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U.K. Activist Takes on the Big Vivisectionists

Luke Steele wasn’t at his organization’s animal rights rally in Cambridge last week. The 22-year-old founder of the National Anti-Vivisection Alliance (NAVA) was in prison in Leicester, accused of ignoring the bail conditions following his arrest at a protest outside the vivisection facility Harlan Laboratories. The conditions included a ban on attending animal rights meetings or protests.

Steele makes the vivisection industry very nervous. He has almost single-handedly brought to a halt the trafficking of animals from abroad who are bound for laboratories in the U.K. His strategy has involved little more than encouraging people to flood the directors of the transportation companies’ with e-mails and letters.

The companies were so worried about the possibility of more militant behavior on the part of Steele and his followers that they quickly gave in.

Last week, another shipping company, Stena Line, joined P&O Ferries and DFDS Seaways in stopping the importation of cats, mice, monkeys and other animals for laboratories.

Steele and his comrades at the NAVA are now focusing their energies on Air France, the major company still saying it has no intention of stopping its animal trade business.

At the Cambridge rally, NAVA urged people to step up the pressure on Air France and its partner, KLM.

NAVA’s website offers a guide on how to “smash Air France”, including how to stage a demonstration, picket travel agents and e-mail the airline’s directors.

The campaign began last May, when P&O executives received an e-mail from NAVA, calling on the company to stop carrying laboratory animals into the country. More e-mails were then followed by letters sent to the homes of the directors. Typically, they included language like:

“I was disgusted to hear that P&O Ferries have refused to place a ban on laboratory animals being transported on board your vessels at the Port of Dover. … [Animals including primates and beagles] will be burned, poisoned, gassed and electrocuted as part of horrific experiments inside vivisection centers.”

Concerned that its staff could be subject to other kinds of intimidation, P&O passed examples of the e-mails to the U.K.’s Counter-Terrorism Command. But, even though the actual volume of e-mails and letters has been quite small – possibly not more than a few dozen – the ferry companies have been spooked into no longer handling live animals.

The ferry industry also has memories of bitter protests against the export of live animals in Brightlingsea in 1995, when for 10 months the small Essex port was besieged by activists, eventually forcing the exporters to abandon the route.

“We have come under strong pressure from the anti-vivisection brigade over the last year,” a P&O executive told the Daily Telegraph. “And we came to the decision that we will no longer carry animals for research purposes. We knew from our experience of extremism in the 90s, when the anti-transportation of livestock campaign got into full swing, that we did not want to subject our staff to that kind of thing, in case it turned nasty.”

Steele has been an activist since he was 17 years old, when he helped organize a march in Hull against a firm of beagle breeders. Soon after that, he took part in a raid of a farm that was supplying rabbits to laboratories, freeing 129 rabbits.

After that he began using Freedom of Information laws to force universities to reveal details of animal experiments, thus creating anxieties for the researchers involved in these experiments.

A year ago, he was arrested and charged with interfering with the work of the notorious Harlan Laboratories and three other companies. Prosecutors said his activities cost Harlan Laboratories more than $100,000. This led to the bail restrictions that he allegedly just broke.

British vivisectionists are concerned that the NAVA may put a serious strain on the number of animals they experiment on.

“Vital research on brain disease, cancer and heart disease is already being impeded because of the targeting of airlines and ferry companies by tiny, unrepresentative groups,” Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at Oxford University, told the Daily Telegraph. “The Government and the medical research community must explain to the public why the importation of a small number of animals, mainly mice, under the strictest regulations, is crucial for medical progress.”

In fact, the number of animals being imported has obviously been significantly larger, as evidenced by the number of transportation companies involved.