Archive for March 2013

Although this is not a religious website, I do think there is a natural tie-in of animal ethics with spiritual ethics for those who follow a faith tradition and those who are spiritual but not necessarily connected to a personal deity. About one third of the world’s population is observing a significant holy event in this first week of spring (Passover, Holy week). It got me to thinking about what those two observances in particular mean to humanity and how the issue of animal ethics is so integral to both. Passover commemorates the final plague against Pharaoh so that he would free the Israelites from horrendous slavery; Holy week remembers the last supper, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ to atone for the sins of humankind.

Slavery, sins, and atonement seem to be the themes of the week. That we enslave, torture, and kill billions of sentient creatures would seem to be an obvious abomination against anything or any entity that represents goodness and perfection. The span of time over which the events of the Bible take place has been estimated to be about 4,000 years. Many things took place that do not show humans’ best side – murder, incest, adultery, slavery, just to name a few. But the fact that the Bible recounts these events does not, in my view, constitute an endorsement, but rather an honest look at human behavior throughout history.

The relevant question seems to be what do we as a species do now? Now that we have the technology and the ability to grow food without killing animals, to test products without testing them on animals, to manufacture warm clothing without taking the skin of another – seems like a no-brainer. If God does exist and God is by nature goodness and love, a proper homage would seem to be to care for God’s creation with kindness and respect. There are many passages in the Bible which mention God’s love for animals, and there are passages which discuss which kinds of animals to eat. But I doubt even the permission to eat certain animals came with permission to treat them with the vicious cruelty with which many industries treat them today.

I am reminded of my favorite poem by Edgar Guest:


They cannot ask for kindness
Or for mercy plead,
Yet cruel is our blindness
Which does not see their need,
World-over, town or city,
God trusts us with this task:
To give our love and pity
To those who cannot ask.

― Edgar A. Guest

animaltestedCosmetics-makeup391 Good news from the European Union. There will be no more marketing of cosmetics that were tested on animals in the twenty seven countries that comprise the EU. This ban includes not only the finished product, which has been banned since 2004 if tested on animals, but the ingredients as well. And the major difference – the companies involved will not be able to market these products in any of these countries. Of course, some cosmetics manufacturers are already whining about how consumers will not have access to new products because of this ban. Really? So with all of the natural and botanical ingredients already in use, not to mention all the manufactured ingredients that these companies whipped up in their labs which are already in use, they can’t come up with new recipes for new and improved products? What does that say about the creativity of the cosmetics makers? Besides, anyone can walk into any drugstore, grocery store, or natural food store and find a wide variety of creams, lotions, eye colors, lip colors, and anything else that can be put on the body to make it more beautiful, fight aging, or or change its appearance. How many more do we need? No one is telling these companies that they can’t develop new products, only that they have to a) use ingredients already in use b) test potential new ingredients using methods that do not torture, disfigure, maim, or kill defenseless creatures. Cells grown in culture, simulated skin and eye tissue such as EpiDermTMand EipOcularTM(both made by MatTek), and cadaver skin are just a few of the examples of in vitro alternatives to the outdated and cruel in vivo methods. Interestingly enough, the FDA does not require cosmetics to be tested on animals – it is not a legal requirement, although many are under the false impression that it is. Many companies have adopted a no-animal test policy, and their names are available through many lists such as IDA’s. The trend is definitely towards in vitro testing, but this practice needs to come to a hasty end. The U.S is considered to be the world leader in many areas, and China aspires to be much more involved in the global economy. If they want to be taken seriously, they need to LEAD, especially in the areas of technology and manufacturing. They need to show the world that they are not afraid to embrace the newest and best technology and put this barbaric practice into history where it belongs.

Thanks to recent attention by National Geographic, The World Wildlife Fund, and now, Animal Planet, the horrible and desperate plight of the rhino is becoming much more widely known. Animal planet’s newest mini series, Rhino Wars, highlights the efforts of an elite team of U.S. military specialists who have gone to South Africa to work with local authorities in the effort to reduce the illegal slaughter of rhinos. I was conflicted about watching it, because even the online trailer, which showed a baby rhino crying next to the body of his murdered mother, was enough to turn my stomach and break my heart. But I did watch, and I am glad I did. These four men are highly skilled and very dedicated to the effort, one of them at one point referring to it as a “calling.” I would not be surprised if this series comes out with more episodes in the future. People need to see the good things that are happening here even in the midst of cruel and vicious carnage. The dedication of the soldiers and the local authorities, the poachers who were stopped and apprehended, the adult and baby rhinos who have been saved from a brutal death – these realities give people hope and encouragement to continue this important fight. After seeing the trailer, I immediately went to the website of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and fostered a rhino orphan. I have been fostering an orphaned elephant for several months and knew this was one small way I could help. They are doing remarkable rescue work. The more attention we give this important cause, the closer the day when we can celebrate the safety of all the rhinos.

photo by Petr Kratochvil via


At least this one didn’t. A recent collaborative effort at the Stanford Genome Technology Center has concluded that mouse models do not provide good correlative information about human inflammatory illness. In fact, the relationship of the mouse data to the human data was concluded to be “close to random” in some aspects of the study. Close to random – sounds like the kind of results one could get from a coin toss. It’s also worth noting that, regarding human inflammatory diseases, or even diseases in general, we know the causes of most of them. Many of them, whether through a genetic or environmental etiology, can be alleviated or exacerbated by lifestyle. Many of the terrible diseases causing us pain and crippling our elderly do not need more mouse (or for that matter, human) studies. We need aggressive education into the lifestyle choices that can help or hurt our afflictions, so that even the illnesses that need medical treatment can benefit from our participation in our own wellness. And then we can leave the poor mice alone. Torturing them isn’t doing us any good, anyway, even if it was an ethical thing to do.

photo by Martha Sexton via

There has been some attention given lately to the presence of horse meat in what was supposed to be beef in Ireland. What some may have missed, however, is that the U.S. is close to approving a horse slaughter plant right here in this country. It will be the first time since 2007 that horse slaughter has been allowed in the U.S. for human consumption. Besides the obvious concerns about the inherent cruelty of the slaughterhouse industry, the drugs often used in horses that could be deadly for humans, and the risk of native wild horse populations becoming increasingly targeted for roundup and death, another question has come to mind for me: Does our societal agreement to this permit signal a change in our willingness to kill any species that the slaughter industry wishes to foist upon us?

I am not someone who argues that eating pigs is ok but eating dogs is not. Eating pigs is NOT ok with me. Pigs are intelligent, sensitive creatures that surely suffer as much as dogs would during the brutal deaths inflicted upon them in slaughterhouses (some would say more due to purported higher intelligence than dogs). My concern is the effect such a change would have on our country’s psyche and its potential willingness to go even further down the road in terms of species diversity for food sources. After all, horses have enjoyed a status and relationship to humans that is unique and spans the history of this country. Whether it was in battle, helping to deliver mail, or as treasured companions, horses have been seen as valuable aids to humans over our history, and many still revere these magnificent animals. Concern for horses was one of the many things that inspired Henry Bergh to found the ASPCA almost 150 years ago. And now we may be on the verge of approving a permit to a slaughterhouse so that Americans have yet another kind of steak option on the menu. If this goes through and we get used to people eating horses, doesn’t it stand to reason that other species may be next? If Black Beauty is fair game for dinner, why not Spike the family dog? In other countries it is rather routine for dogs, cats, and other species we consider “for companionship only” to be slaughtered and eaten. How close will we become to that? Are we that desperate for another artery clogging, cruelty laden , environment destroying food source that we will walk backwards in time down this revolting and treacherous road?

photo by Karen Arnold via