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Animal Rights Link Probed in Explosion

No group has claimed responsibility for blast at a company known for its 'green' products.

September 27, 2003|Carol Pogash | Special to The Times

PLEASANTON, Calif. — The Shaklee Corp., known for its environmentally friendly products and its ban on animal tests, was hit with a small, predawn bomb Friday that the FBI suspected might have been the work of domestic terrorists.

While it was still too early to be certain, investigators said they believed the blast might have been the work of animal rights extremists.

The explosion occurred sometime before 3:20 a.m., said FBI spokesman Anthony Montero.

No one was injured, nor was there any structural damage to the building, situated in a sprawling, grassy office park with small, tidy trees. But the bomb shattered glass inside and outside the building and cracked stucco.

Authorities said no group had taken responsibility.

Shaklee, formerly a Bay Area-owned firm, is often cited by animal rights activists as a model company.

On its Web site, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals places Shaklee on its coveted list of those companies that do not test their products on animals.

But authorities said that Shaklee's convoluted corporate connections could have led to Friday's explosion.

Its parent company has been targeted by animal rights activists because of its long-term business dealings with British-based Huntingdon Life Sciences.

Huntingdon is an animal testing lab that does research for pharmaceutical, agrochemical, veterinary and food companies.

On its Web site, Huntingdon points out that animal research was essential for the development of kidney, lung and pacemaker transplants, as well as for cataract operations and coronary bypasses.

Because of Friday's explosion, Shaklee employees were told not to go to work.

The area was cordoned off in yellow tape as law enforcement officials used a vacant, new corporate building for their staging area.

By midday, Pleasanton police had handed over the investigation to the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Although it was still too early to be certain of the connection, "a domestic terrorism case number has been assigned," Montero said.

Aside from saying that Shaklee "does not test animals," spokeswoman Jenifer Thompson, manager of corporate relations, referred all calls to law enforcement authorities.

The ATF's assistant special agent in charge, Andy Traver, said his staff was "collecting debris and components" at the scene.

Earlier in the day, a damaged kitchen timer was found near the blast location.

Shaklee, a manufacturer of vitamins, shampoos, detergents, water purifiers and other home and health-care products, was founded in 1956, and bought by Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical Co., one of Japan's largest research and pharmaceutical firms, in 1989.

It is now owned by Yamanouchi Consumer Inc., a holding company that in turn is owned by Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical Co.

Reached in New Jersey, Rick Simpson, a member of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, said, "It is appropriate that Shaklee would receive pressure to put pressure on their bosses to drop Huntingdon.

"Yamanouchi is one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies that gives contract work to Huntingdon Life Sciences."

Simpson said that, although his group is a clearinghouse of information, "we are not in touch with Animal Liberation Front or those groups that do illegal direct action."

In 2001, the Stephens Group became Huntingdon's largest shareholder.

A year later, when the Stephens Group sold all its shares, members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, who had protested and harassed company officials, claimed credit. The Stephens Group denied any connection between the protests and the sale.

Animal rights extremists have focused recently on the Bay Area.

A month ago, at its corporate headquarters in Emeryville, Chiron Corp. was struck by two predawn pipe bombs.

Chiron, a developer of vaccines, blood-testing products and biopharmaceuticals that had previously contracted with Huntingdon, conducts animal experiments in its research.

Animal rights protesters say Chiron still works with Huntingdon, although Chiron officials deny any connection.

A group calling itself Revolutionary Cells, which the FBI suspects is part of the better-known Animal Liberation Front, took responsibility for the bombing, and in a 224-word statement said it was "for animal liberation through armed struggle."

The group promised more actions. "This is the endgame for animal killers," it wrote, "and if you choose to stand with them, you will be dealt with accordingly."

This summer, animal rights activists harassed and threatened some of San Francisco's top chefs.

They were targeted because their menus offer foie gras, which is made from the livers of force-fed ducks.

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Times staff writer Jia-Rui Chong contributed to this report.

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