Vivisection

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The TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership, is the newest trade agreement being proposed and “fast-tracked” here in the U.S. The TPP is an agreement with 11 countries in Asia and Latin America that proposes major changes in property rights of intellectual property and the enforcement of infractions regarding them. It appears to be quite complicated (at least to me who is a non-attorney) and basically requires the signatory countries “to adopt heightened copyright protection that advances the agenda of the US entertainment and pharmaceutical industries agendas, but omits the flexibilities and exceptions that protect Internet users and technology innovators.”

Now that alone is concerning to me, but as this is an animal rights blog, I will leave it to others to explain why the TPP is bad for jobs and for anyone trying to make a decent wage.

So what DOES the TPP have to do with animals?

Well for one thing, the other signatory countries present issues regarding their treatment of animals. The other countries are Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei Darussalam. Some of these countries have abysmal records of animal abuse on a systemic level, particularly in the food and research areas (not that the U.S. necessarily has a lot to be proud of). We only have to look at the world outrage over the confinement, torture, and slaughter in Taiji, Japan, of hundreds (it will be thousands before the season is over) of dolphins and whales so that the captive marine mammal entertainment industry can have more victims for their grotesque “theme parks.” In addition, as stated above, this agreement is a financial blockbuster for the pharmaceutical industry, a major abuser and killer of animals worldwide. The TPP does not appear to deal with either of these major issues as a condition of passage.

The other major concern with the TPP regarding animals is the disgusting crime of shark finning. As many know, shark finning is the obscene practice of removing a live shark from the water, slicing off its fins WHILE STILL ALIVE AND CONSCIOUS, and tossing its tortured, disfigured body back into the ocean (shark “meat” is not nearly as profitable as the fins). These sharks, of course, will not survive, dying by asphyxiation (since they cannot swim and move water over their gills to breathe), blood loss, or predation. No doubt the suffering of these sharks is unimaginable. Currently, it is estimated that 100 million sharks each year are killed in this horrific fashion. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in some places, which is responsible for much of the demand.

Sharks are vertebrates. They have the same basic nervous system and limb structure (in their case fins) as any other vertebrate. Their capacity to feel pain and suffering is the same as any vertebrate. The horrific suffering that they endure before their deaths is almost unimaginable. In addition to the massive suffering inflicted on the individual sharks, there is the issue of their conservation and ability to continue living in their environments. There are 18 species of sharks listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). At the rate of killing, sharks could be eliminated from the oceans in 10-20 years.

So back to the TPP. In March of 2013, some steps had been taken at a meeting in Bangkok to outlaw this brutal practice. A positive step to be sure. And some countries and cities are taking it upon themselves to ban shark fin products in their jurisdictions. But the news regarding the TPP is not good. The latest draft of the TPP does not include any language to ban shark finning. It merely “acknowledges commitments” previously made. In other words, nice-sounding phrasing which essentially does nothing to bind any of the participating countries to any prohibition on finning. To put in perspective, according to Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, “If the environment chapter is finalized as written in this leaked document, President Obama’s environmental trade record would be worse than George W. Bush’s.”

So what can we do?

1. If in the U.S., write to your congressional representatives and senators and voice your disapproval with this blatant pandering to international niceness and urge them NOT to put their seal of approval on any agreement which doesn’t include specific and enforceable prohibitions on shark finning (or, urge them not to approve it at all if that is your position). If in another of the signatory countries, follow the normal protocol for expressing disapproval with your government’s decisions, where appropriate.

2. Get the word out in whatever way you do – social media, email, telling your friends, families, and coworkers, however you choose to – speak out and inform as many people as possible of this travesty against our environment and its inhabitants.

3. Sign and share a petition to ban shark finning.

The omission of any clearly worded shark protection from the TPP is part of the attempt to fast-track it – bickering over wording and dealing with countries that do not want to stop this hideous practice would take time, and apparently time is not something the administration or congress want. They want to move this along as quickly as possible. But this appeasement of a brutal and obscene crime against sharks and the environment cannot be allowed to pass. It will be yet another blow to environmental conservation efforts and humane treatment of animals and another win for powerful, environment-killing corporate power.

Let’s try and stop it.

Photo of great white shark from 4freephotos.com

BeagleNiniJule

Today I came across this video of rescued laboratory beagles being taken outside to see the grass and the sky for the first time. It is amazing and gut wrenching to see them timidly stick their heads out of their carriers, and, with encouragement from their rescuers, start to toe their way onto the grass. These animals have been victims of laboratory testing/experiments and have never been outside of a building. They have never even felt grass under their paws, nor seen the sky above them. They aren’t even used to being out of the confines of cages or crates. Like many, I was moved to tears watching these precious ones experience their first taste of freedom- not only to the outdoors but from the invasive, controlled, and terrifying experience of being tortured for so-called science. These tests are not only not necessary, but actually work against the objective of making drugs and products safe for humans, but that will be an article for another day.

Today I want to focus on these rescued beagles and others like them-because many people like to think “lab animals” are some other entity, some “other” animals that belong in a lab and don’t feel or experience feelings like their companion animals. That fantasy, which many people cling to, is just not true, although it probably does on some level assuage the collective guilt and discomfort with the idea of subjecting these beautiful creatures to laboratory horrors. Beagles, like many other animals, are purpose-bred, meaning that they are bred by commercial breeders specifically to be sold to research facilities. Beagles are often chosen because of their docile and trusting nature (how depraved is that?). These beagles could be YOUR beagle – they have the same personality, the same capacity to feel pain and anguish, the same capacity to feel loneliness and fear as any companion animal. And they are suffering, like many other species, in labs all around the world.

“So what can I do?” You might be asking. You may have watched this video and been moved and want to do something. There is plenty that we can do, depending on our skills, time availability, and financial circumstances. The following is a partial list of what we can do as individual activists to help end this atrocity and rescue the victims.

1. Shop for cruelty free products – Websites such as Leaping Bunny inform about which companies and products are cruelty free and were not tested on animals such as these beagles. Every dollar that goes to a cruelty free product is one less dollar that goes into the pockets of companies that sponsor this cruelty.

2. Write to companies whose products you are no longer purchasing and tell them that you will no longer be a customer until they end animal testing. Companies don’t like to lose customers and don’t like to hear from unhappy ones. If they hear from enough of them, they might rethink their policy.

3. Support cruelty free charities – PCRM keeps a list of charities that are cruelty free (there are other lists as well).

4. When solicited by a charity, tell them if you will not be contributing and why. If you get a phone call, tell them you don’t contribute to charities that conduct animal tests. If you get a mailer, you can write a note back to tell them why you won’t be supporting their charity but that you WILL be supporting a charity that does not sponsor animal testing.

5. Get plugged in to the legal and legislative pipeline. Organizations such as HSUS have information about the latest developments and issue legislative alerts, so that you can write to your congressional representatives on pending legislation.

6. Financially support organizations, such as the New England Antivivisection Society (NEAVS) , HSUS, and others who are actively working to put an end to animal testing and research and rescuing laboratory animals, such as Beagle Freedom project.

7. Donate your time to organizations that are working to end vivisection, are promoting alternatives, or are rescuing liberated laboratory animals.

8. Take advantage of opportunities to get the word out informally to family, friends, and coworkers who may not be aware that such testing still happens and might want to do something.

9. Adopt! If you are able. If you can adopt a rescued animal, great. But if you adopt from your local shelter, you are still making a space available that might go to a rescued lab animal.

10. Keep reading! Progress is being made on this front and you can keep up with it by checking in with the organizations and websites fighting to end animal testing.

Photo: wikipedia

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Chimpanzees in laboratories may soon be classified as endangered species if the recommendation by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is implemented. The current status of chimpanzees in the wild is endangered but it is only threatened for captive ones. This difference in classification, the only split status ever, does little to protect the thousands of chimpanzees under private control, including those in research facilities. Upon urging from animal rights organizations, USF&W has put forward the proposal that ALL chimpanzees be classified as endangered. They determined that there is no provision in the Endangered Species Act for wild and captive animals to be assigned to different status groups.

Unfortunately, a number of countries still keep and experiment on monkeys, but the United States stands alone among developed countries regarding apes. The U.S. has continued to subject apes to a variety of experiments, while such research has been banned for years in Europe. This proposal, if adopted, will mark yet another step of progress towards the end of subjecting primates to research experiments. Earlier this year, the NIH took a step closer to releasing to sanctuary most of the chimpanzees in its research colony. In addition, the recent news that Harvard is closing its primate center was another welcome development in the effort to end primate exploitation and abuse in laboratories.

The tide is clearly changing. Based on a recent US poll, support for vivisection in general is dropping, particularly among younger people. This recent trend towards reducing and ultimately eliminating primate research is just another indicator that this is going in the right direction. One of the interesting things here is that, although much of the concern regarding primates is for ethical reasons, it has also been shown that primate research in many areas just doesn’t work. Chimpanzees do not function as a model for human physiology as well as some scientists hoped. And what about that? If our closest genetic relatives are not reliable predictors of reactions and responses to various experimental manipulations, what makes us think that species even more distantly related to us will? It is becoming more and more clear that, although there are many similarities across the animal kingdom, response in one species to a certain stimulus cannot accurately predict the response to that same stimulus in a different species. Even mice, the standby for scientists, are not reliable as models. Clinical human studies and in vitro testing using human tissues are much safer and reliable methodologies.

As primates become obsolete in labs as a test animal, both because of ethical concerns and because the science just doesn’t support it, the next logical step becomes clear. If chimpanzees and other primates should not be used because they experience pain and suffering, what about the dogs, cats, mice, rabbits, and other species subjected to invasive, painful experiments? Do they not have the same ability to feel pain? Do they not have the same neurological and emotional make-up that causes them to suffer as well? Of course they do. And that fact will become more evident as the line between “us” and “them” becomes more blurred. Once we fully recognize that the dividing line between human animals and nonhuman animals is an arbitrary one put in place by humans, it will become increasingly more difficult to justify vivisection at all, no matter what the species. Hopefully this will signal the beginning of the end of experiments on ALL animal species in research settings.

Additional sources:
Dr. Ray Greek
NPR
St. Louis Today
photo: Vera Kratochvil via publicdomainpictures.net

ATCG's Image with People

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.

Sources:
L.A. Times

Washington Post

photo: Jane Ades, NHGRI via genome.gov

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.

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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 publicdomainpictures.net