Novartis chief doesn’t fear animal activists

GENEVA: The head of Swiss drugmaker Novartis said Sunday that everything necessary was being done to protect him and his staff from mounting attacks by animal rights activists he described as "terrorists".

"How far must we go before we talk about terrorism? For me, it is terrorism to propagate fear, to put targetted people under pressure with all possible and in particular, illegal methods," Daniel Vasella told newspaper Blick am Sonntag in an interview published Sunday.

Vasella's Austrian holiday home was torched early Tuesday in an arson attack claimed by a group called Militant Forces Against Huntingdon Life Science Austria, which warned of further attacks. Vasella was absent at the time.

Novartis meanwhile claimed that another group, the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), was behind the arson.

The SHAC, which campaigns against animal testing, is believed to have been behind the desecration last week of Vasella's mother's tomb in the eastern Swiss town of Chur.

They also torched company cars and destroyed a Novartis sports facility in eastern France.

"SHAC is organised in cells like all terrorist organisations," said Vasella.

He admitted his life has been "changed markedly" by the attacks, and that his company is doing "everything that is necessary" to protect him and his staff from the activists.

He said he was not fearful of the group, however.

"Fear is the wrong word. Cautious yes. But fear, no," he said.

Novartis spokesman Eric Althof told AFP that there has been "an escalation (in such attacks) since the end of last year." Huntingdon Life Sciences is a British animal-testing laboratory which provides testing services to the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. The company has become a focal point for anti-vivisection extremists.