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Activism

Industry must forge alliances with moderate groups on animal rights.

When agitated young souls dressed as giant ears of corn started turning up at World Trade Organization events and biotechnology conferences in Europe, chanting about the evils of genetically modified crops, U.S. biotech firms, stock analysts, and grocery retailers alike dismissed it as just so much European hokum. They presumed that such activism would not—indeed, could not—take hold in the United States. But the experts were wrong, as later evidenced by the huge WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, and then again in Boston and Washington, D.C., in 2000.

Industry has yet to weigh in on the larger meaning behind recent acts of anti-animal-testing terrorism committed against the biotech company Chiron and the nutraceutical products maker Shaklee (see “The Latest in Bioterrorism,” page 20 of Acumen, Issue4). But the chatter at biotech investor conferences decidedly dismisses any notion that the Chiron/Shaklee incidents represent a broader trend with economic consequences.

Groups like the Revolutionary Cells-Animal Liberation Brigade (RCALB), which took credit for the two recent bombings, and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) nearly put Englandís Huntingdon Life Sciences out of business. Huntingdon conducts animal testing for Chiron and Shaklee, among others. Malcontents like RCALB, SHAC, and Animal Liberation Front know how vital animal testing is to the global medicine and nutraceutical trade. They are getting savvier and bolder.

It seems unlikely that radical activist groups and industry will ever see eye to eye. But maybe there is another way. Industry and governments could begin a dialogue on the animal-testing issue with groups they traditionally hold at armís length, like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. Greenpeace, in particular, which had a large hand in fueling the anti-GMO juggernaut in Europe, recently published a report on nanotechnology that offered abundant evidence that the group has mellowed and now appreciates the wisdom of dialogue, moderation, and mediation with industry. For their part, industry trade groups like the Biotechnology Industry Organization, known as BIO, might consider a conversation with such antimilitant grassroots efforts as Stop Eco-Violence, which understand that organizations like RCALB hurt, more than help, the much sought changes in animal-testing practices.

On the other hand, the life sciences industry could choose the alternative—to ignore the Chiron and Shaklee incidents—but at its own peril.

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Leaders

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Academia

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Graham Allison, Ph.D.

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