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Novartis blames animal rights activists for attack on grave


Latest update : 2009-08-06

According to Swiss police, a second grave of the family of Novartis Chief Executive Daniel Vasella has been desecrated, as part of what the firm believes is a fresh wave of attacks by animal rights activists.

REUTERS - Swiss police said on Thursday a second grave of the family of Novartis Chief Executive Daniel Vasella had been desecrated as part of what the firm believes is a new wave of attacks by militant animal rights activists.

Vandals sprayed a gravestone of the extended Vasella family with the slogan "Drop HLS Now", a reference to the British testing laboratory Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) that was often targeted in the past by animal rights activists, a police spokesman said.

They also stuck two wooden crosses in the ground, the spokesman said. He declined to confirm Swiss media reports the crosses carried the names of the Novartis CEO and his wife.

The incident occurred last week in the cemetery where Vasella's parents' grave was desecrated and an urn containing the ashes of his mother stolen.

Police also found the letters 'SHAC' -- the acronym for the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty group -- spayed in paint.

SHAC has led a campaign to shut down the British laboratory. Swiss police are examining the evidence but have no suspects so far, the spokesman said.

Holiday home fire

Vasella's Austrian holiday home caught fire on Monday and Austrian police said they were not ruling out arson.

Austrian lead detective Walter Pupp said on Thursday there had been a claim of responsibility but declined to comment on media reports linking the attack to militant animal rights activists, saying the identity of the perpetrators remained unclear.

SHAC denied involvement in the attacks but said some like-minded person might have been behind them.

"If it was actually done by animal rights people, it's because of their frustration of Novartis' continued use of HLS," it said in an emailed statement. "Isn't it about time we stopped the misery of vivisection?"

SHAC vowed to continue its campaign against firms it said were Huntingdon customers like Novartis, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline Plc.

String of attacks

The Swiss drug maker said it no longer uses Huntingdon but suspects SHAC or those linked to it are behind the attacks.

"We see this as an escalation. There have been more and more of these types of incident and attacks," a Novartis spokesman said. "From the tactics as well as the signs that were left, the feeling is it is probably related to SHAC."

Other recent incidents include graffiti sprayed in Vasella's street saying "Vasella is a killer. We are watching you". Employees' cars have being damaged and there was a fire at a Novartis sports facility in France in May, the Novartis spokesman said. 

Revival of militant activism?

The attacks on Novartis may mark a revival of animal rights activism in Europe, which reached a peak in Britain before the introduction of new police powers five years ago.

Much of the action was focused on HLS, a contracting firm in eastern England which tests the safety of drugs, food additives and chemicals. In 2001, its chief operating officer was attacked by protesters wielding baseball bats.

Many pharmaceuticals manufacturers have also been targeted over the years and sporadic action has spread to the United States and other parts of Europe, leading to fears investment in drug research and development could be jeopardised.

A spokeswoman for Switzerland's other big drugmaker Roche Holding AG said it had not been targeted in recent years, but Europe's biggest biotech company, Actelion, said the property of several of its workers had been vandalised.

"It has long been a concern of ours that animal extremists would broaden their scope beyond the UK to what they might see as softer targets," said Richard Ley, a spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceuticals Industry.

According to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, some 12 million animals are used annually in experiments in Europe.

The drugs industry says it is exploring alternatives but that animals remain a vital part of the research and development of new medicines and vaccines. The vast majority of animals used in medical experiments are mice.

Date created : 2009-08-06