LONDON — Some animal-rights activists in Britain have committed violent crimes against people and companies they dislike. In so doing, they have shown not only that they have lost a sense of proportion, but that they have no rational ethical code. Animal-rights terrorists need to be confronted as firmly as other terrorists; those responsible for violent and threatening behavior should be arrested and tried in accordance with due process of law. Britain has proper and adequate laws outlawing cruelty to animals, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has inspectors who look into complaints and prosecute perpetrators of cruel behavior toward animals.

The main objective of animal-rights activists in Britain recently has been to try to drive out of business a firm called Huntingdon Life Sciences, which conducts medical experiments on animals. The experiments, which the company conducts in a controlled environment, are needed by pharmaceutical companies, which have to show that drugs they develop have been properly tested before they can be authorized for clinical use. If Huntingdon Life Sciences were forced out of business, British pharmaceutical companies might have to do their experimental work abroad. This would be damaging to the companies, and the development of important new drugs could be delayed.

Huntingdon Life Sciences was exposed some time ago for unacceptable cruelty to primates, but they have taken action to prevent a recurrence and have been concentrating on experiments on rodents.

Unfortunately, the animal-rights activists have had some success as a result of their threats and violence against the company. The managing director was beaten up (the movement against the company denied responsibility) and the houses of managers and employees of the company have been picketed and their families have been threatened. Aiming to force the company out of business, pressure was put on banks that lent money to the company and on stockbrokers who were dealing in the company’s shares. The employees of the banks and brokers were threatened, as were some shareholders. Unfortunately, the banks and brokers decided to withdraw their support for the company, which has had to look to the United States for financial backing. The British government has condemned the pusillanimity of the banks and brokers and are proposing additional legislation to enable the addresses of directors and shareholders in companies such as Huntingdon Life Sciences to be kept confidential. Police resources have been stretched in efforts to protect directors and employees, and police have not been able to give adequate protection to individuals.

Recently, some beagle hounds were released from their kennels by animal-rights activists. The dogs, which are not suitable as pets, have not been found and many may have died.

The animal-rights movement has backed the proposed legal ban on fox hunting in Britain. Hunting foxes with hounds is a traditional sport in the British countryside. The ban is supported by Labor MPs, most of whom come from urban constituencies and dislike the kind of landowning/gaming folk who enjoy the sport. The bill has been passed by the House of Commons but rejected by the House of Lords. The government could force the bill into law, but it may fail to do so before the general election now expected on June 7. I have no wish to take part in fox hunting and don’t care for most fox hunters, but I do wonder if fox hunting is any more cruel than dealing with foxes, which are vermin and a threat (especially to poultry), by using steel traps, which may simply maim, or by poison, which can harm other wildlife.

Some animal-rights activists also apparently seek a ban on fly fishing and other forms of angling. This is a much more popular sport than fox hunting and is enjoyed by many town dwellers. Fortunately, it is very doubtful whether the Labor Party, which generally opposes fox hunting, would wish to push through such a ban, which would be opposed by public opinion and many of the party’s supporters.

The minds of the animal-rights activists are hard to fathom. Their failure to oppose the mass culling of animals suffering from foot-and-mouth disease suggests that they have strange double standards. Inevitably in the course of the current mass culling some animals will not have been killed in the humane way supposed to be used in abattoirs. Most ordinary people are appalled by the slaughter of lambs and calves that have not yet been infected. But if the activists oppose the slaughter policy adopted by the government, they have so far failed to make their voices heard.

The activists oppose fur farming, but do not raise much, if any, protest against the use of battery cages for rearing hens and turkeys or the factory farming that sadly has grown in strength in developed countries in recent years. Factory farming involves much more animal suffering than the experiments of Huntingdon Life Sciences, which could bring real benefits to sick people.

There have been times when British dog lovers have sharply criticized practices in Japan. The fact is that we should all try to prevent cruelty to animals, whether directly or by neglect. The slogan “a dog is for life, not for Christmas” makes an important point. But we need a sense of proportion and a properly balanced ethical approach. I can well understand people becoming vegetarians, as our younger daughter has. We have not yet reached that stage, but we eat much less meat than we did in the past and I prefer to grow my own vegetables, if possible using only organic methods.

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