Activist groups continue to protest against various multinational corporate projects — which is totally legit. But these days, their legitimacy is often scuttled by the protestors themselves.

A mass protest planed against the global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in Cambridge has been threatened by animal rights activists, according to the Cambridge News newspaper. The animal rightists are warning that they intend to turn the event into “the new Huntingdon Life Sciences.”

Let me clarify that the Cambridge in question here is the city in England famous for his renowned university and exclusive prep schools. But the campaign against Huntingdon has sparked violence on both sides of the Atlantic. More on that in a moment.

The British group Cambridge Against AstraZeneca Planning was formed recently to oppose the pharmaceutical company’s application to include an animal research laboratory as part of a new $520 million headquarters complex.

An AstraZeneca spokesman noted that, “Wherever possible, we use non-animal methods such as cell culture, computer modelling and high-throughput screening that eliminate the need to use animals early in drug development, or reduce the number needed.”

The company can afford to pursue all of those alternatives — and more, given that the London-based company generates more than $25 billion annual sales, employs more than 50,000 people in 100 countries and owns a vast portfolio of prescription drugs, including Crestor, Prilosec, Xylocaine and Symbicort.

According to its website, AstraZeneca’s business strategy is all about delivering “sustainable growth and value through innovation.”

They left out “offering cost-effective solutions” created by “empowering our people,” but other than that, they hit the cliché trifecta of sustainability, value and innovation. That’s the flag, motherhood and apple pie of corporate positioning. Everyone embraces them; no one opposes them. Seems like they could have created a more “innovative” Who We Are statement for $25 billion.

Just sayin’ . . .

The depths of violence

Meanwhile, Rachel Mathai, a spokeswoman for the protest coalition, which includes Friends of the Earth, Animal Aid and the National Anti-Vivisection Society, told the Cambridge News that, “AstraZeneca’s cruel, unnecessary experiments should be a thing of the past.”

A Friends of the Earth spokesman added that, “It is time to move science forward in the eventual replacement of animal experiments.”

With “eventual” being the operative word here. Eventually, I hope that automated monorails will replace congested freeways, that controlled fusion will provide us with unlimited free energy and that over-the-counter pills will cure virtually all human disease.

Meanwhile, we need to continue improving terrestrial transportation networks, researching renewable energy and advancing medical science and pharmacology — which includes using lab animals to confirm safety and efficacy.

Don’t bother making that argument to the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty extremists planning to sabotage the AstraZeneca protest, however. Since animal research will be conducted on the AZ site, they’ve painted that company as nothing less than another Huntingdon Life Sciences — which is to say, Satan incarnate.

For example: According to an SHAC statement (allegedly) profiling HLS, “Numerous undercover investigations have revealed the horrors taking place within their lab — animals being poisoned, primates being cut open without anesthetic, puppies being punched in the face.”

Really? Some company’s paying HLS to study what happens when a puppy is punched in the face? To be charitable, that is preposterous.

The group’s manifesto continues by bragging that, “Compassionate and fearless people have joined SHAC and dedicated themselves to saving those animals. We’ve all played our part in this revolutionary campaign. Through determination, anger and groundbreaking new tactics, we’ve decimated the finances and reputation of the massive multinational corporation HLS.”

Let me fill in the details of those “groundbreaking new tactics,” as catalogued by the watchdog website Animal Rights Extremism: “SHAC subjected employees, suppliers and associates of HLS to a sustained campaign of intimidation and blackmail. Besides hostile demonstrations and continual harassment of HLS staff and their families, direct actions included vandalism, planting fake and real explosive devices, death threats and assault. Cars were set on fire, windows were smashed and aerosol sirens were set to stay on at full volume in the middle of the night. One of the most serious incidents was an attack in 2001 on HLS managing director Brian Cass, who was severely beaten outside his home by three masked extremists with ax handles. Around a month earlier, the company’s marketing director, Andrew Gay, was attacked with a chemical spray to his eyes and beaten.”

This is the modus operandi of the saboteurs determined to escalate a peaceful protest against a corporation’s expansion plans into a violent, destructive disaster that will turn off more people than might otherwise be favorably engaged on the issue.

Well, nobody’s ever claimed that animal extremists were all that strategic.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.