London (CNSNews.com) - Animal rights activists in the UK vowed Monday to track down and economically destroy a group of American investors who late last week threw a financial lifeline to Britain's largest animal-experiment research company.
Anti-vivisection campaigners were furious over the weekend to learn that the British government had negotiated a secretive deal with undisclosed private U.S. financiers to prevent Huntingdon Life Sciences from financial collapse.
Staff members at the Cambridgeshire-based firm, which also maintains a testing center in New Jersey, have faced a barrage of abuse, intimidation and - from some more militant quarters - criminal damage to cars and property by activists who say HLS perpetrates excessive cruelty to laboratory animals.
Shareholders have also been targeted, and dozens had succumbed to the threats by selling their shares and cutting all ties with the company. By late last week HLS shared had dropped in value from more than 30 pence last March to around eight.
The activists appeared to be on the verge of a major victory Friday, when a British bank that lent it a substantial sum two years ago was set to call in the loan. Under massive pressure from animal rights groups and harassment of its staff and customers, the Royal Bank of Scotland was clearly keen to end its association with HLS.
But the government stepped in, and Science Minister Lord Sainsbury arranged a deal with the unnamed American investors. Not only was HLS saved from foreclosure, but the sum negotiated also allows for expansion of its work.
As part of the deal, the Royal Bank of Scotland also agreed to write off the overdraft, and the Americans bought off two other foreign banks with outstanding loans.
In a highly unusual move, Sainsbury won the agreement of the Financial Services Authority and Stock Exchange to keep the identities of HLS's bailers secret, in breach of normal trading rules.
But the activists of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign say they are undeterred and determined to carry their fight to the U.S.
"We are tracking them down at the moment," said SHAC spokesman Greg Avery Monday. "We've had a tip-off and we will financially destroy that company or group of companies.
"They will not be able to hide. We will find them and we will destroy them, pure and simple."
Asked where the tip-off had come from, Avery said the campaigners had sympathizers in the stock market and banking communities.
"[The investors] can demand that their identities remain secret, but we've got tentacles all over the place and we're tracking them as we speak. It's too big of a thing to keep secret."
Avery said a SHAC group had been set up in the United States in recent months, and was "growing at an alarming rate."
"They are going to turn investor confidence to the same levels as it's been turned in this country. Over the next 12 months, investors in America will not even want to hear the name Huntingdon Life Sciences by the time we're finished with them."
The campaign will combine efforts with a national group, In Defense of Animals, which claims a membership of over 70,000.
"HLS is synonymous with animal cruelty, and investors can anticipate seeing their name and company logo in the headlines attached to pictures of mutilated beagle puppies," a SHAC statement adds.
The two largest remaining institutions with interests in HLS are the Bank of New York and Merrill Lynch, which operate as custodians for some of the shareholders.
Avery said SHAC would continue to target them for protests, as well as companies that use Huntingdon's services for the testing of drugs and other products, including pharmaceutical giant Glaxo SmithKline.
"We will target and embarrass them for having links with Huntingdon. We want them to sever all links."
Avery said SHAC was pleased the UK government had finally "come off the fence and nailed their colors to the mast."
"They can carry out the biggest horrors man has ever known in vivisection labs and the government covers it up. The last thing they want to do is take action against Huntingdon Life Sciences."
Several critical media exposes of HLS have provided what campaigners say is evidence of cruelty to animals. One UK television documentary earlier showed secretly filmed footage of beagle puppies being punched in the face.
The government has argued, however, that HLS is involved in the crucial work of testing life-saving drugs.
If such companies are forced to shut down, with the loss of thousands of jobs, they will probably relocate to other countries, where regulations on the use of animals in experiments were less strict, it says.
HLS insists it carries out its tests using "strict scientific criteria ... and with leading standards of animal care and welfare."
It says that, on average, 86 percent of animals used in research each year are rats and mice, 10 percent are fish and birds, and only 0.3 percent are dogs and cats.
The firm argues in a statement that humans have benefited for many years from healthcare advances achieved through "animal-based research," including general anesthetic, coronary bypasses, heart valve repairs, and heart, lung and kidney transplants.
"Advances continue to be made - key-hole surgery, organ transplantation, skin grafting and the latest research into the prevention of genetic diseases are all benefiting from animal research," it says.
"It is certain that any unnecessary reduction in the amount of research would have serious consequences for future research into human illness and well-being."
A spokesman for HLS said the new financial arrangement will allow the company to undertake research into "more drugs that will have a huge impact on human health." See Earlier Story