On 12 March, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) released recommendations regarding response to threats by animal rights (AR) extremists.1 Counsel and responsible officials at organizations with animal research programs may find it useful to review FASEB’s guide and consider implementation of its recommendations.
Approximately 220 illegal AR extremist incidents were reported in the United States from 1990 through 2012. Incidents included protests and demonstrations, break-ins and animal theft, and acts of physical violence such as mailing HIV-infected razor blades and planting incendiary devices. From 1990-1999, most AR extremist incidents targeted academic research institutions (61%), while the remainder targeted companies (17%), individuals (9%), and others (13%). A shift occurred in 2000-2012, when more incidents targeted homes and individuals’ property (46%), and fewer targeted academic research institutions (13%). Nonetheless, institutions remain vigilant.
The FASEB guide addresses both preventative and reactive measures. It recommends, in addition to compliance with applicable animal welfare laws and regulations, that institutions implement a crisis management plan that identifies vulnerabilities and defines coordinated response to threats and incidents. The plans should address internal security protocols and identification of a spokesperson to communicate with the media. FASEB encourages institutions to prepare in advance an explanation of their practices and procedures, which may be publicly released in response to extremist targeting. To prevent infiltrators, plans should also address personnel screening procedures such as background checks and mandatory phase-in periods during which new employees do not have unsupervised access to high-risk areas. Staff should be counseled to provide personally identifiable information in written communications with government only when required, as this information may be retrieved by activists using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and used to target employees. As cyber-attacks and mass email campaigns occur with increased frequency, FASEB also suggests that institutions implement cybersecurity measures to protect data and minimize disruption. The guide provides a list of resources on ways to mitigate risk.
The FASEB guide encourages organizations to “develop a culture of transparency” regarding their animal research practices and communicate with the public about the benefits of such research. It recommends that organizations emphasize the role of animals in medical breakthroughs and discuss how such medical advances can be used in veterinary medicine. It suggests that organizations publicize humane research methods and accreditation by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Animal Laboratory Care International (AAALAC), reiterate their commitment to the “3Rs” (Replacing animals in research when feasible, Reducing the number of animals used, and Refining methods to improve animal welfare), and make animal welfare and inspection reports publicly available.
FASEB provides examples of organizations that increased transparency to combat AR extremism. For instance, one university allowed the public to visit its primate research center and publicized primate center records, animal histories, and welfare reports, which included non-technical descriptions of the ways in which animals were used. Reportedly, such efforts resulted in fewer instances of AR extremism.