MOVES are afoot on multiple fronts to severely curb the activities of radical animal rights groups, following revelations that PETA has knowingly funded recognised terrorist groups.
Campaigns of deliberate misinformation and organised violence have drawn the ire of the Federal Government, legal experts, and food safety authorities in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, where authorities are ready to clamp down on any radical animal activism that harms ordinary citizens and agricultural businesses.
In a speech to the Rural Press Club of Victoria last week, Federal Agriculture minister Warren Truss said incidents involving animal rights groups "threatening, harassing and in some instances using letter bombs to further their agendas" had prompted the UK government to introduce legislation creating new offences and penalties to deal with "extremist animal rights-related violence and intimidation."
"I have asked for some advice as to the details of this Bill so that I can consider whether this type of legislation has relevance in the Australian context," Mr Truss said.
And in the US, consumer and commercial groups are lobbying for the removal of PETA's tax-free status as a charitable organisation, due to its links with recognised terrorist groups.
"It has been alleged in a US Senate hearing ... that PETA has provided aid and comfort to people associated with two groups considered domestic terrorist threats by the FBI - the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)," Mr Truss said.
"According to the FBI, the two groups have been responsible for more than 600 crimes since 1996, causing more than $43 million in damage.
"The ALF even brags on its website that the two groups committed 100 illegal direct actions - like blowing up four-wheel-drives, destroying the brakes on seafood delivery trucks, and planting firebombs in restaurants - in 2002 alone."
If the push in the US is successful, the removal of PETA's tax-exempt status in the US would at least limit its capacity to fund its campaigns.
In a separate approach to tackling the issue, former federal politician and now a practising trade lawyer, Andrew Thomson, has mooted the idea of an 'exchange of diplomatic notes' with the US government, which could allow individual farmers to sue PETA in American courts for damages caused by its campaigns.
In a letter to the chair of the Commonwealth's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Mr Thomson states there is currently no multi- or bi-lateral treaty prohibiting inherently anti-competitive behaviour across sovereign borders.
This means that under international law the wool industry has no recourse for the organised boycott campaign PETA is running in the US.
But a bi-lateral treaty with the US would enshrine a prohibition against 'malicious, unconscionable, and anti-competitive conduct in international trade'.
"This is particularly important because it would allow the affected Australian producers to file suit under the Alien Tort Statute in a United States federal court, and claim damages from the campaigners in their home jurisdiction," Mr Thomson's letter states.
If PETA's campaigns were limited to protesting against mulesing, Mr Thomson believes they would be protected by their right to free speech.
"However where their conduct goes further, and includes pressuring US and other purchasers of Australian wool to boycott it, I believe such conduct is more than just exercising the right to air an opinion," he said.
"It is anti-competitive in nature, and it inflicts damage on both wool producers and wool consumers."
If such a treaty were enacted, Mr Thomson said there would also be the possibility to sue anyone in the US acting in concert with PETA, including property owners whose billboards display advertisements designed to effect the boycott.
Treaties Committee chair Dr Andrew Southcott is seeking further advice on Mr Thomson's proposal.