The University of Washington: Failing Animals and Stunting Science

Lab Rat | Urban Hermits

Animal research is an area of controversy that we have given some attention to here on our site. While some important scientific findings have stemmed from this research, it is important that we ask, “at what cost?” New scientific developments as well as ongoing ethical discussions have forced us to reevaluate our need to exploit animals for research. One particularly noteworthy development is the NIH’s recent decision to defund all chimpanzee research. For this reason, I am shocked by the University of Washington’s decision to construct a large underground research laboratory to house their 650-plus primates, along with tens of thousands of other research animals.

The rationale behind the development of UW’s new animal research laboratory is to consolidate where their research animals are kept, improve conditions for humans and nonhumans, as well make it easier for proper oversight. This oversight is primarily provided by IACUC’s, or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees, the Institutional Review Board equivalent for animal research at universities. Through my monitoring of these groups and my experience as a student at Penn State University, I have found that IACUC’s consist of researchers who experiment on animals and are sympathetic to those who do, willing to approve any project as long as the harm to the animal is not egregious. What they will not reject, however, is research that has minimal scientific value but is harmful to the animals. For example, a researcher could easily get a project approved that examines fear responses in mink, holding captive and harassing animals with little benefit to society. Such studies are simply ploys to produce sparsely read academic journal articles.

With animal research in the spotlight, UW’s new lab has received a lot of media attention, both in opposition and support of it. Animal rights activists argue that the underground lab is to keep the facility out of the public eye while animals are tortured and killed. Proponents counter by stating that the facility will improve welfare and will allow for beneficial scientific advancements. They also argue that researchers have been wrongly stereotyped as callous and insensitive to animals because of a few high-profile cases of abuse.

I argue, however, that it is difficult to respect life when it is encapsulated in a sterile, controlling environment. Where rats live in transparent drawers by the thousands, stacked up to the top of walls. Where primates only leave their enclosures for surgeries.

UW decides to live in the past while other universities and institutions look for ways to move beyond animal research.

Other sources: http://www.democracynow.org/2016/1/20/headlines/new_york_animal_rights_activists_target_construction_firm_over_seattle_research_lab

Washington Post Brings Cruelty to the Forefront: Challenging USDA Policies

This past week, reporter Roberto Ferdman penned an article in the Washington Post discussing uncover footage collected by animal rights group Compassion Over Killing. The article states:

“An undercover video taken at one of the nation’s largest pork producers shows pigs being dragged across the floor, beaten with paddles, and sick to the point of immobility. By law, pigs are supposed to be rendered unconscious before being killed, but many are shown writhing in apparent pain while bleeding out, suggesting that they weren’t properly stunned. ‘That one was definitely alive,’ a worker says.”

The footage is from Quality Pork Producers, a Minnesota slaughterhouse affiliated with Hormel Foods. The graphic video can be viewed here, if you are interested. Compassion Over Killing describes the scene as, “USDA-Approved High Speed Slaughter Hell”.

The account of the investigator is very unsettling and the article raises some large marco-level concerns present in industrial animal agriculture in the US. There is a particular focus on the recently approved and controversial high kill line speeds that have been criticized as dangerous to workers, cruel to livestock (as they are often not properly stunned prior to slaughter), and difficult for inspectors to monitor. In fact, earlier this year, Kimbery Kindy wrote an article for the Post regarding USDA inspectors safety and welfare concerns about new line speed standards which would increase the rate of slaughter. To make matters worse, in an effort to cut costs, the USDA has called back its number of inspectors, allowing them to be replaced by industry-based inspectors. As the article asserts:

“Over the years, HIMP has drawn a growing number of skeptics, including former inspectors and factory workers, who say the changes allow processors to increase profits at the expense of animal welfare and food safety. They point to a key difference between the traditional inspection system and the pilot program, which places the responsibility for the initial stages of inspection — the sorting out of diseased and contaminated carcasses — on the plant instead of the government. This, they say, allows for companies to speed up the process, hide violations, and, ultimately, compromise the food supply.”

Shout out to the Washington Post for regularly bringing these issues to the forefront, demonstrating that the USDA continues to fail animals and consumers through cost-cutting, as well as the grim consequences our insatiable appetite for meat.

Tennessee Enacts Animal Abuse Registry…But Now What?

Folks, its been too long, but I knew I was setup for a comeback to the Interwebs. While my inspiration is diffused over many of the topics I have been thinking about since I last wrote, today I was motived by a story out of the Volunteer State.

Today, Tennessee made history by becoming the first US state to enact an animal abuse registry. This registry would work like many other criminal registries (think the sex offender registries many states require). In this specific case, individuals convicted of crimes related to animal abuse are required to self-register or face further penalties. First time offenders are registered for two years, and I am assuming repeat offenders are required to register for life.

Many organizations and governments have discussed animal abuse registries in recent years as a means to appropriately punish offenders of crimes against animals and to also provide a publicly accessible list of individuals who are unfit to care for or work with animals. Possible benefits could include shelters knowing which individuals are not suitable for adoption, who not to employ in an animal-based business enterprise, or simply making an informed decision as to hiring a petsitter.

While Tennessee is the first state to enact a registry, which is expected to go online in January, 2016, various other states such as California, Colorado, and New York have seen activism, both among government and non-government organizations, promoting a registry. In fact, in 2014, New York City approved an animal abuse registry. These accomplishments seem to be the beginning of a larger movement that will likely catch on in other cities and states.

While this is at face value a big win for animals, agricultural and laboratory animals continue to be left in the dark. The Tennessee animal abuse registry only applies to companion animals (and possibly wildlife…although not clearly specified at this time) and this appears likely to be the case for future animal abuse registries. This sets a dangerous precedent where the majority of the animals that we interact with in our society are being further excluded from legal protections. Obviously, this is done intentionally; the cost and resources needed to enforce animal abuse laws in animal agricultural industries, particularly industrialized operations, is high. It also challenges our often taken for granted relationship with agricultural animals. Finally and most importantly, preventing abuse in industrialized animal agricultural industries or laboraties is not simply a matter of prosecuting rogue workers; the whole system is abusive, providing inadequate care and fitness, both physical and mental.

More work is needed to be done on the behalf of not just companion animals, but those in industries, laboratories, and anywhere else where they are defenseless and subjected to human will. Extending legal protections to companion animals is a victory, but only a first step into awarding necessary protections to all and for becoming a more compassionate and just society.

To those dedicated to these goals, keep up the good fight.

A closing note: If you take an interest in Animal Rights issues, check out a book review I wrote for the open source (but peer-reviewed) journal Between the Species.

And for more stories related to animal abuse registries, check out the Huffington Post’s archive.

Sources:

http://wjhl.com/2015/11/09/tennessee-to-become-first-state-to-start-statewide-animal-abuse-registry/

http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/environmental/animal-abuse-registry.shtml

http://www.animallaw.com/Model-Law-Animal-Abuse-Registry.cfm

NY Times Publishes Stunning Article on Meat Animal Research Center; Consider Signing Petition

Hi folks,

Just a quick but timely post. The New York Times has recently published a stunning article about some of the concerns regarding animal welfare at U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska. What these animals have had to go through in the name or productivity is repulsive and arguably, not justifiable. Take a read regardless of where you stand on the issue and if you feel that the reports are unacceptable, consider signing this petition from the Humane Society of the United States to halt research at the facility.

Also, if it interests you, check out HSUS’s “State of Animal Union”, a parallel to the President Barack Obama’s recent “State of the Union”.

Until next time, fellow Hermits.

Federal Judge Overturns Foie Gras Ban; You Still Don’t Need to Eat it

In a setback for animal advocates, a federal judge struck down California’s Foie Gras ban this past Wednesday. The Los Angeles Times reports that U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled that the ban was unconsitutional because it clashed with existing federal laws on poultry products. Foie Gras is a product that has been under fire due to its controversial and cruel method of production: force feeding a duck or goose until it develops liver disease, resulting in a fatty liver. Considered a French delicacy, California was the first and only state to ban the production and sale of Foie Gras through a bill passed by its state legislature in 2004. The bill went into full effect in 2012.

A Goose being force fed for Foie Gras.

A Goose being force fed for Foie Gras.

One example of a dish using Foie Gras.

One example of a dish using Foie Gras.

This ruling raises concerns regarding the future of California’s battery cage egg ban. The LA Times states that, “Experts said the ruling would have no bearing on California’s new egg law, which requires more space for laying hens, because eggs aren’t covered by the Poultry Products Inspection Act.” However, an issue around the 2013 Farm Bill (read our article about it here) was the King Amendment, which although not ultimately passed, attempted to regulate states’ ability to regulate any agricultural products that impacted interstate commerce, such as egg production. This bill was introduced by Iowa Senator Steve King. This is no surprise as California, the most populated state by far, consumes an enormous amount of eggs while Iowa produces the most. Back in 2013, I went back and forth with Pennsylvania (another large egg producing state) U.S. Rep Glenn Thompson on this issue.

There is hope, however. While there is reason to be skeptical that voters and representatives can regulate agriculture in their own communities, the Foie Gras ban, as well as other organizations, have brought light to this issue. If you oppose Foie Gras, you probably won’t eat it. Individual decisions can have just as strong of an impact as any state law. Refuse Foie Gras and avoid establishments which serve it.

And if you do eat it, well, you’re just an asshole.

Sources: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-foie-gras-ban-lifted-20150108-story.html

Images:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Foie_gras_en_cocotte.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Foie_gras_-_gavage_in_Rocamadour,_France.jpg

U.S. House Considering Ban on Animal Cosmetic Testing

Check out these brands of cruelty free cosmetics!

Check out these brands of cruelty free cosmetics!

Hi folks,

I wanted to follow up from a post from this past April regarding World Week for Animals in Laboratories. In that post I discussed the millions of animals, hidden from our sight, who are subjected to product and medical testing.

Animal testing is a difficult subject which has evoked fierce debate over how to balance important medical research with the well-being of laboratory animals. In his book Animal Rights Without Liberation: Applied Ethics and Human Obligations (2012), Alasdair Cochrane distinguishes between therapeutic and non-therapuetic testing. Therapuetic testing is designed to save human lives and cure life-threatening ailments. This type of testing hasn’t been considered as controversial by the general public, but animal rights advocates have discussed the extent to which such research should be carried out and if it is always the best way to make discoveries about human medicine. Non-therapuetic research, on the other hand, consists of testing for the sake of creating knowledge and is not intended to directly prevent human suffering. A lot of testing in cosmetics and cleaning products falls into this category. Awareness of this issue and rising public concern has resulted in bans in the European Union and Isreal. The US House of Representatives is now considering such a ban, particularly aimed at cosmetic animal testing and the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. However, to be introduced, your help is needed! Click here to be linked to the Humane Society of the United State’s page on the proposed bill and consider supporting it by contacting your representative!

In the meantime, consider cruelty free cosmetics and products! One company that comes to mind that is widely available and with a large variety of products is Lush Cosmetics.

 

Sources:

Cochrane, Alasdair (2012). Animal Rights without Liberation: Applied Ethics and Human Obligations. Columbia University Press: New York.

Image: http://www.worldanimalwelfare.org/buying-cruelty-free

An Important Piece on Egg-Laying Hens

We live in a world where people have become increasingly concerned about where their food comes from. Productivity is not the only thing that matters, as social factors, such as values, attitudes, and norms have a profound impact on peoples’ expectations of how food is and should be produced. Animal agriculture is a particularly hot topic because it raises numerous concerns regarding sustainability and our obligations to sentient beings that are entirely dependent on us.

In this month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine, Deb Olin Unferth has penned a beautifully written and powerful piece about the debate over how to best house egg-laying hens and some of the problems plaguing this industry in general. She concludes:

Any way we look at it, it seems impossible for the egg industry to meet all our demands: happy hens, cheap eggs, an unlimited supply. The question of the cages turns back on us: How much are we willing to pay? How much are we willing to make the hens pay? If we continue to eat eggs at the current rate—a historically unprecedented high number—the hens who produce them will be treated horribly (Deb Olin Unferth 2014:50).

Although to view Harper’s online, you need a subscription, the non-profit United Poultry Concerns has posted a copy. Click here to read the article and be sure to share it with others!

Also on the topic of proper animal housing, I have been thinking a lot about the fight for fire safety in animal agriculture. Animal agricultural facilities are not held to the safety standards required in many of the buildings we live and work in (i.e. smoke detectors, sprinkler infrastructure). This, however, is problematic as the high stocking densities and confinement found in large operations are extremely dangerous to these animals when fire or other natural disasters strike. For example, just this past month, approximately 13,000 pigs were burned to death in Minnesota and 20,000 chickens died in Pennsylvania due to barn fires. The installation of basic fire safety equipment could have prevented the death of thousands. Click here to learn more about this issue.

I encourage you to think of the impact you have on egg laying hens and all animals in agriculture. Small changes and taking responsibility for our footprints can make a HUGE difference!

Until next time,

Urban Hermits

Illustration: Lauren Korany, Urban Hermits November 2014

World Week for Animals in Laboratories

Leaping-Bunny-Cruelty-Free

Look for the “Cruelty Free” logo

Hey all,

Hope everyone had a good Earth Day! As the week comes to a close, however, I would like to mention another important set of dates that is coming to an end: World Week for Animals in Laboratories. This is a week for us to think about and act on the behalf of millions of animals that we often take for granted. Animal Legal Defense Fund says it best, “They are hidden from view, but animals in labs suffer by the millions each year, and we can all do something about it”. Explore their site if you would like to hear a bit more about the significance of this week.

While it is often argued that animal research is necessary for the development of cures for diseases (which there is some truth to), a lot of animal research does not work towards such a cause. For example, in the United States, many animals are subjected to testing for household cleaning products as well as cosmetics. The questionable ethical nature of these tests has led to an European Union ban on such nontherapeutic testing.

Regrettably, the institution who I work for (obviously not as an animal researcher; although I do research “about” animals) has over 13,000 mice present on its main campus, among others such as tamarin monkeys. Some are used for “life saving” therapeutic research. Others are experimented on for testing general knowledge or simply to result in publications of questionable utility (such as a study I recently read about fear and boredom in caged mink at the University of Guelph).

Regardless on what you believe to be the role of animal testing in society and whether it is justified or not, take some time as this week comes to a close to reflect on how the decisions you make as a consumer can have an impact. If you are like me and are trying to reduce your unnecessary impact on animals, there are some easy things you can do such as look for the Cruelty Free certification on hygiene and cleaning products, among others.

If you are interested in learning more about animal research and some of the current ethical musings on it, check out a book I recently read to review for the open source journal Between the Species. The book being Animal Rights without Liberation: Applied Ethics and Human Obligations by Alasdair Cochrane

Sources:

http://aldf.org/blog/world-week-for-animals-in-laboratories/

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/sectors/cosmetics/animal-testing/index_en.htm

http://www.gocrueltyfree.org/shopper

Images: Cruelty Free logo downloaded from http://www.seabuckthorninsider.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Leaping-Bunny-Cruelty-Free.jpg

Saving Sochi’s Strays

PovoDog, a shelter funded by a Russian billionaire has rushed in a last-effort save hundreds of strays before the 2014 Winter Olympics begin today in Sochi.

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The New York Times writes:

Lying past a cemetery, at the end of a dirt road and without electricity or running water, the makeshift PovoDog shelter is already giving refuge to about 80 animals, including about a dozen puppies.

Local animal rights workers say many of the strays were pets, or the offspring of pets, abandoned by families whose homes with yards were demolished over the past few years to make way for the Olympic venues and who were compensated with new apartments in taller buildings, where keeping a pet is often viewed as undesirable.

In recent months, residents of Sochi have reported seeing dogs shot with poisoned darts, then tossed into waiting trucks. Aleksei Sorokin, the director general of a pest control business, Basya Services, has confirmed that his company has been hired to catch and kill strays, telling local journalists the work was necessary.

A huge thank you to ProvoDog for stepping in.

Photo Source: Sergei Ilnitsky, European Pressphoto Agency
Source: David Herszenhorn, Racing to Save the Stray Dogs of Sochi, The New York Times, 5 Feb 2014

King Amendment Defeated!

Senator Steve King (R-IA), the namesake of the amendment. (From his official website).

Senator Steve King (R-IA), the namesake of the amendment. (From his official website).

If you have been following the Farm Bill (which has been quite a long process this time around) or you read our post back in June, you may be familiar with the King Amendment. It is an addendum which sought to strengthen and centralize the federal government’s regulation of interstate agricultural commerce. In response to a letter I wrote some months ago to my representative, Glenn Thompson (R-PA), he explained that the debate was largely fueled by:

[A] California law through a ballot initiative that established state standards regarding the housing of chickens on farms. As a result, eggs cannot be imported from any other state, unless the eggs were produced in accordance with California’s standards. Because the U.S. Constitution expressly states that the authority to regulate interstate commerce resides with the federal government through the “Commerce Clause” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3), many elected officials from both political parties have voiced concerns over California’s law.” -email from Glenn Thompson, Nov. 13th, 2013.

Later, I criticized Thompson, a republican, of denying states the right to chose how to regulate their own agriculture and food products, which seemed weird for a conservative. The bills namesake, is Iowa representative Steve King. I am sure it is no coincidence that his state produces the most eggs by a huge margin (click here for egg production by state)(American Egg Board).

This bill had serious implications for animal welfare and the regulation of animal agriculture as it threatened to nullify not only California’s law (and California’s foie gras ban), but various other animal welfare laws in many states, including Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, the Northern Mariana Island, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Rhode Island (HSUS).

This past week however, animal advocates and those who value agricultural transparency and freedom celebrated as the Farm Bill Conference Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives released the final version of the Farm Bill, in which the King Amendment was omitted (Green, ALDF, 2014).

With the exclusion of this dreaded amendment, various animal welfare and agriculture groups are now urging representatives to pass the farm bill. Click here to see how you can help!

Sources:  Green, Chris. 2014″King Amendment Officially Rejected!”From Animal Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 31, 2014 from http://aldf.org/blog/king-amendment-officially-rejected/

“Egg Industy Fact Sheet”. American Egg Board. Accessed January 31, 2014 from http://www.aeb.org/egg-industry/industry-facts/egg-industry-facts-sheet

“The King Amendment:A Potential Disaster for Protecting Animals”. The Humane Society of the United States. Accessed January 31, 2014 from http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/confinement_farm/king-amendment.html

http://steveking.house.gov