking steps to reduce the number of animals it uses in experiments, but coming from a company with an infamous track record of needless and lawless cruelty to animals, that's not saying much. According to Wikipedia, the company tests on 75,000 animals a year.

Novartis, however, says it had no ties with HLS for years. While it claims to have reduced animal testing by 25 percent since 2003, Novartis spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal that "It is important that people realize that it is not possible to discover novel products . . . which save thousands of human lives every year without some use of animal data, which is required by regulatory authorities."

While I've never been a big fan of some questionable big pharma practices, I've always appreciated the science and the achievements aspect of the business. Unfortunately, it seems that animal testing is a necessary evil for the production of drugs, testing their safety and efficacy, but as always, it's possible many companies, caring about the bottom line the most, choose to cut corners in the name of cutting costs. No doubt, this could lead to unnecessary cruelty to animal. We need better controls from authorities to minimize the number of animals used and their suffering caused in drug-testing and we need stricter laws.

The 1966 Animal Welfare Act, for example, is the only Federal law in the United States that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers, and it could definitely use a refresher. Of course, I would rather not see animal testing at all if that were possible, but (and I'll risk personal attacks and say that I put human life ahead of animal life) such disregard for human life -- luckily no one was hurt so far in the attacks -- is beyond me.

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