ASHLAND, ORE. — The Oscar Mayer "Wienermobile" has been dogged along its cross-country tour this summer by a protesting pig - or rather a protester in a pig get-up - courtesy of the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
"Kids would lose their lunch if they knew what actually went into a wiener," says PETA president Ingrid Newkirk, speaking of the children who showed up by the hundreds to belt out the "Bologna Song" for possible TV commercial stardom.
But for many in the businesses that make use of animals for food, furs, or biomedical research, animal-rights activism is no costume-party protest.
The number of attacks against such activities is increasing markedly, including the instances of property destruction and, ironically, the killing of some animals. Young teens are also increasingly joining the ranks of the more-extreme organizations.
One of the most radical groups is the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an underground organization that operates in shadowy "cells." On its Web site, ALF has posted a "diary of actions" for the first half of 1997 that totals more than 220 items. These range from spray-painting "Meat is Murder" on McDonald's restaurants in New York to gluing the locks on a Philadelphia fur salon to setting off incendiary devices at a medical research facility being built in Davis, Calif.
"It's expanding rapidly," says Barry Clausen, who researches what he calls "environmental and animal-rights extremists" for meat-producing companies that may be the target of such attacks. Mr. Clausen, who works from a base in Port Ludlow, Wash., and has provided information to law-enforcement agencies as well, says such incidents "probably average about one a day now."
Several serious attacks have occurred in Oregon recently.
* On July 21, saboteurs used 35 gallons of jellied gasoline and electric detonators to destroy the Cavel West horse slaughterhouse in Redmond, Ore., which shipped horsemeat to Europe. ALF claimed responsibility in the case, which caused some $1 million in damage and is being investigated by state police and the FBI.
* A month earlier, vandals released nearly 10,000 minks from their cages on a fur ranch in Mount Angel, Ore. About 1,300 of the minks were recovered, but many died from exposure or in fighting with one another. (Fur farming critics assert that the minks would have been killed anyway, and that about 17 percent of them die prematurely because of ills and stresses related to confinement.)
* On March 11, according to an ALF communique, "In the early morning hours ... we attacked the Agricultural Fur Breeders Co-Op in Sandy, Utah ... firebombs were set in four trucks and the main offices." Damages at the facility, which produces feed for mink in Utah and Idaho, were estimated at $1 million.
There have been about 27 such incidents directed against the fur industry in the past 18 months, according to Marsha Kelly, communications director of the Fur Commission USA, which is based in St. Paul, Minn., and represents about 700 mink and fox farms.
The US Justice Department and the US Department of Agriculture have estimated that from 1979 to 1993, $137 million in damage was done in the name of animal rights. That figure now is now put at about $150 million.
The most radical animal-rights activists, a government report stated, seem "willing to inflict large-scale damage or destruction on behalf of their cause."
There are differences of opinion about public support for the animal-rights movement (especially its more radical wing), and also about whether peaceful protests and destructive acts are having the intended impact.
"They're losing the war, and they feel they have to take these extreme measures," says Carol Wynne of the Fur Information Council of America, a Washington trade group that represents fur manufacturers and retailers.
Ms. Wynne notes that, boosted by the end of the recession in 1991 and the repeal of the "luxury tax" in 1993, fur sales increased 15 percent over the past two years. A fur coat is featured on the cover of the September issue of Vogue magazine.
But the picture may not be entirely good for the industry. Fur Age magazine reported in April that "the highly anticipated 1996/97 US retail sales season did not meet expectations." Fur World magazine noted the same month that "Macy's West, one of the few remaining West Coast department store chains still selling furs, is discontinuing its six remaining fur salons."
"Fur sales are half of what they were a decade ago," asserts Jason Baker, fur campaign coordinator for PETA. "Vegetarianism is at an all-time high. Hunting permits are at an all-time low. Ten years ago, almost no cosmetic companies had a cruelty-free policy. Now more than 550 companies don't test their products on animals, including L'Oreal, Gillette, Avon, Clinique, and Este Lauder."
Both sides agree the more-radical animal activists now include very young people (some of those arrested have been minors) and that frustration among the hard core has moved some to commit violence. "We would never support hurting an individual - human or animal," says Mr. Baker. "But we fully understand what would lead people to do this."