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A mouse is not a man—or a tool

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By Kathy Guillermo

There are two lessons to be learned from the startling new study reporting that decades of burn, sepsis and trauma experiments on mice have led nowhere: First, mice aren’t good stand-ins for humans. The second one I’ll get to in a minute.

The study, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, examined human cells and found that what happens to mice when they’re burned and infected isn’t the same as what happens to people. The time and resources spent using mice to try to figure out how to treat humans are “a heartbreaking loss of decades of research and billions of dollars,” according to National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins. Scientists now understand why all 150 drugs developed using these animals failed in human patients. The study’s lead author stated, “[Researchers] are so ingrained in trying to cure mice that they forget we are trying to cure humans.”

The cost to everyone—patients, taxpayers and mice—is enormous.

Here’s the second lesson: If scientists and their funders had taken the ethical course from the start—that is, if they had not harmed and killed some beings in an effort to help others—we might be much further along scientifically. As a nation, we’d be more progressive ethically, too.

Look at some of the burn studies now being conducted at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Mice, dogs, sheep and pigs are burned over as much as 40 percent of their bodies with a scorching-hot metal rod or the open flame of a Bunsen burner. The animals suffer for weeks before they are killed. In some of the experiments, animals are also forced to inhale smoke to injure the lining of their respiratory tract.

It’s tempting to say that now we know that the mice—and likely the dogs, pigs and sheep—suffered for nothing. They surely did. (And now, as PETA supporter Paul Harvey would have said, for the rest of the story: The university fired three supervisors and was fined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture after PETA provided evidence that the animals were denied adequate pain relief for their burns.)

Animals have suffered for decades in dead-end laboratory searches for cures for human ailments. The Food and Drug Administration has reported that 90 percent of drugs that test safe and effective in animals either fail to work in humans or harm them. A 90 percent failure rate should be unacceptable. It’s certainly ample evidence that animals, while they no doubt feel pain and want to lead their own lives, are nevertheless not biological replicas of humans. Recent landmark reports have even found that chimpanzees, humans’ closest genetic relatives, are terrible models of human ailments.

If animals had been left out of this scientific equation, would science be further along in its quest for drugs to treat burn and trauma patients? What avenue not pursued might have been the right path to helping people?

But even if experimenters had learned something useful, it would still be wrong to take a Bunsen burner to a tiny mouse. It is wrong to lay a red-hot metal bar against the body of a dog. It is wrong to take a blowtorch to the sensitive skin of a pig. It is wrong to poison, infect, manipulate and cut up animals in a laboratory.

We all owe the authors of this study a huge thank-you. They have proved once again that it is modern studies using human cells, not deadly experiments on animals, that will actually help people who have been badly burned. But now is a good time to learn the larger lesson: We can and must solve human problems without harming animals.

Kathy Guillermo is the senior vice president of Laboratory Investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Consumers can convince companies to do the right thing

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By Amanda Nordstrom

Never doubt the power of the consumer. When the hip cosmetics company Urban Decay—whose policy against testing on animals is part of its brand—announced plans to begin selling its products in China, where cruel and deadly animal tests are required by the government, disappointed consumers took action. Thousands of them flooded Urban Decay’s headquarters with e-mails, and the company soon reversed course. For staying true to its slogan—”We don’t test on animals. How could anyone?”—and putting ethics ahead of profits, Urban Decay recently received PETA‘s Courage in Commerce Award.

It’s bad enough that some companies are willing to shed their animal-friendly policies as easily as last year’s Day-Glo animal prints for a share of the market in China. But consumers might be surprised to learn that many makers of cosmetics and household products still poison and blind animals right here at home. That doesn’t mean that we have to buy what they’re selling.

In laboratories across the country, rabbits, rats, mice, guinea pigs and other animals are forced to swallow or inhale massive quantities of a test substance or endure pain as a chemical eats away at their eyes or skin. Some tests, such as the now infamous lethal dose test, continue until a predetermined percentage of the animals die.

Animal tests are not required by law for cosmetics and household products in the U.S., and they often produce inaccurate or misleading results—even if a product has blinded an animal, it can still be marketed to consumers. Fortunately, the number of forward-thinking companies continues to grow as more and more manufacturers reject cruel and crude animal tests—relics of the 1920s—and opt instead for modern, sophisticated techniques to test the safety of their products. More than 1,300 companies, including Burt’s Bees, The Body Shop, Method and Trader Joe’s, refuse to test their products on animals.

These non-animal testing methods are accurate and fast—and no one gets hurt.

The situation is a little different in China, where the government currently requires cosmetics companies to test ingredients and products only on animals—although that’s about to change, too. Thanks to guidance from scientists funded by PETA, Chinese officials are in the final stages of approving the use of the country’s first-ever non-animal testing method for cosmetics ingredients. The test should be accepted in China by late summer.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that unlike Urban Decay, some companies have decided that they won’t wait and are selling out animals for the sake of overseas profits. Earlier this year, PETA was forced to remove Avon, Estée Lauder and Mary Kay—three companies that had been cruelty-free for decades—from our list of companies that don’t test on animals after learning that these cosmetics giants have been quietly paying to poison animals in laboratories at the behest of the Chinese government.

When these three companies banned animal tests back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they spearheaded a new era for consumer products. Dozens of other companies soon followed suit, prohibiting all tests on animals and marketing their products as cruelty-free.

Mary Kay, Avon and Estée Lauder may have regressed a generation, but consumers don’t have to backslide with them. We can still choose to purchase products from the more than 1,300 companies that are committed to their cruelty-free principles. Rewarding ethical corporate behavior—purchasing humanely produced items instead of ones that are cruelly produced—does make a difference. Just ask Urban Decay.

Amanda Nordstrom is a research associate in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Laboratory Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 2, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Why aren’t there more felony indictments for lab animal abusers?

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By Kathy Guillermo

In our work to replace the use of animals for experimentation with superior non-animal methods, we at PETA often say, “If what happens to animals inside a laboratory happened outside the lab, it would be a crime.”

In July, a grand jury agreed with us. Fourteen felony cruelty-to-animals indictments were returned against four former employees of Professional Laboratory and Research Services (PLRS) in North Carolina, which was investigated and exposed by PETA last year. Indictments and charges against those who abuse animals—wherever the cruelty occurs—should happen more often.

For decades, PLRS was hired by big pharmaceutical companies to test the pesticides in flea and tick products on dogs, cats and rabbits. Last year, a PETA investigator worked undercover in the facility and caught these employees on video kicking, throwing and dragging dogs; hoisting rabbits by their ears and puppies by their throats; violently slamming cats into cages; and screaming obscenities and death wishes at terrified animals. One worker can be seen on video trying to rip out a cat’s claws by violently pulling the animal from the chain link fence that the cat clung to.

The indictments follow citations by federal officials for serious violations of animal welfare laws, the laboratory’s closure and the surrender of nearly 200 dogs and more than 50 cats just a week after we released our findings. Laboratory staff reportedly killed all the rabbits, but the dogs and cats have been placed in homes.

I know one of the rescued dogs, a small terrier-hound who looks a little like the beleaguered but hopeful pup in the animated version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” She was known only by the number tattooed in her ear. Bone-thin, terrified and infested with worms, she was pulled from her cage and began a long journey that ended in the home of one of my colleagues.

At first Libby, as she was named, cowered in fear and crawled on her belly rather than standing upright and risk being noticed. I visited her recently. She is a joyful little dog today who loves her person, her canine friends and her happy life. Imprisonment in a laboratory has been replaced by long walks in the mountains, where she darts up and down the trails, her tail wagging.

Some abuse in laboratories has the approval of oversight committees and is funded by the federal government with our tax dollars. They don’t call it abuse of course—it’s “research” when someone gets paid to collect data on suffering animals. But forcing mice to fight with each other until they’re bloody, keeping monkeys constantly thirsty to coerce them to cooperate in brain experiments, torching sheep over two-thirds of their bodies, force-feeding chemicals to dogs, electrically shocking the sensitive feet of rats, cutting off the tops of cats’ skull to insert electrodes in their brains—all this is legal.

Many state anti-cruelty laws exempt experiments on animals. Wisconsin, where the mice-fighting experiments occurred and were in apparent violation of anti-animal fighting laws, just passed such an exemption.

As Libby shows, the animals are the same whether they’re inside a laboratory or outside it. They feel pain when they’re hurt. They want their own lives, even if some humans think these lives are of no value. Thank goodness the grand jury in North Carolina saw the appalling treatment of animals for what it was and refused to give the laboratory a free pass. Let’s hope it’s a trend.

Kathy Guillermo is vice president of Laboratory Investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 2, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Animal tests are today’s Tuskegee experiments

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By Justin Goodman

An experimenter at the University of California–Los Angeles who addicts monkeys to methamphetamines, kills them and dissects their brains recently defended the practice of tormenting animals in laboratories by saying that it was a “fact of science.” Animal experimentation is indeed a “fact” in the sense that it takes place, but its mere existence is not a sound ethical defense, with all its accompanying violence and death. This sort of argument implies that the way we conduct science—and the way we treat animals—is constant, unchangeable and not up for debate. Fortunately, this is not how science (or society) actually works. 

Other “facts of science” that history ultimately deemed atrocities include experiments on unconsenting humans―among them, the poor, prisoners, the developmentally disabled, Jews and African-Americans. J. Marion Sims, the so-called “father of gynecology,” developed life-saving treatments for difficult pregnancies that are still in use today by conducting surgeries on the genitalia of unanesthetized female slaves he “rented” from local plantations.

A century later, one government researcher defended his involvement in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments by stating that because the people being deprived of medical treatment were poor black sharecroppers, “The men’s status did not warrant ethical debate. They were subjects, not patients; clinical materials, not sick people.” Back then, using black men and women against their will in experiments was as much a “fact of science” as slavery and racial segregation were a “fact of life.” Both then and now this abhorrent cruelty and racism was indefensible.

Those who support animal experimentation—not unlike the people who conducted the unethical experiments mentioned above—are quick to acknowledge the similarities between species in order to justify the use of animals as proxies for humans, but they are even quicker to minimize and disregard the obvious moral implications because it is not in their personal, political or financial interests to do so. Self-reflection and scientific inquiry can lead to conclusions that are uncomfortable and inconvenient, but society will never progress if people choose to assimilate only the ideas that reinforce their personal biases and protect their own interests.

Evolutionary theory and scientific evidence tell us that animals―from mice to monkeys―possess all the same characteristics that make it repugnant to experiment on humans without their consent. Animals who are locked in laboratories, just like the dogs and cats with whom we share our homes, have their own lives and preferences and experience pain, suffering and pleasure. They express empathy when other animals are in distress, and they exhibit altruism, putting themselves in harm’s way rather than allowing a friend or relative to suffer.  They are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. Their lives matter to them and should matter to us too. 

Yet, the law allows rats, rabbits, cats, dogs, pigs, monkeys and other animals to be burned, shocked, poisoned, isolated, starved, paralyzed, cut open and addicted to drugs as well as have their brains damaged. What happens to animals in laboratories would be considered criminal cruelty to animals if it occurred elsewhere. No experiment―no matter how painful or trivial―is prohibited, and painkillers are not required.

Even when viable alternatives to animals are available, the law does not require that these alternatives be used, and very often they aren’t. For example, faculty at the University of Michigan and the Medical University of South Carolina—which oddly gives out an annual award for surgical excellence named after the infamous Dr. Sims mentioned above—continue to cut holes into pigs’ throats and chests in a crude and deadly medical training exercise, even though the schools use sophisticated humanlike simulators to teach the same skills elsewhere on their campuses. 

Animals aren’t chosen to be used in experiments because they are inferior to humans in any morally relevant way or because it’s good science. They are chosen because—like slaves, prisoners and the poor—they are more vulnerable, and it has been unjustly decided that their pain is less important than ours.

History will look back on the “fact” of humans’ violent exploitation of animals in laboratories and see it for precisely what it is—a grave moral misstep.

Justin Goodman is associate director of Laboratory Investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as well as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. He can be reached c/o PETA, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Kicking the habit helps animals too

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By Heather Moore

Attention “drag” queens: The Great American Smokeout is November 18. Not only will butting out cigarettes help save your life, it will also help stop animal suffering. While everyone knows that smoking is harmful to humans, contributing to cancer, coronary heart disease and other life-threatening illnesses, relatively few people realize that animals are also dying because of cigarettes. Not only can our beloved animal companions develop cancer from secondhand smoke, just as humans can, monkeys, mice, rats and other animals are cruelly killed in irrelevant laboratory experiments funded by big tobacco companies and government agencies.

If you care about animals, you can do something to stop these deadly experiments: Stop smoking.

Studies published this year show that animals are still being used to test the “safety” of cigarette ingredients—and to determine whether harmful substances are actually, um, harmful—even though non-animal test methods are readily available. For example, in order to test the safety of a compound that’s used to keep tobacco moist, experimenters with Philip Morris stuffed more than 500 rats into tiny canisters and forced tobacco smoke into their noses six hours a day for 90 consecutive days. The rats were then killed and dissected.

Experimenters funded by R.J. Reynolds spread concentrated cigarette smoke particles on more than 800 rats’ skin three times a week for more than four months so that they would develop skin tumors. These rats were also then killed and cut apart.

Researchers have also laced animals’ food with tobacco in order to study the effects of ingesting smokeless tobacco. Not surprisingly, the animals suffered devastating health problems, including damaged eyes, skin and internal organs; weight loss; and genital swelling.

We already know that pregnant women who smoke—or are exposed to smoke—endanger their unborn babies, but that didn’t stop experimenters at the University of California–Davis from locking eight pregnant rhesus monkeys into chambers and exposing them to smoke for six hours a day, five days a week during the last two months of the monkeys’ pregnancies. The experimenters continued to pump cigarette smoke into the enclosures for two months after the babies were born. When the babies were 2 1/2 months old, they were taken from their mothers, killed and dissected so that experimenters could see how the smoke had affected their arteries.

Versions of these inhumane and unnecessary experiments have been conducted before. In previous years, researchers exposed pregnant monkeys to nicotine to observe its detrimental effects on their fetuses, made mice and rats breathe cigarette smoke to test the effects of adding high-fructose corn syrup to cigarettes as a flavoring agent, cut live dogs’ chests open to study how cigarette smoke causes airway irritation and much more.

None of these cruel experiments is required by U.S. law—American Spirit cigarettes are not tested on animals—and they wouldn’t even be legal if conducted in Belgium, Germany or the U.K., where smoking experiments on animals have been banned.

PETA has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban smoking experiments on animals in America as well. Non-animal test methods are readily available and are more relevant to humans; in fact, all the tobacco product tests required in Canada are non-animal tests. Animals don’t make good models for humans. Different animals have different reactions to toxins, and animals in laboratories aren’t exposed to nicotine in the same manner, or time frame, as humans. Besides, we already know from clinical research—and from basic common sense—that nicotine is bad for us.

The next time you’re “dying for a cigarette,” please remember that animals are dying too. They’re dying for you to quit smoking.

Heather Moore is a research specialist for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

November 17, 2010 at 10:29 pm

One animal laboratory closed, 1100 to go

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By Kathy Guillermo

Most words describing life for animals in laboratories are inadequate. They can’t begin to convey the actual experience. So try this: Imagine you’re Jamie Lee Curtis in the 1978 film Halloween or any of the victims in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series or one of the humans in Night of the Living Dead. Think of the fright you know just by vicariously feeling what it would be like if you were unable to escape a zombie or a crazed man with a knife. Think of Ms. Curtis’s panicked character Laurie Strode banging on the neighbor’s door, hoping for rescue, as her murderous brother comes closer and closer.

Now imagine that it’s real.

That’s everyday life for animals in laboratories: the heart-pounding terror of being trapped, unable to escape, as someone with a weapon—a scalpel or electric-shock device or a bottle of chemicals—approaches. Studies show that animals’ hearts race in fear when a laboratory worker simply enters the room.

There’s no happy ending for animals. They can’t leave the theater or sound stage and go home. The man or woman approaching means death—murder for the animals, the end of life—in virtually every case.

A rare exception occurred last month following the release of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) undercover investigation of a North Carolina laboratory called Professional Laboratory and Research Services (PLRS). PLRS was paid by large pharmaceutical companies to test flea, tick and companion-animal products on dogs and cats. For these animals, this is bad enough. It means being doused with or force-fed chemicals that will likely cause sickness or death.

But PETA’s investigator documented the kind of treatment that decent people hope never occurs in laboratories. Look at the video evidence at PETA.org. Laboratory workers scream death wishes and curses at cowering dogs; drag them, kick them and lift them by their ears; fling cats into cages, calling them “motherf—ers”; and deny veterinary care to dogs who have rotten teeth and whose legs are covered with sores.

PETA’s 70-page complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture led to the laboratory’s closure just a week later. Nearly 200 dogs and more than 50 cats have been gently and lovingly taken in by animal shelters. Animals, some of whom were imprisoned at PLRS for years, who’ve never walked on grass or up steps and who’ve never known affection—except what PETA’s investigator could give them—will go to good homes.

This is a wonderful ending to a tragic case. But I also think of all the dogs and cats who died at PLRS in the 20 years before PETA got there. And I think of all the animals—of all species—who live in terror, with no escape, and eventually die in the more than 1,100 animal laboratories in the U.S.

It’s wrong, no matter what the goal is, to do this to other beings. We wouldn’t do it to children, who are also defenseless. We wouldn’t do it other adult humans. We should not do it to animals. Experiments on animals can never be justified in a progressive and decent society like ours. PLRS, bad as it was, is not the only animal laboratory that should go out of business. The doors of every place where animals are treated as if their lives are of no consequence—and as if their suffering is less important than ours—should close forever.

Kathy Guillermo is the vice president of Laboratory Investigations for PETA and the author of Monkey Business: The Disturbing Case That Launched the Animal Rights Movement. She can be reached c/o PETA at 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Will Obama allow 60-year-old space program veterans to retire?

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk

New Mexico’s Governor Richardson met with National Institutes of Health (NIH) officials recently in a last-ditch effort to stop NIH from moving 202 “retired” chimpanzees out of Holloman Air Force base and back into invasive experiments. NIH is moving swiftly to transfer the chimpanzees into facilities so substandard that caging conditions within them violate not only everything that we have come to know about what chimpanzees require but also federal law itself. Some of the animals are 60 years old; some are left over from the space program. Gov. Richardson’s visit came on the heels of petitions and pleas by everyone from physicians, veterinarians and primatologists to actors such as Gene Hackman, all of which have been ignored.

It was only a week earlier that Time magazine’s cover story asked the question, “What’s on animals’ minds?” Fifteen years before, as Dr. Jane Goodall mulled over the complex relationships within chimpanzee families, Time had asked, “Do animals think?” Now the question is “What do animals think?” In the case of chimpanzees, who have been taught to use sign boards and even American Sign Language to communicate with their human captors, they think a lot. 

The more pressing question is now “What is NIH thinking?” And the answer isn’t befitting our nation’s level of awareness about animals and its commitment to their protection.

In 2001, the U.S. Congress recognized that chimpanzees should be retired from experimentation. “Retirement” has not meant a beachfront condo or a return to the Gombe. Charities have managed to wrest away some chimpanzees, rehabilitate them from a life that, in some cases, consisted of 34 years on a concrete bench in a tiny cell or two decades in a steel cage barely any bigger than the animal’s body, and put them in group care. 

In many cases, “retirement” has meant a continuation of solitary confinement but no more invasive and painful procedures. Imbued with active, intelligent minds, naturally inclined to complex social relationships, as capable of falling in love and carefully raising their children as we are, they sit and wait, alone, with not even a blanket or an orange to keep them company. It is cruel and unusual punishment for a thinking being, but it is still far better than also being cut apart and sewn back up every so often, the fate that now awaits them again if NIH does not stop this wretched plan.

NIH has already moved 15 of the “retired” chimpanzees to the Southwest Foundation, a Texas facility that has failed to meet federal minimum standards for the care of animals. Federal minimum standards for chimpanzees, by the way, require no more than enough room in which to stand, sit and turn around―for life. Charles River Laboratories, which operates the Alamogordo Primate Facility, another dungeon-like laboratory complex as notoriously inhumane as Devil’s Island, plans to start experimenting on these and the other chimpanzees soon. 

Carl Sagan once wondered if those who experiment on nonhuman primates would fare as well as their subjects if the tables were turned. At first, he thought they would. But in one experiment, in which monkeys were only permitted to eat if they pulled a lever that administered an electric shock to another monkey, the monkeys chose to abstain from food for up to 14 days, even if they didn’t know the monkey being shocked. Sagan had to wonder how many human beings in the same situation would be so selfless.

If this administration is to be seen as remotely humane, President Obama must act quickly to stop the NIH officials who have chosen to ignore all that we have learned over the years about how indistinguishable chimpanzees are from us in any important way, such as the ability to feel pain and fear, love and joy, and the desire to live with others of one’s own kind. The chimpanzees being moved out of Holloman are not a testament to our society’s quest for understanding and compassion but rather a testament to its ability to betray, for a few bucks, those who depend on us for mercy.

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org. Her latest book is The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights.