LONDON (AP) — Animal rights activists claimed to have sabotaged health care products in Britain and France in a long-running, and often violent, campaign against an animal-testing firm, police said Friday.
Britain's Animal Rights Militia said it had contaminated products made by the Swiss-based pharmaceuticals manufacturer Novartis AG, targeting the firm over its alleged use of Huntingdon Life Sciences — a company hounded in Britain and the United States for testing medical products on animals.
Novartis said thousands of tubes of the popular Savlon brand antiseptic cream had been recalled from high street stores in Britain as a precaution.
In France, CIBA Vision, a branch of Novartis, recommended customers exchange recently purchased bottles of a contact lens solution after the group claimed to have injected the product with bleach.
Britain's Association of Chief Police Officers said the country's domestic extremism unit was coordinating an inquiry into the threats, posted anonymously on the Web site of the U.S. Animal Liberation Front magazine BiteBack.
''Over the last five days over 250 tubes and bottles of Novartis's antiseptic product Savlon have been tampered with'' said the statement posed on Tuesday. ''We don't want to kill living beings like Novartis, but the side effects and the inevitable hospital stay will give people an idea of what Novartis pays for inside Huntingdon Life Sciences.''
Officers confirmed that British authorities have been in contact with French law enforcement agencies over the matter.
In March, three British animal rights activists were jailed for prison terms ranging from 15 months to four years for intimidating employees of Huntingdon Life Sciences and connected companies.
Prosecutors said the activists — from Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, or SHAC — had invaded offices across the country belonging to companies that either supplied or dealt with the firm.
In 2001, masked men with baseball bats attacked the manager of Huntingdon Life Sciences at his home. Activists were also credited with forcing the company to delist from the London Stock Exchange after intimidating shareholders.
Novartis said it had withdrawn Savlon from sale in Britain as a precaution but had not found evidence the product had been tampered with.
''The company takes this matter very seriously and is in close contact with the police, retailers and health authorities,'' the firm said in a statement. ''This appears to be part of the long-running campaign by animal rights extremists which adversely affects both Novartis and our consumers.''
In France, a company spokeswoman said activists had targeted the headquarters of CIBA Vision in the southwest Gironde region.
Police were analyzing samples of the firm's Solo-Care Aqua contact lens solution and the company has advised customers to exchange bottles of the product purchased between Aug. 25-27, she said.