two_brown_cows-animals

If we asked everyone who works in any capacity towards ending animal suffering, my guess is that many would say the work brings a lot of fulfillment. It also brings a lot of pain. Unable to go through life in ignorant bliss, we know, see, and hear things that many of our fellow world citizens will never know. Whether on factory farms, in shelters, fur farms, the oceans, or in laboratories, immense suffering is all around us, and sometimes when we can’t sleep at night, we know why – we are haunted by the memories, the images, the sounds–of suffering. I have had several occasions recently to speak with others on the journey who have expressed a feeling of overload – the bad news has just been too much lately. So that knowledge, combined with the fact that it is approaching the end of the week, and that summer has begun for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, inspired me to look for some good news to share. And I am happy to say I found some – a good amount, in fact. So much that I had to make decisions about which links to include and which to leave out. How’s that for good news?

So here are some recent and hope-inspiring developments in the continuing fight for our fellow creatures

In laboratories

The European Union banned cosmetics with animal tested ingredients

Harvard University is closing its primate research center

The USA’s National Institutes of Health is expected to release to sanctuary most of the 451 chimpanzees currently in research facilities

Support for vivisection is dropping, especially among young adults (USA survey)

Our companions

The American Board of Veterinary Specialties has designated a new specialty in the College of Animal Welfare, and the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists has an Animal Welfare Chapter

More than 2,000 US stores representing all 50 states will no longer sell puppy mill puppies and will promote adoption instead

The city of Toronto, Canada has banned pet stores from selling puppy mill puppies and kitten mill kittens

Israel has banned the declawing of cats

In the wild

Japan had its worst whale-murdering season ever thanks largely to the efforts of the Sea Shepherd Society

Poaching in Kenya will be classified as a capital crime, eligible for a life sentence

Unarmed drones to monitor poachers will soon be a critical tool in the war against poaching

Bolivia, Peru, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Greece have all banned wild animal circus exploitation, Portugal and Denmark are on the way to banning, and the UK will probably not be far behind

The hideous atrocity of torturing moon bears for their bile has been exposed for all the world to see – and pressure is mounting on the few remaining countries to stop

Factory farms

In vitro meat is coming and may put an end to killing animals for human consumption

The agri industry’s attempt to hide the truth about the horrific cruelties on factory farms (knows as AgGag laws) will ultimately not stand

Gestation crates for sows are being phased out all over Canada

Several major food companies, such as Burger King, Kroger’s and Chili’s, will be phasing out their use of suppliers who do not follow a no-gestation crate practice

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Newton, Massachusetts – a suburban town in the greater Boston area which has a reputation for being a nice place to live and work. But not if you are a young, lost, frightened bear. On Sunday, Environmental Police shot and killed a young black bear who was stranded in a tree (not the bear in the photo). The report claims that tranquilizers were used and that they did not subdue the bear. Perhaps a young, healthy bear needs a larger dose so that it could be safely removed? Just a thought. The other glaring discrepancy about this story is that the reason given for killing the bear was a concern for public safety – that they were concerned that it would fall out of the tree onto the highway, causing injury. So what is their solution? To shoot the bear, CAUSING IT TO FALL which is what they were trying to avoid in the first place. Fortunately for them, the poor creature fell on nearby train tracks and not on the highway, but no thanks to the officials on the scene.

I have to say I am getting fed up with people living in suburban or rural areas who think the approach to wildlife is to kill them. To be fair, most of the discussions I have seen show a majority of people critical of this particular decision. But it speaks to a larger issue. That being, of course, our behavior. WE decide to move farther and farther out into areas populated by a variety of wild creatures, and then when those creatures behave in a way that is consistent with their nature, or, out of disorientation or loss of habitat, make more appearances in our backyards and parks, we feel the need to remove them. So the timeline goes like this: humans move into and develop areas where a variety of indigenous species live and have lived for a long time. Humans decide that they are afraid of these creatures, annoyed at them searching for food or mates (in other words, acting naturally), and then humans decide that the only reasonable action is to remove the creature from its own habitat, often times by killing it.

It’s Mark Bittman all over again. I recently expressed my displeasure at Bittman’s use of the term “vegan” to describe himself, even on a part time basis. Although he admits that terrible, horrific things happen to animals as they are being killed to become human food, he feels that it’s ok to eat them sometimes because people like to. Very different circumstances, same attitude. The animals are here for US. The environment is here for US. And when it is convenient or pleasurable to kill, consume, or manipulate the world and creatures around us, it is completely justified, as long as it is for something WE want. It has been almost 500 years since Nicolaus Copernicus figured out that Earth was not the center of the universe but rather is a tiny participant in a complex system embedded within other complex systems. I think we need another Copernicus, this time to remind the human species that we are not the center of the universe, or even the planet. We are a player in a system of life and ecosystems, and, if not for advances in technology, would be only a small player in that arena. That many use our advanced technology and knowledge to control, kill, and manipulate rather than to prosper, grow, and nurture the life around us is deeply, deeply sad. But there is still time to reverse the course – if humans have the will to do so.
Photo: Jon Sullivan via Public-Domain-Photos.com

beef

Where to start? Well, several others, including SuperVegan and James McWilliams, have already begun the conversation with excellent commentaries. In case you have been really busy lately and haven’t been able to get online, Mark Bittman is a food writer who has caused a firestorm in the vegan community with his new book “VB6″ (Vegan Before Six), which advocates a reduced meat vegan-style (I refuse to call it vegan) diet during the day as a way to lose weight and improve health. He has been doing quite a few interviews lately and it appears his own words have come back to bite him (oh the irony).

One of the primary things that has (rightly so) really torqued off the vegan community is his colossal misuse of the term vegan. He could have used the term veggie-style, or vegetable based, or reduced-meat, or any number of other terms to describe his new diet and made the same points about how healthy a plant based diet really is. Instead, he usurped a term that has a deep meaning for the people who follow the lifestyle with heart and soul. Vegans do not just avoid eating any products that came from animals, unless they are vegan in diet only (usually for health reasons). But vegans, true to the core vegans, will live a life that tries in every way possible to avoid being part of the economic and cultural machinery that exploits, tortures, and kills billions of sentient beings. Vegans, of course, do not consume food products that came from animals. But we also do not wear the skin of other beings or products that were manufactured using them. We do not buy personal care products or household cleaners that were tested on defenseless, captive, suffering creatures. We do not contribute to charities that do their so-called research by torturing and killing animals. And so on. It is not just a diet, although for the health conscious, it can be (President Bill Clinton is an example). So for Mr. Bittman to casually refer to himself as a vegan during the day is insulting and infuriating to many of us who live it 24/7/365.

The other major flaw in Mr. Bittman’s philosophy is that while he tries to justify his continuance of eating animals, he highlights just about every major reason not to. He readily acknowledges the suffering that goes on in producing food for humans that involves killing animals and then goes on to say that since humans still enjoy eating them, it’s ok–sometimes (does he think he should get to be the arbiter of how often that is?) In his own words, “We produce most animal products in deplorable conditions, and some of our health and environmental problems can be traced both to dominant production methods and our overconsumption.” And then immediately says “But we like to eat them…” He believes that this strategy of eating vegan-like some of the time “…can move us toward better health.” It is in this last point that he once again shows his true colors on this issue – it’s all about HIM. HE likes to eat animals, so therefore everyone should be able to, even though the suffering of sentient creatures is immeasurable and the environmental toll devastating. Even his choice not to eat animals some of the time is for his OWN benefit.

Finally, Bittman describes three scenarios where true veganism would be appropriate in his opinion – one of them is “…the emerging dominance of a morality that asserts that we have no right to “exploit” our fellow animals for our own benefit.” He closes that train of thought with “All seem unlikely.” Really?? So humans are NOT currently exploiting other creatures? What a relief that will be to the billions of land animals (and even more sea creatures) who are confined, tortured, skinned, dismembered (in many cases while still conscious) and slaughtered so he can have a burger after 6 pm. He clearly needs a new dictionary – According to Merriam Webster, to exploit is “to make use of meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage.” Can Mr. Bittman explain how the mass-scale captivity, torture, and death of animals so that he can enjoy his dinner is NOT exploitation? I’d like to see him try. Oh, that’s right he did – and made a great case for veganism in the process.

Source article from the New York Times
photo: Jon Sullivan via Public-domain-photos.dom

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Ok, the title certainly suggests that I recently saw the new Star Trek movie–which I did (and liked). But it wasn’t just the movie that got me to thinking about neutrality, or the lack of it, when it comes to animal rights and proper treatment of our fellow beings. A recent tweet by @VeganSmythe, someone I follow on twitter, expressed my thoughts well: “There’s no neutrality. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve taken a side: either for or against the exploitation of animals.” Nicely put.

When I was in graduate school studying evolutionary biology, one of the discussions we had was as to whether or not there are any truly neutral mutations. Many mutations are believed to be neutral, resulting in characteristics neither helpful nor detrimental to the organism. These mutations often become either helpful or hurtful as environmental conditions change, and thus are either selected for or against in the population. But what about during the time they are “neutral?” Are they truly such? One argument made is that a mutation can never be truly neutral because every characteristic takes up space and requires caloric energy to maintain, even at the molecular level. So the argument goes, if a mutation is not helping, it is in effect, hurting. No neutrality.

And so it seems to be as we consider how we individually and collectively treat our nonhuman co-inhabitants of this planet. Sure, not everyone is able to work in an occupation that directly assists animals. In fact, many individuals who help on the front lines every day are not doing it as part of their paid work, but rather as part of their mission, their life’s work. But there are, for all of us, numerous individual decisions that are made every day, every week, every month, that can have a huge impact on the well being of our fellow creatures. What we eat (the biggie). What we wear. What kind of car we drive. What brands of personal care and housecleaning products we use. What companies we purchase from. What organizations we donate our time and money to. Where we invest our money if we do so. There are so many ways we can help animals just in the course of living our daily lives that, if done consistently and by a number of us, have an effect on the lives of animals all around us.

So for people who don’t think you can really make a difference: you can. For people who think that your day to day decisions don’t matter: they do. For people who ask “how can it really help anyway since I am just one person?”: you are not. You are part of a collective and growing effort along with millions of others who care as much as you do.

No neutrality. But we can make a difference. We can make progress. We can effect change. And we must.

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Swamp people. Duck Dynasty. Hillbilly handfishin’. American Hoggers. Chasing tail. There’s a theme here, and it seems to be growing. The number of “reality” shows that focus on, even celebrate, the killing of animals has exploded in recent years. The killing and/or eating of animals has been shown on television for many years, of course, from cooking shows to “sports” programs. And as long as cable channels have existed, there have always been semi-documentary programs that followed hunters in the field or people out on the water fishing. But those shows, at least in the limited viewing I have had of them, seem to be straight forward and attempt to be instructive (not that I am a fan, just pointing out a difference). The present crop of programs however, seems to have a disturbing celebratory glee attached to them. And again, I have only seen (and been able to stomach) small snippets of these programs. But the people on them seem to really enjoy their “work” or “recreation” and do not seem to have any compunction at all about the violent and often cruel deaths they are inflicting on sentient, frightened creatures.

The knowledge that these things are take place is upsetting, but the fact is, people do hunt and fish and design products to make hunting and fishing more efficient for those who engage in it. Regarding hunting and fishing, again, not a fan, but it exists whether or not I like it. What is much more disturbing to me is that, by the millions, people are spending time out of what is for many a precious small allotment of free time, WATCHING these killings as a form of entertainment. I understand fatigue. I understand the need to unwind with some relatively mindless occupation after a long day. But to watch the suffering and death of animals as a way to unwind? I don’t get it. And for many people, work and family responsibilities consume many if not most of the waking hours of most days. So that leaves precious few hours for entertainment and relaxing. That these shows attract enough viewers to stay on the air makes me very sad.

I will admit to watching the first couple of seasons of Billy The Exterminator. But despite the program title, Billy and his company actually attempted (and almost always accomplished) relocation of the animals caught. When he had a bat infested attic, he rigged a net to force the bats out of the building while not harming them. He seemed to care about the local ecosystems and wanted to release the “nuisance” animals to live out their lives in a remote setting. It was actually somewhat uplifting. I did eventually stop viewing because there were some instances of actual extermination – wasp nests (although he did relocate a bee hive once) and rats in various locations. I just can’t watch that. But I am glad he rescued and released many of the animals he was called to remove.

But these current programs are about killing, hunting, shooting, and death. I don’t care if the animals killed are later harvested for food. Or if the people in them think they are performing a “necessary” removal of “dangerous” animals. The programs are ultimately about the hunt and the kill. And people are watching. Sad.

photo: Gary M. Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via bestphotos.us

invitro-burger

It’s coming. The roll out date for mass public consumption of laboratory grown meat may be some time away, but lab-grown meat, also known as synthetic meat or in vitro meat, will be here soon enough. It’s a product whose time is long overdue. The current meat demand worldwide is growing. It is estimated that by the year 2050, meat production will be double what it is now. Already, much of the world’s arable land, as well as water resources, are consumed for food animal growth. Beef alone accounts for nearly 60% of the world’s agricultural land, and 22% of the global freshwater supply is used for meat production. Add in the devastating environmental effects of the mass growing and killing of land animals for food, and it is clear that this is not a sustainable path for the long (or even short or medium) term. Recent food safety issues, such as the discovery of antibiotic resistant bacteria and fecal bacteria in ground turkey and the public’s increasing awareness of the cruelty of this industry make the idea of sterile, non-death causing meat even more appealing.

Will it appeal to everyone? Of course not. For example, after (basically no) consideration, I know that I will not be a consumer of these products. I have not eaten meat in almost 30 years and have no desire to return to it, even if an animal didn’t die to produce it. For me, it is still an animal derived product. I put it in the same category as dairy, an animal derived product where the animal was not killed, but still required. For me, it does not fit with the vegan path I have chosen for my life. Plus, one of the many reasons I stopped eating meat is that I simply don’t like it – it grosses me out. I won’t even eat many of the tvp-based alternatives because they are too authentic in taste and texture. And for people who try and avoid food that is highly processed, it may not be an appealing option. But for much of the meat-eating world, people who like meat and want to continue eating it, this may be the best solution the world will see for a very long time. Does it still exploit animals? Yes, in that the starter material will be taken from an animal and it will still be cultured animal tissue. Does it conform to an abolitionist world view in which nonhuman animals are appreciated for their sentient nature and not viewed as a means to an end? Absolutely not. But will it save billions of land animals from being born, only to live in confinement, have painful procedures such as debeaking and castration (usually without the benefit of anesthesia), be pumped full of dangerous hormones and antibiotics, and die ghastly, tortured deaths? Yes, indeed it will. And who knows – it may even change a few minds about what it really means to eat the flesh of another. It’s not nirvana, but I’ll happily take it when it comes.

photo: Jon Sullivan via public-domain-photos.com

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

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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

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:

Obligation

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.