Author Archives: Tom

Santa Cruz Biotechnology: Dealing with Bad Behavior

We believe that the vast majority of scientists who study animals and the professionals charged with providing them care have a deep regard for animal welfare. However, as in any field, some people lack commitment to the standards of their profession, and this casts a shadow over everyone else. After all, how can people know whether this behavior is the exception or the rule?

Santa Cruz Biotechnology (SCBT) is a major producer of antibody products that stands accused of major animal welfare violations. Antibodies are substances produced by certain white blood cells as part of the body’s immune defenses. Their job is to tag foreign proteins, marking them for destruction by other cells in the immune system. Due to their widespread usefulness, antibodies sales is a multi-billion dollar a year business. Because each antibody targets a specific protein, they are important for both medicine and research. Since antibodies latch onto proteins that are markers for specific diseases, doctors can use them to diagnose these conditions in patients. Doctors also use antibodies to treat certain diseases, including some cancers. Researchers use antibodies to detect the presence of particular proteins and also to isolate proteins within a sample of blood or tissue.

nerve cells, neurotransmitter, antibodies

Brain sample where nerve cells containing a particular neurotransmitter were detected using antibodies.

Commercial antibody production usually involves injecting animals with a foreign protein and then collecting blood to harvest the antibodies generated in response to that protein. When done correctly, this process should not cause any pain or distress to the animal. Antibody production is most commonly done in rabbits, although sometimes large animals such as goats and donkeys are used since they are able to provide larger blood samples without ill effects to them.

Research institutions that conduct animal research must register their facilities with the USDA and comply with the requirements of Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Companies that use large animals to produce antibodies also fall under the AWA. However, as has been widely reported, SCBT stands accused of repeated, severe violations of many of the USDA’s AWA regulations (Nature, The Scientist, The New Yorker, the Mercury News, Santa Cruz Sentinel, and Monterey Herald).

The USDA uses a risk-based inspection system to focus more of its resources on facilities where there is a history of problems. SCBT was subject to a whopping nine unannounced inspections by the USDA in 2012 because of problems noted in previous years. Each of those inspections documented inadequate veterinary care at the SCBT facility. Its record of Animal Welfare Act violations was deemed to be so serious that on July 19, 2012, the USDA issued a formal complaint against the company. The complaint cited such serious problems as a lack of adequate veterinary care, improper handling of the animals, and poorly-trained animal care personnel.

A USDA complaint is a legal document requiring the recipient to address the concerns raised. Most institutions that are subject to such a complaint respond by working with the agency to rectify the situation by bringing their program into compliance with the Animal Welfare Act. However, SCBT has not attempted to do so. Rather, it plans to respond to the charges at a hearing scheduled for July 14-18, 2014.

Even after the USDA issued its July 2012 complaint against SCBT, the company did not mend its ways. On October 31, 2012, USDA inspectors reported finding SCBT animal facilities that had never been registered with the agency or inspected as required by law. The inspectors also said that some of the animals at this secret facility were in poor health.

The New Yorker reportedly contacted SCBT’s attorney, who said that the company “has strong defenses that will be addressed in the litigation.” Our U.S. legal system upholds the principle of innocent until proven guilty so we do not want to jump to conclusions. Nevertheless, if these serious allegations are true, then SCBT deserves condemnation for its callous treatment of animals.

Alice Ra’anan and Bill Yates

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

You cannot avoid Speciesism

The idea of speciesism is central for the proponents of animal rights. According to Encyclopaedia Brittanica, speciesism is “the practice of treating members of one species as morally more important than members of other species”. It usually refers to “human speciesism”, the exclusion of all nonhuman animals from the protections afforded to humans. The term speciesism was coined in 1970 by animal rights proponent Richard D. Ryder to argue that granting humans more rights than animals is an irrational prejudice. The term was popularized in 1975 by the philosopher Peter Singer, known for his contributions to Utilitarian philosophy and his book Animal Liberation.

Peter Singer

Peter Singer, Author of Animal Liberation

The idea of speciesism is intrinsically linked to the idea that humans and animals have the same moral value. For the sake of clarity, in this discussion I will refer to “humans” and “animals” as separate categories, although it is clear that humans are an animal species. I will argue here that assigning the same moral value to all animal species is not just impractical, but ultimately absurd. Therefore, speciesism is unavoidable.

When one tries to argue that humans deserve a higher moral consideration than animals based on their ability to reason or their superior intellect, animal rights proponents answer that those characteristics are not morally superior; we simply choose them because they work in our favor. By the same token, for example, an elephant may reason that having a trunk makes him morally superior. This idea merits careful consideration in light of what we know about animals.

But, first of all, let’s establish that speciesism logically works between any two species of animals. If there is no reason to say that a human is superior to a dog, then by the same token we cannot say that a dog is superior to a rat. That gets us quickly in trouble, because the collection of animal species is vast and includes some whose lives we generally hold in contempt, like roaches, worms, ticks and mosquitoes. Regardless, committed animal rights activists will argue that all animal life deserves protection. “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy”, remember? To that end, they were quick to criticize President Obama for killing a fly.

Ok, maybe some animal right activists will say that they are only talking about protecting mammals. How very speciesist of them! By what token would they prefer a stinky mouse over a beautiful (and highly intelligent) crow? Or a nice cuddly octopus, for that matter? The point is, any argument that you choose to decide that a species is better than another is going to be ultimately human-centric.

Or not? Can we come up with an idea that would let us decide who gets to live and who gets to die? Animal right activists are often vegan, which means that they think is justifiable to kill plants to eat them. Plants are living beings, too. And they come in species, just like animals. So what does an animal have that a plant hasn’t? A nervous system? Well, not all animals have neurons, sponges don’t (sorry, SpongeBob!). OK, so sponges are off, and so are other nerve-less animals. How about jellyfish, corals and starfish which have a nervous system so rudimentary that they can barely feel anything?

Dog Tick Gary Francione

Would it be speciesist to kill this tick to save the dog some discomfort?

A while back, I presented animal rights philosopher Gary Francione with the following dilemma: “My dog has ticks, what do I do?” If I kill the ticks, that is morally wrong (according to his animal rights position), because I would be sacrificing the life of an animal (the tick) for the mere comfort of another (the dog). So obviously the only ethical action would be to leave the ticks on the dog. Any other action would be based on the assumption that the dog is somehow superior to the tick, which would be tantamount to speciesism. Gary Francione suggested that “sentience” has to be a factor in the decision. “Sentience” is a word that you hear animal right activists often toss around as the criterion to protect animal lives. But sentience is a notorious tricky concept. It is a synonym of “consciousness”, and understanding consciousness has been dubbed the “hard problem” by philosophers and neuroscientist alike. Some, like philosopher David Chalmer, even think that is intrinsically impossible to solve. Neuroscientists continue to work on this problem. Research on the neurophysiological correlates of consciousness is advancing at a good pace. Yes, we generally assume that a dog is conscious, but how about a rat, a fish, a roach? Is there a gradient or a scale in sentience?

If we are going to make any kind of assumptions on what animals are conscious (“sentient”) and which are not, we need to bring in our knowledge of their nervous system. And, in this regard, the overwhelming majority of animal species seem to fall woefully short. For example, the mollusk Aplysia californica (widely used in the lab to study synaptic connections) only has 20,000 neurons, while we have in our guts (the enteric nervous system) a hundred million neurons. So, if our gut is not conscious, we have no reason to think that Aplysia and any mollusk like it are conscious, either. So, there you go, now you can eat clams with a clear conscience, they are no more sentient than carrots!

The point is that we have come to admit that there is a scale of sentience: some animals are more sentient than others. We have also established the criterion of “sentience” as the one to decide on the moral value of beings. From there, it can be argued that humans deserve of special consideration because we have a special kind of sentience that no other animal has. But that is a discussion for some other day. The key issue is that we have sufficiently established that speciesism is unavoidable. No matter how we put it, we are always going to give some species a higher moral status than others.

This leads us to the animal welfare position on how to treat animals, which is quite different from the animal rights absolutist position. As proponents of animal welfare, we care for pain and distress that animals may suffer and try to diminish it, but not because animals have rights, but because our human nature compels us to do so. Moreover, we do not think that all animals should be treated the same. A chimpanzee, a dog, a mouse, a fish and a fly do not have the same moral status. You can do things to one of these animals that you should not do to the other. They cannot be treated as equals.

This may sound like a silly discussion, but in fact the issue of the value of the human life is hugely important because it goes to the very core of every system of ethics. If we say that a human life has the same value as the life of rat, that not only increases the moral value of the rat, it also decreases the moral stature of the human. Therefore, the argument for animal rights is a challenge to our more basic values and should not be taken lightly.

Furthermore, there is a logical connection between the core idea of “animal rights” – that human lives and animal lives have the same value – and the violence of animal rights extremists. If the life of an animal is so valuable, then that justifies extreme action to protect it. And if human life is as valuable as the life of an animal, then the calculus of destroying a few human lives to save many animal lives is nothing more than a logical conclusion. Yes, one may argue that the end does not justify the means, but in fact we, as a society, constantly break that principle. For example, most would believe it justified to kill an assassin to save the lives of its victims. By the same token, the animal rights terrorist finds justifiable to kill a few scientist if that is going to save the lives of many of animals used in research. To quote Jerry Vlasak: “So yes, I think the threat of violence would save lives, innocent lives”. His logic may be sound, what is profoundly wrong is his assumption that the life of an animal has the same value as the life of a human being.

Juan Carlos Marvizon, Ph.D.

Speaking of Research website continues to evolve

Much has changed in six years on the internet. In 2008, Twitter had only just launched, Facebook had under 100 million users, and Internet Explorer was the most popular browser (you know who you are!). Our website has also seen massive changes over the time period. We have posted almost 650 articles to our blog, and redesigned the website several times.


Many of you will have noted another raft of changes in the last week. Our banner image has changed for the first time ever and our front page now uses clickable buttons rather than long winding descriptions. I hope you find it an improvement.

We have also added more information about starting your own Pro-Test group, setting out a section of the website for information on regional Pro-Test groups such as Pro-Test Italia.

So the big question is what would you like to see on the Speaking of Research website? Please leave comments telling us what you think of the latest incarnation Speaking of Research website and what new pages or features you would like to see.

Thank you

Speaking of Research

Myth Busting: “Penicillin is toxic in guinea pigs but not to humans”

“Penicillin is toxic in guinea pigs but not to humans”

“Had they chosen to test penicillin on hamsters or guinea pigs, it is likely that it would have been discarded

Taken on face value the statements above are true – penicillin is toxic to guinea pigs (1). The trouble comes when this is used as evidence that humans and animals do not have the same reactions to medicines

The short answer is that penicillin reacts similarly in humans as it does in almost every mammal – it fights bacterial infection inside the body. This is why penicillin is widely used in veterinary medicine. Indeed the discovery of the medical uses of penicillin depended on research on mice. Guinea pigs are one of the few species which have a significant adverse reaction to the drug, and activists have picked on it to suggest that animal research doesn’t work. This is wrong. Our understanding of animals helps us both understand why penicillin is dangerous to guinea pigs, and why we would not test penicillin on them to assess human safety.

The reasons why guinea pigs differ in their reactions from most other mammalian species are very specific. Unlike most other mammals (including humans), the intestinal flora of Guinea Pigs consists of mostly gram-positive bacteria. Overgrowth of Gram-negative bacteria such as coliforms and Gram-positive clostridial organisms such as C. difficile can result in diarrhoea and death (2). Antibiotics which strongly affect Gram-positive bacteria, such as penicillin, are therefore toxic to guinea pigs (3). Further studies have shown a number of antibiotics which, while relatively non-toxic in humans, mice, rats, rabbits and other laboratory animals, remain highly toxic for guinea pigs and hamsters, both of which have predominantly gram-positive intestinal flora bacteria (4).

It is important to note that while humans are less sensitive to antibiotic toxicity than guinea-pigs, C. difficile associated colitis following antibiotic treatment is a serious problem in clinical practice that hospitals need to be aware of and take measures to prevent.

Guinea Pig in Laboratory

The fundamental point is that toxicity test subjects are not randomly selected. Our understanding of guinea pigs (developed through prior animal research) means we know that they make a bad test subject for antibiotics. Species selection is important in toxicology – pharmaceuticals have no interest trying to move “bad” drugs into clinical trials as it is dangerous and costly to do so. They pick the animal models which will be expected to replicate human reactions most closely for any given chemical. It is also standard practise to test in multiple species to improve the accuracy of predicting human toxicity from animal models.

In reality, Penicillin is a good example of showing the similarity of humans and most animals. Penicillin is given to a wide range of animal species including cats, dogs, horses, poultry, sheep, cattle, pigs, and many more. Indeed, mice were key to the discovery of penicillin. After Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928, the compound was not used as scientists were not aware of its potential to fight infection inside the body. The effectiveness of penicillin was found by Florey and Chain (who shared the Nobel Prize with Fleming) from a simple mouse safety test:

By 25 May 1940, the team had reached a point where they could carry out a new experiment that would test whether penicillin could be an important antibacterial drug. Eight mice were given lethal doses of streptococci. Four of the mice were then given injections of penicillin. By the next morning all the untreated mice were dead while those that had received penicillin survived for days to weeks.

With this result, Florey realised that he needed to expand production – an effective treatment for infection could be a valuable contribution to Britain’s war effort.

To return to the original question – penicillin may be toxic to guinea pigs and beneficial to humans, but scientists would not test penicillin in a guinea pig because they could predict beforehand that it would not be an accurate animal model to use. Moreover, penicillin has the same beneficial effect in most mammals as it does in humans, reinforcing the biological similarities across species that make animal research an important part of medical science.

Speaking of Research

(1)    Hauduroy, P., and Rosset, W.. Ann Int Pasteur., 75, 67 (1948)
(2)    Heidi Hoefer DVM, ABVP, Common Problems in Guinea Pigs (Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference 2001)
(3)    Farrar, E., Kent, T., and Elliott, V., Lethal Gram-Negative Bacterial Superinfection in Guinea Pigs given Bacitracin in Journal of Bacteriology, 92 (2), 1996
(4)    Green, R., The Association of Viral Activation with Penicillin Toxicity in Guinea Pigs and Hamsters, in Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 3 166-181, 1974

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook at:

Fact into Fiction – Why Context Matters with Animal Images

A curious thing happened recently. The following picture of “animal testing” surfaced on Twitter and was retweeted over five thousand times (and counting) over the course of one week.

It runs with a message “Retweet if you say NO to animal testing. #Animalrights”. The message has been recurring on Twitter for some time, though its latest iteration has seen it tweeted thousands of times in just a few days. Many tweeters added their own messages of disgust.

cat tweets on animal testing

Unfortunately, for the thousands of people who retweeted it, this isn’t an example of “animal testing” at all. The picture is originally appeared in an article by the Gainesville Sun – “Seized cats being readied for adopt-a-thon” with the caption “University of Florida vet school students and veterinarians work to spay and neuter cats as part of Operation Cat Nip on Wednesday.”

cat animal testing image

The story details how Alachua County Animal Services, along with US animal rescue groups, seized 697 cats on June 7 2011 from Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary in High Springs, Florida. Owners Steve and Pennie Lefkowitz described the sanctuary as a no-kill facility for unwanted felines. The Humane Society of the United States described it as the largest case of cat hoarding in the nation.

Several cats were sick with feline leukaemia and similar serious diseases and were put down. More than 300 needed to be spayed or neutered, and that is what is happening in this picture. The cats are under anaesthetic and are being operated on as quickly as possible in an emergency situation.

Why the picture, taken in 2011, has resurfaced, no-one knows. It is now watermarked with “Cause animal Nord”. In this picture’s travels across the internet it has been stripped of its original context and stamped with a new one. Somewhere along the line activists have decided this image could be recycled to misleadingly drive support for their cause.

Of course, this case of Telephone (Chinese Whispers) wouldn’t work without the thousands of internet users who have been duped into believing this lie. The irony is that animal lovers have been made to feel angry about an animal rescue, leading them to call for an end to the research that gave us the veterinary medicines the animals needed.



We have found that this story has been uncovered before.

The cats were seized on June 7, 2011 from Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary in Florida. The owners described the sanctuary as a no-kill facility for unwanted cats, but poor conditions led authorities to remove the cats and put them up for adoption.

Here is another picture of the surgery suite where you can see the clean and professional conditions which veterinarians are working in to spay and neuter these cats.

Cat Not Animal Testing Spay and Neuter

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook at:

Background Briefing on Animal Research

Having a full understanding of all the issues surrounding animal research can be a challenge for even science-specialist journalists, let alone general journalists, editors and broadcasters who have to handle many unrelated issues each and every day. Speaking of Research have produced a two-page summary of the key information which general news producers, journalists, presenters and editors, can use to quickly inform themselves about this issue.

Download the Background Briefing on Animal Research in the US

We encourage those working in universities, pharmaceuticals, and other research institutions, to help share this document when contacting or responding to journalists about research stories relating to their institution. By attaching this background briefing to proactive stories, or reactive statements, it can help ensure that your research is understood within the context of the wider research environment.

Media briefing on animal testing

We permit anyone to redistribute this briefing unchanged, and in whole, with credit to Speaking of Research.

We would like to produce more of these for different countries in the future. However, those wishing to see a similar briefing for the UK should consult the Science Media Centre’s “Briefing Notes on the Use of Animals in Research”. We thank the Science Media Centre for offering their support in producing this briefing.

Speaking of Research

Zerhouni Sets the Record Straight on Animal Research

On June 4th 2013, Elias Zerhouni, a former Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) made some comments at a Scientific Management and Review Board (SMRB) meeting that were reported in NIH Record as follows:

“We have moved away from studying human disease in humans,” he lamented. “We all drank the Kool-Aid on that one, me included.” With the ability to knock in or knock out any gene in a mouse—which “can’t sue us,” Zerhouni quipped—researchers have over-relied on animal data. “The problem is that it hasn’t worked, and it’s time we stopped dancing around the problem…We need to refocus and adapt new methodologies for use in humans to understand disease biology in humans.”

This comment has been used by many animal rights activists to claim that animal research does not work. Here is a selection (many more examples exist):

Zerhouni animal research doesn't workHow much of this comes down to Zerhouni playing fast and loose with words, and how much comes down to the interpretation of the NIH Record reporter is unclear, but now we can clear this myth up for good.

The National Association for Biomedical Research, a national organization which provides the unified voice for the scientific community on legislative and regulatory matters affecting laboratory animal research, wrote to Zerhouni to ask him to clarify his previous comments at the SMRB meeting. His response is very clear (full letter below):

I understand that some have interpreted these comments to mean that I think that animals are no longer necessary in medical research. This is certainly not what I meant. In fact, animal models and other surrogates of human disease are necessary — but not sufficient — for the successful development of new treatments. In short, animal models remain essential to the basic research that seeks to understand the complexities of disease mechanism. [my emphasis]

We, at Speaking of Research, could not agree more. Animal models are essential to developing new medicines. They are, obviously, not sufficient - cell cultures, human studies and computer models (among others) are also crucial methods used alongside animal models.

Zerhouni’s original point in his talk was that more human studies were needed earlier in the drug development process – to help pick “winners” among promising research in animals (not all of which will successfully translate into humans).

Zerhouni letter

Click image for PDF of letter

We would like to thank NABR for taking the time to write to Zerhouni. Hopefully, this clarifies his position, and the quote he’ll be remembered for will not be about “kool-aid”, but that he “can say unequivocally that animal research remains indispensable element in improving both human and animal health”.


Correction: The letter to Zerhouni was sent by the National Association for Biomedical Research, not their partners the Foundation for Biomedical Research.

USDA Statistics for Animals Used in Research in 2012

In 2011 the USDA stopped publishing its animal research statistics on the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website (with the last full stats being 2010). We have recently received the 2012 statistics for animals used in research under the Animal Welfare Act. Overall the number of animals used in research fell by 16% since 2010, falling over 180,000  from over 1.1 million (2010) to just over 950,000 (2012).

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

These statistics do not include all animals as most mice, rats, and fish are not covered by the Animal Welfare Act – though they are still covered by other regulations that protect animal welfare.

We can see that rodents (guinea pigs, hamsters and other rodents) and rabbits together account for 67.3% of all research animals, with cats, dogs and primates accounting for 16% of research. In the UK, where mice, rats, fish and birds are counted in the annual statistics, over 98% of research is on rodents, birds and fish. Across the EU, which measures animal use slightly differently, 93% of research is on species not counted under the Animal Welfare Act. We would expect similar patterns to be true in the US – although there are no statistics to confirm this.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

If we look at the changes between the 2010 and 2012 statistics we can see a drop in the number of animals of most species between 2010 and 2012, with only pigs and cats going against the trend. Most notably the number of non-human primates has fallen by 9.5%, with an even larger drop in the number of rabbits (11.1% drop).

Animals used in research 2010 vs 2012

It is unclear whether the 16% drop represents a clear downward trend for the numbers of animals used in research, or is simply annual variability, though it would fit in a general downward trend in the US statistics since the mid 1980s. It is also likely that, similar to the UK, a move towards using more genetically altered mice has reduce the numbers of other animals used (those counted by the USDA under the Animal Welfare Act).

Speaking of Research