A two-alarm fire that destroyed a veal processing plant and a U.S. Department of Agriculture office early Monday may have been set by an animal rights group, Hillsborough fire officials said.
Authorities discovered "A.L.F." spray-painted on the side of New Brand Veal at 6712 State Road 674 in Wimauma, Hillsborough fire spokesman Bill Kaplan said.
Investigators are trying to determine whether the letters refer to the Animal Liberation Front, a loose-knit organization that claims responsibility for crimes that "liberate" animals used for food, entertainment, clothing or experimental research.
Two fires were set just before 3 a.m. in separate buildings: the processing plant and an office. The business was closed. Forty calves on the property were not injured. Damage was estimated at $500,000.
Bruce Friedrich, vegetarian campaign coordinator for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in Virginia, said he believes the fire was probably set by someone representing the ALF.
ALF has set fires, defaced property, destroyed equipment and planted fake bombs on behalf of animal rights.
Its rules for such acts dictate that no one can be injured.
"It's certainly legitimate if a veal slaughterhouse goes up in smoke and no humans or animals are injured," Friedrich said. "If they follow ALF rules, they have every right to make that claim."
PETA is not formally affiliated with the ALF.
In January, the ALF claimed responsibility for the spray-painting of slogans on a dairy barn and a sign promoting fish sales in Callicoon, N.Y.
A similar message was etched into a fur store sign in Washington in March.
Anne Nusman, whose family owns New Brand Veal, said Monday that whoever set the fire had no right to take away their livelihood.
"If you don't want to eat hamburger, don't go to McDonald's," Nusman said.
"They're not going to stop people from eating meat, and they have no right to burn down my business."