Archive for April 2013

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A pending case in the U.S. Supreme Court could have far reaching implications, not only for those involved in the case, but for scientists, animals in laboratories, and the future of human health research and treatment. Myriad Genetics, based in Utah, is petitioning the court for the ability to keep patents on two sections of the human genome which can show a predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer. The company claims that it has spent a great deal of money and effort into isolating these genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Mutations in these genes can indicate significantly increased risk for cancers of the breast and ovaries. As it stands now, the company has exclusivity with regard to the testing for the presence of abnormalities in these genes. In other words, they are the ones your physician needs to deal with if you require the test for genetic predisposition for these cancers.

So why does this matter? In terms of research, the permission to patent this genetic information would have devastating consequences for advancement as well as the fate of countless numbers of laboratory animals. If a company is allowed to patent naturally occurring material, such as human DNA, research by other companies will be much more difficult. Human based (and non vivisection oriented) tissue banks and human genome companies will be prohibited from obtaining and making available this information to researchers. Not only can important ground be lost, but companies without access to the patented material may feel the need to return to “basic research,” which often involves examining and experimenting on non human animals and attempting to extrapolate the information to human medicine. Since this case primarily involves human DNA, I would hope that its outcome either way would not increase the number of animals killed in research. But a great many pharmaceutical and biotech companies claim that research on animals is the only way for them to obtain the information they need to continue their work. Even though I don’t believe that’s true, cutting off this critical and human based pathway to information could result in more animal based research.

There is another problem with this case if the patents are allowed to stand. Many naturally occurring substances are known to have preventive and even curative properties (this is just one example of many). One of the reasons given for pharmaceutical companies not wanting to do research on disease treatment with vitamins for example, is that the material can not be patented and therefore can not ultimately yield a profit (no one can patent vitamin D). If these patents are upheld, it could create a slippery slope. If human genes can be patented, why not vitamin D? Or the elderberry plant? Where will it end? Patents are already allowed for genetically engineered animals because they were altered. Will patents on natural species be next? And will the next power grab be for something like vitamin D? Will we get to a point where we can no longer buy vitamin and mineral supplements at the heath food store because they are “owned” by large corporations?

A clear line needs to be drawn here. Patents are for inventions. As much as I loathe the idea of patented mice, the genetically engineered mice do not present the same issue as naturally occurring DNA in any species. They present an issue, and one that is an important part of any vivisection discussion. But as far as this particular case, it is clear to me that allowing patents on naturally occurring material will only lead to more difficulties down the road for ALL animal species.

L.A. Times

Washington Post

photo: Jane Ades, NHGRI via

As if we need another reason. According to the Humane Society of the U.S., a number of animal welfare groups are filing legal paperwork in New Mexico to have horsemeat declared unfit for human consumption. The reason? Horses, unlike traditional “raised for food” animals, are often treated with drugs which are extremely dangerous to humans. In addition, horses are not followed throughout their lives as other “food animals” are, so their history is not usually known to the personnel in the slaughterhouses that kill them. This furthers the danger to food consumers, as the content of the meat they are buying is impossible to know. The petition, if granted, would result in horsemeat not being able to be sold unless the slaughterhouse can “unequivocally state” that the animals were not exposed to these dangerous substances.

Besides the gruesome and barbaric methods of horse slaughter, the companion/helper image that horses have enjoyed throughout the history of this country, the fact that more and more health organizations are recommending less, not more, meat consumption overall, and the abundance of protein sources (animal and non-animal based) already available in grocery stores all over this country, we now have ANOTHER reason why this is a really bad idea.

photo via U.S. BLM, Colorado Office