Live

Watch CBSN Live

Novartis Ups Rhetoric v. "Terrorist" Animal Rights Activists; "Police Not Taking It Seriously"

Novartis CEO Daniel Vasella and his company spokespersons have hit back at animal rights activists who burned his Austrian vacation home and stole his mother's ashes from a grave: "How far do things have to go before you can speak of terrorism?" Vasella told a Swiss newspaper.

The attack seems to have gotten the attention of Novartis management, and caused a change of strategy, from quietly dealing with threats to publicly criticizing them. On the other side, arsonists seem to be enjoying the attention.

The arsonists are part of the campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences, which does animal testing for drug companies. SwissInfo:

Vasella said Novartis has had no relationship whatsoever with the laboratory for some time now and that police have not taken the threats seriously enough.
Vasella called the grave desecration "unacceptable" and described it as an "unforgivable disrespect."

Separately, a Novartis representative hinted that the situation with animal rights activists is getting worse:

'The situation with SHAC has completely degenerated,' he said, adding: 'We take the security of our officials very seriously.'
What's going on here? Vasella is clearly rattled and the company has decided that this is a "teachable moment" for the public. It is hard for ordinary people to sympathize with a millionaire CEO who flies to his hunting lodge via helicopter, but when the activists desecrated the Vasella family grave they crossed a line -- and Novartis will use that as ammo against them.

Similarly, there seems to be a total contradiction -- working in Novartis' favor, at this point -- between Novartis' assertion that it has not done business with HLS for some time and SHAC's position that Novartis is one of HLS's top customers.