The US government to pass new measures that make prosecuting animal-rights activists who target enterprises much easier. The move has lead critics to warn that peaceful demonstrators would be labelled as terrorists.
The move is in response to heightened activity by militant animal rights groups, which have increasingly become more intimidating in their actions, threatening the presence and future investment of certain companies.
In particular, the bill aims to crack down on the illegal activities of the group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC).
Active in both the UK and the US, SHAC has targeted the UK-based company, Huntingdon Life Sciences, which uses animals to test drugs, food additives, and pesticides.
Recent activities involving Huntingdon include threatening letters posted to shareholders demanding they sell their stakes in GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
The pharmaceutical giant's 170,000 small investors were warned to sell up because of GSK's links to the Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratory in Cambridgeshire.
Last year, SHAC reportedly intimidated the New York Stock Exchange into declining to list Huntingdon's parent company, New Jersey-based Life Sciences Research.
The bill aims to outlaw the interference with third-party organisations such as insurance companies, law firms and investment houses that do business with so-called animal enterprises.
Violators could be sentenced up to a year in jail for economic damages of less than $10,000 (€7800) and up to five years in prison if a threat produced a ``reasonable fear'' of bodily harm.
Prison sentences of up to 10 years could result if someone is actually injured.
Supporters of the bill quickly gave it the thumbs-up hailing the bill as 'a momentous step in protecting biomedical researchers, their families, and business associates from animal rights extremism.'
"Congress has sent a clear message to those who would target scientists and their families with campaigns of harassment, violence, and vandalism," said Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) President Leo Furcht.
FASEB is composed of 21 societies with more than 80,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the US.
"Animal models are crucial for our understanding and treatment of human disease, and scientists deserve a safe research environment where they can continue to improve the health of all people," he added.
President George W. Bush is expected to sign the bill into law.