Panel Stiffens Law on Lab Animal Thefts

Times Staff Writer

The Assembly Public Safety Committee on Monday approved legislation that would stiffen penalties for people who break into medical research facilities to steal laboratory animals and vandalize property.

The proposal, by Assemblyman William J. Filante (R-Greenbrae), the Legislature’s only physician, would make stealing lab animals a grand theft, prosecutable as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the value of the animals. It would also make the vandalizing of lab facilities with the intent to obstruct research a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the amount of damages.

The proposal was introduced against a backdrop of what Filante called “terrorist” attacks against college and university labs, where live animals are used in experiments. Zealous animal rights advocates have been blamed.

The bill originally proposed making lab animal theft and vandalizing research facilities felony offenses without exception. Currently, such acts are punishable as misdemeanors.


“We are addressing the basic problem, which is the interruption of research,” Filante said. “We are talking about vandalism, terrorism, destruction and theft.”

Several medical researchers testified in support of the measure, citing recent laboratory raids by animal rights activists as evidence of the need for tougher laws to deter violence.

David Warren of the University of California at Riverside, where people claiming to represent the Animal Liberation Front broke into labs in April, causing the loss of 467 research animals and $683,500 in damages to the facilities, said the most far-reaching loss is suffered in the area of scientific progress.

“Scientists must be able to conduct their research in an environment that is supportive and non-threatening,” Warren said. “We do not want to have to conduct our research behind steel doors.”


Opponents of the bill, including representatives from the Fund for Animals, Pets and Pals and the American Civil Liberties Union, maintained that the current law is a stringent enough deterrent.

Virginia Handley of the Fund for Animals said, “We don’t support break-ins of labs or destroying of equipment. But this bill misinforms the public to believe the present law is inadequate.”