By: Staff  Date: 01/16/2012 Category: | Animal Rights Extremism |

Huntingdon Life Sciences, a private laboratory in New Jersey conducting drug product research for international corporations, has sued People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for unlawful infiltration of company property, interference with animal research, and theft of trade secrets. Also named in the suit is Michelle Rokke, "an avowed and admitted undercover operative" for PeTA.

At issue is Rokke's employment under false pretenses, the release of a video-tape allegedly showing rough handling of animals and performance of a necropsy on an animal that is still alive, and the alleged theft of the company's client list and other confidential documents. PeTA made the tape public in May, a move that cost Huntingdon three major clients: Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical, a Japanese firm. P&G has since resumed its contracts with the testing firm.

"Rokke and PeTA believe they are somehow above the law, and entitled to violate the laws of the United States and of the several states because they are pursuing what they believe to be a higher moral mission," the suit alleges. "When the law protects those activities which the defendants consider contrary to their own political agenda, defendants are willing to break the law. This, of course, is the rationale of all terrorist organizations and why Congress has declared that the disruption of lawful research involving animal subjects is 'terrorism.'"

US District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith issued a temporary restraining order against PeTA to prevent further dissemination of material that Huntingdon claimed was collected illegally and is harmful to its business.


Rokke applied for a job as an animal caretaker at Huntingdon in June 1996 and began work last September, according to the lawsuit filed in US District Court in Norfolk, Virginia. Using a hidden camera, she spent the next several months documenting what she later claimed was cruelty and abuse of research animals. Huntingdon maintains in its suit that Rokke's actions constitute violations of the federal Economic Espionage Act and the Animal Enterprise Protection Act.

Before she began her job, Rokke signed a statement swearing that her employment application was truthful, and she agreed to abide by the rules and regulations of the company. She also signed a confidential information and trade secrets agreement in which she promised she would not disclose proprietary information to a third party, remove any proprietary information from the premises, or use the information for her own benefit or the benefit of a third party.

In her public statements after release of the video-tape, Rokke complained that animals were mistreated and did not receive proper medical care and that training for animal handlers was inadequate.

"However, during her eight-month employment at Huntingdon, Rokke never reported these alleged violations to superiors at Huntingdon," according to the suit. "This failure was a direct violation of Huntingdon's rules and policies, with which Rokke had agreed in writing to comply."

The suit alleges that Rokke stole trade secrets by photographing confidential work and removing client lists, agreements, test protocols, test data, and internal company memoranda in violation of the law and of the agreement she signed to obey the law and protect the company's integrity.

PeTA accepted the video-tape from Rokke and used it to harass Huntingdon clients. According to the suit, PeTA:

published articles and posters making allegations about tests done by Huntingdon for Colgate, and threatening a boycott of Colgate unless they stopped doing business with Huntingdon;

held a press conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, home of Procter & Gamble Company, where they released the video-tape and threatened further action if P&G didn't stop doing business with Huntingdon;

sent private and public letters to a major Japanese customer threatening disruptive demonstrations and adverse publicity unless it ceased doing business with Huntingdon; made allegations about the testing program for this Japanese customer on a radio talk show and urged the public to contact the company and ask it to cancel its contract with Huntingdon.

sent a June 4, 1997, letter to another Huntingdon customer making allegations about conditions at the laboratory to pressure the company to drop Huntingdon; and contacted the media to publish Huntingdon's trade secrets.

"PeTA and Rokke worked in concert and in conspiracy to intentionally steal and damage property used by Huntingdon's Princeton Research Center," the suit claimed. "PeTA also knowingly received possession of the stolen property from Rokke and has proceeded to damage Huntingdon's trade secret information."


In 1981, PeTA co-founder Alex Pacheco infiltrated the laboratory of Dr. Edward Taub in Silver Springs, Maryland. Taub was using monkeys in a study to design rehabilitation techniques for human stroke victims. Pacheco volunteered as a lab assistant, and at night took pictures that purported to show mistreatment of the monkeys and dirty conditions in the lab. Pacheco took the photos and stolen research notes and slides to the Silver Springs district attorney, and Taub was arrested on 119 counts of inadequate care and infliction of pain and suffering.

The media was present when the arrests were made. PeTA used Pacheco's booty to raise money against vivisection. Few people paid attention when 113 of the charges were dismissed at the first trial. He was convicted of failing to provide adequate veterinary care for six of the monkeys, but that judgment was overturned on appeal; he was exonerated of all charges. PeTA still uses the Taub case to raise money.

PeTA encourages activists to get jobs in research laboratories to document activities. Infiltrators have entered labs at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio; Carolina Biological Supply Company in North Carolina; and other facilities to video-tape activities and steal records. The tapes are used to raise money and to damage the company or university involved.


Huntingdon Life Sciences is a subsidiary of London-based Huntingdon Life Sciences Group PLC. The company is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International and has recently passed inspection by the US Department of Agriculture. USDA is conducting another investigation into the PeTA/Rokke allegations.

Formed in 1965, AAALACI is a voluntary association that evaluates organizations and companies using animals in science and awards accreditation to those that go beyond the minimums required to show excellence in animal care and use.

P&G conducted its own investigation of Huntingdon after the PeTA press conference and found that most of the allegations were unfounded. However, Huntingdon and P&G agreed that a one or two employees were "unprofessional" in handling the animals and they added sensitivity training for the animal caretakers to the company training program. P&G said that Huntingdon had proper policies and procedures but lacked supervision in some areas. The company will continue work on two drugs with Huntingdon - one for bone disease and the other for migraines.

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All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |
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