Animals in Labs Week, Part 1

Sunday, April 22, marked the beginning of Animals in Labs Week. For more than 10 years InCity Times has tried to enlighten folks about the needless torture of animals, courtesy of the many labs, research institutes and universities throughout the US and the world. So many of these horrific experiments (see below) are unnecessary! So many of the animals (ie chimps) lead deprived, horrific lives for decades – all in the name of industry/science. The cosmetic industry has subjected millions of rabbbits to toxic levels of makeup – pointless “overkill.” Monkeys have been given the AIDS virus and then … at the end of their lives … not even mercifully retired to gentler habitats. Cramped cages, hardened handlers, blood curdling deaths, animals in labs live a kind of hell that we can never imagine. From Harvard University where recently five chimps have died in their research labs, to high school “experiments,” animals in labs suffer … and need your help. Read on to learn more! – Rosalie Tirella

Some animals can use tools? Who cares?

By Kathy Guillermo

Years ago, I had a wonderful companion animal named Angus. He was a remarkable little fellow who loved to greet visitors to my house and snuggle next to me on the sofa. His favorite food was Chinese carry-out, and he went bonkers when he saw the white cardboard containers come out of the plastic bag on the kitchen table. He was loyal and sweet-tempered—probably not so different from your own dog or cat.

Except that Angus wasn’t a dog or cat. He was a rat.

A brown rat with shiny black eyes and a long pink tail. He lived on a table-top in my home, where he never had to be shut in his cage. He liked to cruise around the house perched on my shoulder.

So it was with particular interest that I read a study on rats, which found that rats can be trained to use tools, to understand the tools’ functions and to choose the most appropriate tool when presented with more than one. Before this, the study says, it was thought that only primates and some birds, in addition to humans, were capable of figuring this out.

So here’s my response, and I hope it’s yours too: Who cares?

Should we change the way we view rats because some of them can be taught how to use a little rake to draw food toward themselves? Of course not. We should change our attitude toward rats because they are thinking, feeling, living beings with a sense of humor, an affectionate nature and a capacity for suffering that the human race should stop ignoring.

This study is just the latest in a long line of experiments that should have convinced us of this long ago. Researchers at the University of Berne, Switzerland, announced that rats are influenced by the kindness of strangers. If rats have been assisted by rats they’ve never met before, they are more likely to help other rats in the future. A sort of rodent version of “Pay It Forward.”

Other studies have shown that rats become distressed when they see other rats being electrically shocked. We shouldn’t be surprised—though apparently the experimenters were—that the rats become even more agitated if they know or are related to the rat being shocked.

Scientists with special recording equipment have shown that rats laugh out loud in frequencies that can’t be heard by the human ear. Young rats who are being tickled are the most likely to giggle. Rats have been shown to be altruistic and have risked their own lives to save other rats, especially when the rats in peril are babies.

All of these studies, including the one on tool use, are published in journals, and news releases are sent out, and science bloggers chat online about them, but in the end, what difference does it make to rats? Rats and mice, that other unfairly maligned species, are still used and killed by the tens of millions in U.S. laboratories every year. They are denied even the minimal coverage of the Animal Welfare Act, the only federal law offering any sort of protection to animals in laboratories.

So while it may pique the curiosity of some that rats can be taught to use tools, the more interesting result of this and all the studies that came before it is that experimenters apparently can’t be taught to put the results of studies to good use. If experimenters had this ability—the sort of reasoning that should get one from A to B in a logical way—they’d read the evidence that rats can think, learn, feel, laugh, act altruistically and risk their lives for others, and they’d stop caging and hurting them in laboratories. When a person knows that another being can suffer, and yet deliberately sets about causing that suffering, shouldn’t we worry less about which species can use tools, and more about the callousness of some people?

Kathy Guillermo is vice president of Laboratory Investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the author of Monkey Business, The Disturbing Case That Launched the Animal Rights Movement. Readers may write to her at: PETA, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

***********************************************************

States should give bunnies a break

By Kathy Guillermo

Not so long ago, every pregnancy test performed in a laboratory involved killing a rabbit. Happily, better methods were developed and the old rabbit tests, along with the euphemism, “Did the rabbit die?”—meaning, “Are you pregnant?”—faded into history. The new tests were quicker and easier and represented a big leap forward for lab technicians, as well as for rabbits.

New Jersey and California have embraced a similar kind of progress by passing laws that prohibit product tests on animals when a federally approved alternative exists. Every state should follow suit and mandate the use of available non-animal tests instead of live animals. Every manufacturer—not just those in New Jersey and California—should use the non-animal methods available, whether or not such a law is in place.

Here’s one reason why: Companies have tested chemicals for corrosivity by locking rabbits into full-body restraints and smearing a chemical onto the shaved skin on their backs. A chemical is considered to be “corrosive” if it eats through the skin, burning away several layers of tissue. No painkillers or anesthetics are used. At the end of the test, the rabbit is killed or “recycled” into other tests.

Chemical corrosivity can now be evaluated using a “human skin equivalent” test called Corrositex, approved by federal officials, which uses a protein membrane designed to function like skin. The results are accurate, it’s quick and no one gets hurts.

There are a surprising number of sophisticated non-animal tests now in use and in development. Unlike Corrositex, not all of them have been given the thumbs up by government officials, but that hasn’t stopped scientists here and around the world from recognizing that these new methods are faster, cheaper and a whole lot kinder. PETA has contributed more than $760,000 so far to the development of these superior test methods.

Many researchers also understand that humans differ from animals in their metabolism, biochemistry, physiology, genetic makeup and gene expression and that this means that studies on animals can mislead us. This is most obvious in the pharmaceutical arena. Nine out of 10 drugs that test safe and effective on animals fail in human trials. Adverse reactions to prescription drugs that do make it to market—drugs successfully tested on animals—kill 100,000 people in the U.S. every year, making it one of our country’s leading causes of death.

We don’t have to choose between animals and people. It is really a choice between effective and ineffective science.

***********************************************************

A terrible waste of money and lives

By Kathy Guillermo

Are worms gay? If they are, what does that mean for humans? Such questions may sound entirely irrelevant to anything in our lives, but some scientists, including Erik Jorgensen at the University of Utah, have apparently received money to study these questions. The worms—nematodes, really—are tiny, 1-millimeter-long creatures who live in soil. Most are hermaphrodites, which means that each worm produces both sperm and eggs. The Times of London reported that Jorgensen activated a gene in the hermaphrodite worms’ brains, which apparently convinced them to try to mate with other hermaphrodites rather than just with the male worms.

The conclusion, according to Jorgensen’s quote in the Times: “We cannot say what this means for human sexual orientation, but it raises the possibility that sexual preference is wired in the brain.”

Hey, there’s something no one ever thought of before.

This study serves as a reminder that there are only so many research dollars available, and most of it comes from your taxes. Do you want to foot the bill for experiments that don’t have anything to do with preventing or curing illness? Or for studies that are obviously redundant or pointless? Or for experiments that are so cruel that whatever is learned from them simply isn’t worth the cost?

I’m opposed to using animals for experimentation on ethical grounds, and I also believe—as science frequently shows—that most studies on animals aren’t particularly relevant to humans. But even those who support research on animals should be careful about accepting the experimentation industry’s claim that the use of animals in laboratories will help find cures for Alzheimer’s, AIDS, Parkinson’s, cancer and other diseases that are frightening just to contemplate. Consider first what some experimenters get paid big money to do.

Johns Hopkins University announced that it was attempting to create a “schizophrenic” mouse by inserting a gene from the DNA of a human family with schizophrenic members into a mouse. Yet a diagnosis of schizophrenia hinges on the patient hearing voices that aren’t there and seeing things others don’t see. How exactly does an experimenter know if this is true of mice, even if a gene has been inserted?

At Oregon Health & Science University, experimenter Eliot Spindel injects the fetuses of pregnant monkeys with nicotine and then gives the mothers vitamin supplements to see if that makes it “safer” to smoke while pregnant. Yet we’ve known since 1972 that smoking is harmful to human fetuses. Spindel’s money would have been better spent convincing pregnant women not to smoke.

Under the guise of studying fetal alcohol syndrome, David J. Earnest at Texas A&M Health Science Center examined sleep problems in baby rats who were force-fed alcohol. Perhaps Earnest is unaware that human infants don’t binge-drink after birth.

At universities and primate centers across the country, experimenters are still tearing infant monkeys from their mothers to observe the detachment and psychosis that result from this trauma. These are variations on the dreadful experiments conducted by Harry Harlow more than 40 years ago. How often do we need to prove that taking love and comfort from a baby monkey will destroy the animal’s happiness and ability to cope with life?

I could go on and on—monkeys who have the tops of their skulls removed, electrodes stuck in their brains and wire coils implanted in their eyes to look at the connection between eye movement and the brain; birds whose testicles are sucked out so that experimenters can examine what happens to their songs; cats who have their backs cut open and weights attached to their spinal tissue and are then killed, supposedly to study lower back problems in people. The list seems endless.

These animals are caged for their entire lives, traumatized, physically and emotionally damaged, killed and cut up for experiments that don’t even pretend to be about saving humans. Whether or not you agree with me that it’s unethical to do this to animals for any reason, surely it’s obvious that much experimentation on animals is a terrible waste of money and lives.

Kathy Guillermo is vice president of Laboratory Investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the author of Monkey Business, The Disturbing Case That Launched the Animal Rights Movement.

Leave a Reply