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Monday, August 11, 2008

Unethical and Built-to-Fail Tactics Harm the Cause of Animal Protection

Last week, the UC Santa Cruz community rose up in response to violent attacks on two of its own, and rightly so. Someone set fire to a porch and a car belonging to two faculty members who conduct animal research.

Uc_santa_cruzThe humane community was horrified, too, that people who claim to be animal advocates may have engaged in this conduct. The Humane Society of the United States immediately posted a reward of $2,500 for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of the person or people responsible, and the total reward is now up to $50,000.

The HSUS has long had a statement against violence, and has repeatedly and publicly criticized individuals who break the law in the name of supposedly protecting animals. The National Anti-Vivisection Society, In Defense of Animals, and other groups also condemned the Santa Cruz attacks. 

You simply can’t live up to the ideals of animal advocacy—part of a social movement based on the core principles of kindness, mercy, and compassion—and threaten violence against people.  It’s ethically repugnant and completely at odds with everything we stand for. True animal advocates promote respect and compassion for people as well as animals.    

The illegal actions by a few also retard our progress and cause irreparable harm to animals. It’s no wonder that in the recent history of the humane movement, corporations conducting needless and harmful animals testing, such as U.S. Surgical Corporation, have hired agent provocateurs to encourage violent and illegal conduct as a way to discredit the humane movement. If the people involved in these recent attacks were indeed animal advocates—and we hope they were not—they are playing right into the hands of the segment of the research industry that wants to keep the status quo going and divert public attention from the serious moral issues related to animal research and testing.

We are all frustrated that the pace of change is not more brisk, but we are moving forward. From 1984 to the present, 40 states have added a felony anti-cruelty statute to the books. Last year, we passed 86 new state laws for animals and have already passed 74 new laws for animals in 2008. We are winning lawsuits for animals in the courts. And corporations are changing their policies to protect animals.
Unfortunately, there are some within the research industry who circle the wagons and refuse to accept any reforms, no matter how modest. They defend the use of random-source dogs and cats—often stolen pets—for research. They oppose efforts to halt testing on chimpanzees, even though some of these highly intelligent and social creatures have been languishing in steel cages for decades. They do not even support covering mice, rats, and birds under the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act. And they refuse to acknowledge that the public simply will not stand for certain practices, and there have to be some reasonable limits.

Mainstream scientists and mainstream animal advocates agree that we need to actively pursue the three R’s: reduce the number of animals used in research, replace animals with non-animal alternatives when possible, and refine the procedures to minimize the pain and distress to animals in labs. We all envision a day when animals will no longer be used for invasive research—including, as British physiologist Colin Blakemore said, “all the research scientists I know”—and we need to invest in the development of alternatives in order to get us down that road.

Animal advocates must speak out against unethical and built-to-fail tactics like threats of violence. By adhering to ethical tactics in pursuit of our goal of driving alternatives to animal testing, then we will rightly focus society’s attention on the task of leaving animal research and testing behind in favor of humane and scientifically sound alternatives.


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