Animal suffering: the not-so-super ingredient in superfoods

By Shalin Gala

Thousands of animals may have been tormented and killed for seemingly harmless items in your shopping cart, like a pint of blueberries, a box of mangoes or a container of mushrooms.

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Who knew???

While it may seem odd that a trip through the produce aisle could contribute to experimentersโ€™ poisoning, force-feeding, starving, radiating, bleeding, suffocating, beheading and dissecting animals in laboratories, it is unfortunately true.

The culprits are the so-called agricultural commodity โ€œresearch and promotionโ€ (R&P) boards, which are overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and fund worthless experiments on animals, purportedly designed to make human health marketing claims to entice consumers to buy common foods.

The R&P boards are bankrolled by farmers, who by law must pay the boards a draconian โ€œtaxโ€ or annual assessmentโ€”totaling $885 million in 2016, according to the Government Accountability Officeโ€”part of which is used to finance animal tests like the following:

The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council funded an experiment in which rats were fed strawberries or blueberries then forced to perform a series of psychomotor and cognitive tests (including grabbing wires while suspended, walking and balancing on accelerating rotating rods, and swimming in a maze). They were repeatedly injected with a chemical then killed and dissected.

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Strawberries, too?!

The National Mango Board funded an experiment in which mice were injected with cancer cells then repeatedly force-fed mango extracts before finally being killed and dissected.

The Mushroom Council funded an experiment in which pigs were fed white button mushrooms, their anuses were repeatedly poked and their blood was taken before they were finally killed and dissected.

In harmful and invasive experiments funded by many of the 21 R&P boards and published between 2015 and 2019, more than 2,600 sensitive and intelligent mice, rats and pigs were used.

These tests are neither applicable to humans nor required by law. Importantly, animals are scientifically unfit for human food research in part because of the vast physiological differences between species. Mice are just not good stand-ins for humans.

The foods โ€” blueberries, raspberries, watermelons, mushrooms, mangoes and others โ€” are not novel. Humans have safely eaten them for millennia. So instead of torturing animals in crude experiments, researchers could easily have pursued safe and effective human studies and used other advanced, non-animal methods, which would yield results that actually mean something to human beings.

Some have seen the light. Following discussions with PETA, dozens of major food and beverage manufacturers and associations have established policies against animal testing, including, most recently, the Haas Avocado Board (HAB) โ€” one of the R&P boards that previously sponsored tests in which experimenters force-fed mice a high-fat diet, repeatedly force-fed them a substance found in avocados, withheld food for eight hours, injected them with glucose and insulin, repeatedly bled them from their tails and then suffocated them, after which they drained their blood and dissected them.

All R&P boards should follow HABโ€™s enlightened lead and focus exclusively on human-relevant research. And if the USDA really wants to help struggling crop growers, it should stop forcing farmers to fund wasteful animal experiments.

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