There needs to be “more co-ordination, collaboration and well-designed communication” about animal rights extremism (ARE) across the EU, says the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).

The EFPIA has issued a statement warning that the “increase and the trans-border character of ARE should not be underestimated” and declaring that the association and its member companies are “ready to support the competent authorities at EU and national levels to reduce the threat posed by a few criminal extremists”.

According to a spokesperson for the association, the statement was issued in response to a leak to the French press about an “informal” meeting held by the EFPIA a couple of weeks ago. This meeting is mentioned in Le Monde, which says it took place in Brussels at the request of the association’s member companies and included representation from Europol, the EU law enforcement organisation that handles criminal intelligence.

The discussions on “eco-terrorism” were prompted by concerns about a recent spate of incidents across Europe that have been linked to animal rights activists, the newspaper noted. One such occurrence was the firebombing of a French Charles River Laboratory facility in Saint-Germain-sur-L’Arbresle in late June, which was claimed by the Animal Liberation Front.

The subtext is that ARE is increasingly becoming an international activity, spreading from its traditional base in the UK – where new government measures have managed to curb the tendency in recent years – to continental Europe and the US.

Welcoming “a sustained downward trend in violent and intimidating animal extremism” in January 2007, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said there were indications that activity was being exported to mainland Europe. There have also been reports of an upsurge of ARE in the US, such as recent firebombings at the homes of two researchers from the University of California in Santa Cruz, which the university has described as “anti-science violence”.

The EFPIA’s statement insists that a “clear distinction” should be made between ARE and “the peaceful, legal activities conducted by the majority of animal rights organisations”. Animal rights extremists “want animal research to stop whether or not alternative research possibilities exist, and seek to force change through unlawful actions”, it says.

These actions include not only acts of vandalism, such as graffiti and damage to, or destruction of, property, but also “mass intrusions, abusive phone calls, theft, demonstrations at home addresses, cyber attacks, defamation, physical assault (although this is very rare), as well as allegations of product tampering”, the association points out.

According to the EFPIA, the European Union provides “the best standards of protection for laboratory animals in the world” through Directive 86/609, which is currently under review to take account of scientific and technological advances over the last 20 years since the directive was adopted.