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Modern tests spare animals from oil leak fallout

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By Jessica Sandler and Kate Willett, Ph.D.

If anyone out there is still wondering about the superiority of alternatives to animal tests, look no further than what is happening right now in the Gulf of Mexico. In its efforts to assist the devastated region, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is saving time, money and the lives of countless animals—those suffering in laboratories—by using efficient and effective non-animal methods to study the endocrine effects of chemical dispersants that could be used to clean up the oil gusher.

In fact, using non-animal testing methods is the only way that the EPA can get information about these chemicals in a short period of time—a few weeks as opposed to years. Without such sophisticated methods, the EPA would have to rely on crude and cruel animal toxicity tests that date back to the 1930s, and we would be waiting years to know anything at all about these chemicals. Considering the dire conditions of the region, waiting years for an answer is simply not an option. 

The modern in vitro tests that the EPA has on hand to study the endocrine effects of eight oil spill dispersants are rapid and automated, in contrast to what the EPA calls “time consuming and expensive” animal tests. Testing one chemical on animals can cost millions, versus the EPA’s estimated $20,000 using in vitro testing. And while cost considerations are important, turn-around time is even more essential as ecosystems totter on the brink of disaster. The EPA states that, on average, it would take a researcher “eight hours a day, five days a week, for 12 years” to conduct these studies using traditional animal tests. The computer-driven in vitro tests deliver results in three days. The EPA has already completed the first round of toxicity testing on these dispersants.

The situation in the Gulf highlights the necessity of toxicology testing reform. Most of the tests used in standard chemical screening today were developed in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. They are heavily reliant on animals, are slow and costly and have yielded inaccurate information about the effects of chemicals on humans. And they have allowed dangerous chemicals such as benzene and arsenic to enter and remain on the market—even after millions of animals have been killed in decades of testing. 

Our current system is overloaded and incapable of accurately screening the tens of thousands of chemicals reportedly in the environment already, with more entering every day. Scientists and government agencies are now recognizing that “it is simply not possible with all the animals in the world to go through new chemicals in the blind way that we have at the present time, and reach credible conclusions about the hazards to human health” (Dr. Joshua Lederberg, Nobel laureate in medicine).

Indeed, Congress and the EPA are now looking to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act to bring chemical regulation into the 21st century. The EPA and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) are among the scientific organizations calling for toxicity testing methods that are human-relevant, faster and cheaper and that use fewer or no animals.

In its 2007 report, the NAS confirmed that scientific advances can “transform toxicity testing from a system based on whole-animal testing to one founded primarily on in vitro (non-animal) methods.” Such an approach will improve efficiency, speed and prediction for humans while cutting costs and reducing animal suffering. As it should, the newly introduced legislation supports the continued development and implementation of this shift toward non-animal methodologies.

As the case in the Gulf demonstrates, non-animal testing is the stuff of science—not “science fiction” as critics often contend—and it is surely the future of ensuring chemical safety.

Jessica Sandler, director of PETA’s regulatory testing division, is a former government safety and health official. Dr. Kate Willett is PETA’s science policy adviser. They can be reached c/o PETA at 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;


Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 29, 2010 at 4:57 pm

5 Things PETCO Doesn’t Want You To Know

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By Heather Moore, research specialist for the PETA Foundation

1. Undercover Investigators Have Documented Neglect, Abuse, and Deplorable Conditions at PETCO’s Suppliers: The birds, reptiles, and other small animals that PETCO sells come from breeding mills and animal dealers that typically warehouse animals in crude, filthy conditions without adequate veterinary care or food or water.

An investigator from PETA recently went undercover at Sun Pet Ltd, an Atlanta-based wholesale animal dealer that supplies animals to PETCO, PetSmart, and pet stores. According to the investigator, hundreds of birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, mice, and rats were suffering in Sun Pet’s enormous warehouses. The animals were treated as mere merchandise and some were killed in cruel, violent ways.  One Sun Pet worker even put live hamsters into a bag and bashed the bag against a table to kill the hamsters.

Sun Pet not only purchased animals from unlicensed dealers, but from the now-defunct U.S. Global Exotics (USGE), the Texas-based warehouse that imported and exported hundreds of thousands of animals a year for eventual sale at pet stores, including PETCO. More than 26,000 neglected exotic animals were seized from USGE following another PETA investigation. (Shamelessly, PETCO even tried to profit off of these animals after they were confiscated.)

2. Sick and Injured Animals Have Allegedly Been Left to Languish in PETCO Stores: Through the years, PETA has received countless calls, letters, and e-mails from PETCO customers and employees who are concerned about animals at PETCO. Some customers claim to have seen live rats and mice lying next to dead ones in feces-covered cages, sick birds, and dead geckos, snakes, and other reptiles, as well as animals left with no food or water for days. A whistleblower at a Houston store revealed that employees there were not trained how to hand feed birds and, as a result, many were injured or died

Sick and dying animals at many PETCO stores are allegedly not seen by a veterinarian.  (Several former employees have even claimed that they were “not allowed” to take animals to the veterinarian.) A “Team Leader” at an undisclosed PETCO location, told PETA, “If an animal is dead or on the brink of it in our store, we are supposed to put them in a holding tank until they do die.”

3. PETCO Paid $1.75 Million to Settle a Lawsuit Over its Animal Care Record and Shady Consumer Practices: 

Four California counties filed a lawsuit against PETCO, alleging that PETCO failed to notice or treat sick animals, and that it overcharged its customers as well. The company shelled out $1.75 million to settle the suit.

 In 2004, PETCO paid more than $850,000 to settle similar charges and was ordered by the court to implement a detailed daily animal care procedure in all its California stores.

After the San Francisco Animal Care and Control found dying and dead birds, a dead turtle molding and left to rot, dehydrated and lethargic iguanas, and a toad “cooked to death” at bay area stores, the city attorney of San Francisco said, “PETCO has proven that it is not capable of caring for the animals it sells in a humane manner. If they can’t treat living things with care and consideration, they sure shouldn’t be in the business of selling pets.”

4.  PETCO Has Also Been Sued For Negligent Grooming Practices: A Utah resident sued PETCO for  negligence and loss of companionship when her dog  was hanged to death from a leash at a PETCO store after employees left the dog unattended and she attempted to jump out of a grooming tub. PETCO’s attorneys argued that damages, if any, should be limited to the dog’s “fair market value,” a position that seems to contrast poorly with PETCO’s claim that it understands that animals are “members of the family.”

5. U.S. Marshalls Confiscated Contaminated Pet Food from PETCO’s Food-Distribution Center: In June 2008, U.S. Marshalls seized pet food from PETCO’s distribution center in Illinois because the FDA suspected it had been contaminated by rodents and other animals. People who purchased pet food from PETCO stores in 16 states were instructed to wash the cans and their hands with soap and water. The food didn’t cause any illnesses that I’m aware of, but the situation did make me wonder: If the company couldn’t even keep food clean and safe, how could it be trusted with living beings”.

I might be willing to “give PETCO another chance” with regard to that last one if the company stopped selling birds, reptiles, and other small animals. PETCO could still make money and meet the needs of people with companion animals—PETA members included—if it sold only food, toys, and other supplies—not animals. Until then, PETCO is one place not to go if you care about animals.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Posted in animal companions

Not your grandmother’s state fair

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By Jennifer O’Connor 

The state and county fair season is in full swing, and the times they are a-changin’. Segway rides are replacing tired old pony rides, hands-on clean power demonstrations have taken over petting zoos and people are waiting to ride a vegetable oil–powered car instead of an elephant. Cruel animal displays are making way for fresh and innovative exhibits that appeal to a generation that cares about animals and our planet.

Mobile solar panels, hybrid water heating systems and wind-powered generators are drawing tens of thousands of fair visitors who leave entertained, informed and empowered. This year’s Green Long Beach Festival showcased an art project with 23,000 water bottles representing the wild dolphins who are killed for food in Japan each year. The Spring Green Expo in downtown Los Angeles featured student-designed sustainability projects and panels on organic gardening. Similar “green” fairs are sprouting up all over the country.

Yet some fair organizers—refusing to accept that times and sensibilities have evolved—continue to fall back on stale old midway displays such as tiger cub photo booths, pig races and goldfish ping-pong games. And for these ill, exhausted and dispirited animals, the shift to the 21st century can’t come quickly enough. 

Animals used on the fair circuit are hauled from one location to the next in transport cages in which they can barely move. Hot, fetid and cramped, these trucks can become their coffins. It’s cost-prohibitive to hire an on-site veterinarian, so sick or injured animals may go unnoticed and untreated.

It’s impossible to know how many animals suffer and die because these caravans are constantly on the move, and for the most part, they are self-regulated. Local humane authorities usually don’t have the staff or resources to monitor traveling shows, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees animal exhibitors, has fewer than 100 inspectors covering the entire country.

Elephants live shackled in chains except when being prodded with bullhooks (a rod with a sharp metal hook on the end) to give rides. Tiger cubs who should still be nursing and be nurtured by their mothers are held and handled by streams of people looking to take home a photo souvenir. Sea lions and sharks who should be swimming in the vast oceans are lugged around in cramped tanks as shameless hucksters shill them as “educational.”

But it’s not just exotic species who suffer. Goldfish given away as prizes are more likely to end up flushed as to make it home. Ponies on turnstiles are so spent that they move on autopilot. Smart, sociable pigs go hungry so that they’ll “race” for cookies.

Parents and grandparents can make a real difference by explaining to children why they won’t be petting or feeding the animals, having their photo taken or taking a ride. As long as kids are led to believe that these kinds of cruel and exploitative displays are “OK,” animals will continue to suffer.

This summer, seek out something new, something fresh, something relevant. For the sake of the animals and our planet, don’t be mean—go green.

Jennifer O’Connor is an animals in entertainment specialist with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 21, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Posted in Entertainment

Help animals weather a wicked hurricane season

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

The arrival of Hurricane Alex and Tropical Storm Bonnie is just the beginning of what experts have predicted will be one of the most active hurricane seasons on record. Up to 23 named tropical storms and hurricanes are predicted, and emergency planners are concerned that a storm surge could carry oil from the Gulf spill inland. We can’t control the weather, but we can help our loved ones weather this year’s hurricane season safely by making emergency plans now to protect all the members of our families, including our animals.

As the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti and the tragic Gulf oil spill have shown, animals aren’t any better equipped to survive disasters than humans are. Cats and dogs can’t phone for help, row a boat or open a can of food, and emergency shelters for humans often refuse to accept animals. People who leave their animals behind during an evacuation often learn the hard way that even if their homes haven’t been damaged, downed power lines or impassable roads may prevent them from returning home for weeks, leaving their animals stranded without food or water.

That’s why it’s so crucial to have an evacuation plan in place for our animal companions long before a disaster strikes. Start by mapping out possible evacuation routes and scouting out places to stay with your animal companions. Ask family members and friends if they would be willing to accommodate you and your animals for a few days, and also call around to several hotel chains—many lift their no-animals policies during emergencies. Campgrounds are another animal-friendly lodging possibility. Write down the addresses and phone numbers of these places or program them into your phone or GPS.

If all else fails, your animals are better off spending a few nights with you in your car than being left behind. However, use caution and never leave animals unattended in a parked vehicle. Even on a mild day, cars heat up quickly, and animals can suffer and die from heatstroke within minutes.

Having an emergency kit ready for each of your animals will also help ensure that you can evacuate at a moment’s notice. The kit should include all of your animals’ necessities, such as leashes, bowls, towels, blankets, litter pans, litter and at least a week’s supply of food and medications. Some facilities will only accept animals who are current on their vaccinations, so schedule an appointment now to have your animals immunized, if they aren’t already, and keep copies of their vaccination records in the kit. Make sure that your animals are wearing collars with identification tags. Having your animals microchipped offers additional protection, since collars can fall off and tags can become unreadable.

Leaving animals behind is the last resort, but you can help increase their odds of survival by leaving them indoors with access to upper floors. Tying up animals or caging them is a virtual death sentence because they won’t be able to escape rising floodwaters. Provide at least a 10-day supply of dry food and fill multiple sinks, bowls, pans and plastic containers with water. Put signs on windows and doors indicating how many and what kind of animals are inside as rescue workers may be able to save them.

Whether you live in a hurricane zone, near a fault line, in Tornado Alley or somewhere in between, disasters can strike anytime and anywhere. Please prepare now so that your animal companions can weather any storm.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a research specialist for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 16, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A proven method of ‘girth control’

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By Chris Holbein

You probably don’t need anyone to tell you that Americans are losing the battle of the bulge. Two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, and obesity rates among children have tripled in the past 30 years. The problem is so alarming that earlier this year, a nonprofit group called Mission: Readiness, fronted by senior retired military leaders, issued a report titled “Too Fat to Fight,” which concluded that 27 percent of all young adults “are too fat to serve in the military.”

So it’s heartening to see that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new dietary guidelines take aim at the obesity epidemic in part by recommending a shift toward a plant-based diet. Going vegetarian (or better yet, vegan) is a proven way to lose weight—and keep it off—as well as to improve your overall health.

In its new report, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee calls obesity “the single greatest threat to public health in this century.” Along with commonsense measures such as increasing physical activity and reducing consumption of foods containing added sugars, the report recommends eating a “more plant-based” diet. Americans are advised to consume more fruits and vegetables, beans, peas, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry and eggs.

I would suggest leaving out the meat and eggs altogether and sticking with those veggies. In a study of nearly 22,000 people, Oxford University researchers found that men who switch to a vegetarian diet are less likely to experience the yearly weight gain—and clogged arteries—that can plague middle-aged meat-eaters.

A study published in The American Journal of Medicine found that people who eat a healthy vegan diet (meaning no meat, eggs or dairy products) can lose about a pound per week—even without exercising or counting calories.

Going vegan can make a difference in other ways too. Heart disease, strokes and other health problems cost Americans billions of dollars every year. But research has consistently shown that going vegetarian or vegan can reduce the risk for these ailments. The American Dietetic Association reviewed hundreds of studies and concluded that vegetarians have lower rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and hypertension.

If going vegan seems daunting, then take some baby steps. Last year, Sir Paul McCartney launched the “Meat-Free Monday” campaign, and people all over the world have committed to consuming no meat (and in many cases, no animal foods at all) at least one day a week.

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman suggests the “Vegan Before 6” (VB6) plan. He eats only plant foods—vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains—until 6 p.m. and then eats whatever he wants at dinnertime. “Within three or four months” of starting VB6, Bittman says, “I lost 35 pounds, my blood sugar was normal, cholesterol levels were again normal …. All these good things happened, and it wasn’t as if I was suffering, so I stayed with it.”

With so many vegan cookbooks, blogs, online recipes and other resources available, there’s really no reason not to at least try cutting back on animal foods.

How we eat, and what we eat, has a real impact on our bodies. We all know this. While the USDA’s new dietary guidelines aren’t that much different from recommendations issued 30 years ago, one thing has changed: The growing mountain of evidence linking our overweight, sedentary lifestyles to disease—coupled with skyrocketing medical costs—means that we can no longer afford to ignore this sound advice.

Chris Holbein is the manager of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Special Projects Division, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 9, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

SeaWorld: Empty the tanks

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By Jennifer O’Connor

An orca named Taima recently died while delivering a stillborn calf at SeaWorld Orlando. The baby was the offspring of Tilikum, the angry and frustrated killer whale who battered trainer Dawn Brancheau to death earlier this year. Wild animals are dying because of human avarice, but unlike the birds, fish and mammals who are perishing in the Gulf of Mexico, the animals at SeaWorld can easily be saved.

Like BP, SeaWorld can never make up for the harm that it has done. But it can immediately stop breeding animals and fund the creation of a coastal sanctuary through which captive orcas can start their journey back home.

Taima’s mother, Gudrun, was torn away from the ocean in the 1970s; she gave birth to Taima in 1989. Another of Gudrun’s calves was born with mental and physical problems and lived just a short while. Yet another, stillborn, had to be extracted from Gudrun’s body using a lift and chains. Gudrun—whom her keepers considered mentally ill (and no wonder)—died four days later. She would never again have the chance to feel the ocean currents or hear the calls of her lost family.

For Taima, death was terrifying and painful, yet it was a release from a miserable life of deprivation. Both mother and baby—and many other orcas and bottlenose dolphins before them—met their end alone in a tank full of chemically treated water that must have felt like a bathtub to these animals, who are meant to explore the endless fathoms of the sea. In nature, orcas choose their own mates (they are not artificially inseminated in invasive and grotesque procedures), and the females stay together for life.

Those who tout breeding programs and claim that captive animals “cannot” be released are usually the very people who profit from the animals’ confinement. SeaWorld and industry shills such as Jack Hanna have profited considerably from confining animals and putting them on display. It’s in their interests to keep the money flowing.

But let’s remember Keiko, a wild orca who was captured near Iceland in 1979 and sold to a series of aquariums, where he became sick and severely depressed. After the movie Free Willy prompted the call for his retirement, Keiko was moved to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, rehabilitated and eventually moved to an ocean pen. He learned to hunt and catch his own food. Even though he was still being monitored by his rehabilitators, Keiko lived five healthy years, navigated more than 1,000 kilometers of open ocean and was living freely when he died.

Transitional protected sea pens would give orcas greater freedom of movement; the ability to see, sense and communicate with their wild cousins and other ocean animals; the chance to feel the tides and waves; and the opportunity to engage in behavior that they’ve long been denied. For those with legitimate concerns about captive animals’ ability to fend for themselves, these questions must be asked: Even if there are risks, aren’t we morally compelled to give these animals the chance to live freely? Don’t they deserve some measure of what they’ve been deprived?

SeaWorld has the means to make this happen, but look at its track record. Despite knowing about the extreme danger posed by Tilikum—including the fact that he had killed humans twice before he attacked and killed Brancheau—SeaWorld refuses even to “Free Tilly” because he’s a valuable and prodigious breeder. The public can help compel SeaWorld to do the right thing simply by refusing to buy a ticket.

Jennifer O’Connor is a research specialist with The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 1, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Posted in Entertainment