Category Archives: Animal Rights News

University of Wisconsin responds to dishonest petition attacking psychiatric research

What do you do if your university is the target of an aggressive publicity campaign that distorts and misrepresents the work of one of your most highly respected scientists? What do you do if hundreds of thousands of people sign a petition calling for a research project to be cancelled, even though the petition contains numerous errors of fact? What do you do if a media campaign, backed by several of the world’s largest animal rights groups threatens to undermine academic freedom and the research evaluation process at your University?

Do you ignore it? Do you give in? What do you do?

Infant rhesus monkeys playing in nursery. Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. @2014 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents

Infant rhesus monkeys playing in nursery. Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. @2014 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents

These are questions that the University of Wisconsin -Madison has faced in recent weeks as a change.org petition that seeks to end a research project led by Professor Ned Kalin, chair of the University’s Department of Psychiatry. The petition, backed by many animal rights groups across the world, including PeTA and HSUS, has gathered more than 300,000 signatures

So did UW-Madison give in? Did they simply ignore the petition?

No, they did something much better.

UW-Madison issued the response below rejecting the erroneous claims made by the author of the petition, Dr Ruth Decker, and defending Professor Kalin’s right to undertake important research. Just as importantly they defend the right of the scientific and medical experts at UW-Madison and the NIH – and not the misinformed mob – to decide which projects should be approved and funded.

We commend UW-Madison on taking this strong position in support of science.

Responding to Ruth Decker’s change.org petition

Since September, many people have taken interest in a University of Wisconsin–Madison study on the impact of early life stress on young rhesus monkeys. Thousands have added their names to a petition on the website change.org, calling for an end to the work, and we appreciate and share their concern for animals.

But we don’t appreciate the way petition’s author, Dr. Ruth Decker, misrepresents the research. By piling up mistakes, myths and exaggerations, and omitting important information, she asks well-meaning people to speak out with little understanding of the real science and the long, deliberative process through which it was approved.

This isn’t fair to the people who signed the petition, or to UW–Madison psychiatry professor Ned Kalin and the scientists involved in the work, or to the millions of people who suffer from mental illness for whom available treatment methods offer little relief.

The truth is of little concern to activists who wish to end animal research, no matter the benefit to humans and animals. We don’t share that sentiment. We prefer people make their judgments on animal research with a fuller understanding of the research — of both its costs and potential benefits.

So, if you have read the change.org petition, please also consider these corrections and additional information:

  • This is not a repeat of experiments UW–Madison psychology professor Harry Harlow conducted as many as five decades ago, some of which subjected animals to extreme stress and isolation. The methods for the modern work were selected specifically because they can reliably create mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety in the monkeys. They were chosen to minimize discomfort for the animals, and to minimize the number of animals required to provide researchers with answers to their questions.
  • There is no “solitary confinement.” The animals live in cages with other monkeys of their own age, a method of care called peer rearing. This method is often used when mothers reject their infant monkeys, which happens regularly in situations from nature to zoos to clinical nurseries with first-time mothers or following caesarean-section births. In a group setting, even veterinarians would have difficulty distinguishing the peer-reared animals from those that that were maternally reared.

The purpose of peer rearing is not to demonstrate that removing a monkey from its mother causes anxiety, a common misconception we have heard from people who have signed the petition.

Again: peer rearing was chosen because it is known to produce mild to moderate anxiety symptoms. With a group of animals predisposed to anxiety raised in a controlled setting, researchers can use state-of-the-art techniques to observe and measure even very subtle differences in brain chemistry and structure. Those chemical and anatomical differences may suggest new treatments — via nutrition, exercise, meditation, drugs or another approach — for people suffering from mental illness.

  • The animals in the study are not “terrorized,” and do not experience “relentless torture.” Most of their time is spent as a house pet would spend its days — grooming, sleeping, eating and playing with toys, puzzles and other animals.

On occasion, to assess the monkeys’ level of anxious temperament, they are observed under two anxiety-provoking conditions. The first involves the presence of an unknown person who briefly enters the room, but does not make eye contact with the monkey. The second involves the monkey being able to see a snake, which is enclosed in a covered Plexiglas container in the same room, but outside the monkey’s cage.

After each event, the animal’s brain activity is monitored by a non-invasive functional magnetic resonance scan, and blood samples are taken. The stress the monkeys experience is comparable to what an anxious human might feel when encountering a stranger or a snake or a nurse with a needle.

  • No one was “left out” of the review by UW–Madison oversight committees. Several university committees spent a great deal of time assessing Dr. Kalin’s anxiety research, and each committee found it to be acceptable and ethical. These were groups of researchers, veterinarians and public representatives tasked with considering animal research on ethical grounds, and with ensuring potentially beneficial research will subject the fewest animals to the least invasive measures.

As the petition notes, an animal rights group took allegations about the committee process to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. What the petition does not mention is that USDA conducted an investigation in August in response to that complaint. Inspectors found the complaint lacking merit, and the process to be entirely within compliance with federal regulations.

And, as with all animal research on campus, specially trained veterinarians will care for the monkeys involved and ensure that all the work is done in accordance with federal regulations enforced by the National Institutes of Health and the USDA.

The decision to study animal models to understand human psychiatric disorders is not made lightly. Roughly a quarter of the people in the United States, including children, suffer from mental illness. Their conditions subject them to immeasurable disability and dysfunction. And the worst outcome, suicide, is increasing and already among the leading causes of death in adolescents. To develop effective treatments that may alleviate the suffering of millions, it is necessary to understand the root cause of psychiatric illnesses.

In this case, the human suffering is so great that Kalin, the National Institutes of Health and UW–Madison’s review committees believe the potential benefit of the knowledge gained from this research justifies the use of an animal model.

More information on the anxiety and depression research is available at animalresearch.wisc.edu.

Related posts:

Child health benefits from studies of infant monkeys – Part 1

Harlow Dead, Bioethicists Outraged

Speaking of Research

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.

BUAV – Spies, Lies and Inspection Reports

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has campaigned against the use of animals in research since 1898. If they had got their way when they started we would likely not have insulin (dogs), blood transfusions (guinea pigs and dogs), penicillin (mice) or asthma inhalers (guinea pigs), among a very long list.

The BUAV has conducted a number of high profile infiltrations into British animal research facilities in the last few years. At least one of these, Imperial College London, triggered investigations by the Home Office’s Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU). Despite hundreds of allegations of mistreatment, the inspection reports have now been published and clears the institution of nearly all of the BUAV’s allegations, save five minor infringements (Category A or B), none of which involved “significant avoidable or unnecessary pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm” (which would make them Category C or D infringements; more information on these classifications can be found on pages 35-36 of the ASRU annual report).

In a previous post, BUAV – Spies, Lies and Videotapes, we looked at the BUAV’s infiltrations of Cambridge University and MSD and explained that neither showed any “unnecessary suffering” of animals. While an ASRU report is not yet available for the Cambridge infiltration (though the video produced to the BUAV fails to corroborate any of their claims, which have also been comprehensively refuted by the University), the ASRU report for Imperial College London (a third infiltration) shows how baseless the BUAV’s allegations really are.

Sheep at Cambridge

Just one of the “shocking” pictures by the BUAV of research at Cambridge.

Imperial College London Infiltration by the BUAV

In April 2013, The Sunday Times covered a BUAV infiltration at Imperial College London (Ranked 2nd in QS World University Ranking 2014). They claimed “staff breached welfare standards by mistreating laboratory animals”, that “[Their] investigation [had] shown the terrible suffering of animals in a supposedly leading UK university”, and that the “reality is … that standards are often poor with numerous breaches of the law“.

The University instantly ordered its own investigation to run concurrently with a Home Office investigation. The Brown Report did not aim to investigate the BUAV allegations (which was the Home Office’s remit), but to “undertake broad and detailed examination of all aspects of animal experimentation at the College facilities,” aimed at improving best practice at the University. The University accepted all 33 recommendations made by the report. In a recent release, Imperial announced:

The College has taken action to improve its culture of care. It has revised its governance structure, improved its ethical review process, strengthened support for operational management and put in place better systems for training and sharing good practice through stronger communications.

Meanwhile, the BUAV had provided ASRU with a 71 page document and accompanying video footage containing over 180 allegations against Imperial relating to the use of animals under the terms of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986 (ASPA). The allegations included (p12) “very large scale appalling animal suffering; unlawful regulations by the Home Office; inadequate care of animals by establishment staff; [and] inadequate enforcement by the Inspectorate“. The ASRU report was damning in its conclusions:

Over 180 individual allegations, made by the animal rights organisation, of non-compliance were investigated. Of these, all were found to be unsubstantiated apart from five formal non-compliance cases which have been completed – one category A and four Category B.

Category B means that while there may have been “some animal welfare implications“, it “[did] not involve significant, avoidable or unnecessary pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm“, there was “no evidence of intent to subvert the controls of ASPA“. Typically a category B non-compliance results in a written reprimand and individuals involved may require additional training.

Furthermore, over 97% of the allegations were found to be unsubstantiated upon investigation by ASRU. The BUAV will have to console itself with being less than 3% honest. However, the BUAV appear to be encouraging unethical behaviour in its infiltrations. The Report noted:

No concerns about animal welfare were recorded as raised by the investigator with the agency.
Similarly, the investigator from the animal rights organisation did not raise concerns through the recognised whistle blowing policy in place at the Establishment

Essentially, the infiltrator saw what she believed was animal cruelty and then refused to mention it when asked by her agency and neglected to mention it to anyone else. Her inaction could have caused animal suffering. Why did she refuse to mention it? Presumably because the BUAV, who she was working for, did not want her to.

The ASRU report found “animal care staff knowledgeable and vigilant”

A similar issue was noted at Cambridge University in their response to the BUAV’s infiltration of their sheep research facility (into Batten’s disease):

The University has robust mechanisms in place for whistleblowing; however, no animal welfare concerns had been raised by any staff during the times noted in the reports,

And the unethical behaviour appeared to go a step further. Cambridge’s response mentioned a section of the BUAV video where a lone sheep appears agitated:

We are careful to avoid causing stress to the Batten’s disease sheep. As their disease develops, they become confused and can become agitated, particularly when approached by unfamiliar people or surroundings. Thus the animal care team is careful not to isolate any sheep from its flock-mates, allow interaction with strangers, or make sudden or unnecessary changes to their routines. It appears that the BUAV infiltrator not only disrupted their routines in the making of the undercover videos, but also isolated the animals. This will have made the sheep appear more agitated than they are when under routine care.

Given the BUAV’s goals of ending all animal research, perhaps we should not be surprised at their tactics – indeed their levels of donations are heavily influenced by how much press coverage they get; itself determined by the shock-factor of the story.

ASRU Strike Again

A second ASRU report also came out, investigating a BUAV infiltration at a pharmaceutical company. The allegations by the BUAV were based on “material and video material covertly gathered by an investigator working as a junior animal technician”.

The Report of the ASRU Investigation into compliance found that:

No non-compliance with authorised programmes of work was detected apart from two minor issues with no welfare implications.

The two minor issues (both Category A infringements; least concern) were both described as “technical non-compliance” and were essentially paperwork issues.

When considering the allegations levelled at the pharmaceutical by the BUAV, the report is even clearer:

Our detailed investigations and review of available records and other evidence, does not support the allegations in the investigation report.
Our findings confirm that the site is well managed with staff at all levels committed to the provision of appropriate standards of welfare and care, within the constraints of the scientific requirements of the research.

The BUAV

Of the £1.3 million that BUAV spent in 2013 (and almost £2 million in 2012), around £200,000 was spent on “Investigations”. Any curious journalist should be asking the BUAV whether they were paying these infiltrators, how much these payments were, and what they expected (video wise) from their employees.

Infiltration BudgetTo remind people of what we have said before. These are not casual whistle blowers, but people who are working at animal research facilities with the express intention of creating horrifying videotapes. There are few endeavours in the world that you could not create a shocking videotape about by filming staff and premises for hundreds of hours and cleverly editing it down to a 5 minute video.

One has to wonder how many BUAV infiltrators are in labs around the UK. Moreover, one wonders, how many BUAV infiltration videos were never publicised due to the lack of shocking footage (even after clever editing)? Be it a school, a hospital, a factory or a restaurant, there are few businesses for which you could not create a cleverly edited 5 minute shock video having secretly filmed for hundreds of hours. So we challenge the BUAV:

To the BUAV we ask you for the openness and transparency you accuse the research community of lacking. Show us the rest of the footage. Show us the hours and hours of footage that never made it onto your final mix tapes.

Will we find hours of shocking footage? Or will we find hours and hours of individuals working hard, caring for animals, and conducting research in a manner which provided high standards of animal welfare. It’s for you to prove.

Speaking of Research

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.

Insidious tactics of animal rights groups in Portugal

Since 2000 there has been a rise in the opposition to animal research across much of Europe. The tactics of animal rights groups in Europe have been very similar to those in the US, including rallies, hate campaigns, vandalism and targeted-violence. These activists have targeted both companies (such as Novartis, in Spain, Switzerland and Italy) and universities (Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, UK) and they have even targeted individuals (such as Andreas Kreiter, in Germany, who was targeted with newspaper ads). There are exceptions to this increased opposition, for example the UK, where scientists are better organized to counter animal rights claims, support for animal research remains high, and in Italy, where support for animal research has increased recently as the scientific community there has started to speak out.

Though quite predominant in the northern Europe, this movement has been mostly absent from southern countries, with the notable exception of Italy, and almost non-existent in Portugal. However, in recent years, there has been increasing interest on this matter amongst the general public, as well as the appearance of new AR movements that are against all forms of animal experimentation. Moreover, more and more groups and individuals are bringing up the discussions about animal rights.

Groups such as Liga dos Direitos dos Animais (Animal Rights League), Associação Animal (Animal Association), União Zoófila (Zoophile Union), among others, were founded by the late 80’s, early 90’s, but are increasingly active. It must be said, however, that most of these groups are non-profit public utility associations, mostly involved with the protection of domestic and wild animals, bringing together volunteers working at municipal kennels, catteries or programs for the conservation of endangered species. They try to promote awareness to issues pertaining animal rights and they also help to raise money for important Conservation Programs (such as the Grupo Lobo that focuses on the conservation of the endangered Iberian Wolf, or the Lynx Program, organized by the LPN). They do some important work in a country where bullfighting and pet abandonment are unfortunately still relevant issues. For some of these groups, however, this is not the case and, though their tactics remain relatively peaceful, their goals are closer to those of other international AR groups, such as PETA.

One of these, Associação Animal, is arguably the most active AR group in Portugal. Just like their international counterparts, it stands for the “ethical treatment of animals” and opposes animal experimentation, including for scientific research. Also similarly to what happens for other groups, their website is filled with the most basic arguments against animal research, and the most glaring lies.

In the section explaining their view on Animal Experimentation (no English version for the website), they start their article with a photo of a monkey and the sensationalist title “Animal Experimentation: Violence in the name of Science”; this, despite the fact that there is no animal experimentation on monkeys in Portugal. The article goes on explaining to the readers that “in the UK alone, almost 3 million animals are killed annually in laboratories. In Portugal, the use of animals in experimentation is currently an unregulated field”, which couldn’t be further from the truth. There is definitely room for improvement when it comes to surveillance and there is a need for better record-keeping. Nevertheless, the very same laws applied in the rest of the EU pertaining animal experimentation, are also being applied in Portugal.

animal research statistics portugal

Most animal research, in Portugal, is done on rodents and fish. Animal experimentation follows EU guidelines and all projects involving animal research have to be evaluated by an Ethical Committee, before being approved. (Full statistics can be found here)

Another interesting “fact” that we can learn from their website is that “at least 65% of the [animal experimentation] procedures are done without anaesthesia” and that “in the remaining 35% of experiments regularly done, it’s certain that these imply the infliction of pain and suffering”. It is unclear where these statistics come from, nonetheless their use is misleading. Anaesthesia should only be used when its administration doesn’t cause more pain or distress to the animal than the procedure one needs to perform, without anaesthesia. So, in fact, this number may only show us that the majority of the procedures performed don’t require anaesthesia – they tell us nothing regarding their necessity. As for those “remaining 35%”, if they correspond to experiments done under anaesthesia, and if they are done properly, then their whole point is to alleviate any “pain and suffering” for the animal.

The next topic, “Animal Experimentation in Portugal”, seems, at last, to bring us some actual facts: “In Portugal, there is also animal experimentation, specifically in the National Lab for Veterinary Research, in the zootechnical stations of the Ministry for Agriculture, in the Faculties of Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Sciences, Pharmacy and Psychology, in some scientific research facilities and in some private labs”. But, alas, they end the topic showing a tremendous taste for misinformation, mentioning experimentation in cats and primates, which are not used for experimentation in Portugal at all (see graph above). All their other arguments are so commonly used and so basic that they are barely worthy of attention. But for information sake I’ll just leave a synopsis of their two big arguments against animal research: 1) animal testing leads to “dead-ends” that block scientific progress, and 2) while researchers are still resorting to animals as “cheap and easy to get and to use research resources”, there’s no true stimulus to find non-animal alternatives for research. I will not take my time rebuking these, for they have been extensively addressed by SR before (1 2, 3, 4, and our FAQ).

Associação Animal has been rapidly gaining momentum and their arguments are designed to convince people who have no other sources of information than the one they provide. As for demonstrations, they have been relying on the general anti-bullfighting movement, by organizing anti-bullfighting demonstrations, but then introducing “anti-vivisection” signs in the middle of the crowds.

Interestingly, both a review from 2012 and the 2010 Eurobarometer conclude that the majority of the Portuguese population is favourable to animal experimentation for Biomedical Research purposes, most of them regardless of the animal species used.

Interestingly, both a review from 2012 and the 2010 Eurobarometer conclude that the majority of the Portuguese population is favourable to animal experimentation for Biomedical Research purposes, most of them regardless of the animal species used.

Their increasing notoriety seems to coincide with the legal creation, in 2011, of PAN (Party for Animals and Nature), a Portuguese party that managed to gather 1.72% of all votes in the last European Elections (though voter turnout was only 33.67%), thanks to the most basic and sensationalist arguments.

Banners from PAN that can be found on their Facebook page. They all read “You are responsible for the torture, dismemberment and the slow and painful death of thousands of dogs, rats and monkeys every year. And you don’t even know it.”

Banners from PAN that can be found on their Facebook page. They all read “You are responsible for the torture, dismemberment and the slow and painful death of thousands of dogs, rats and monkeys every year. And you don’t even know it.”

Among other things, PAN has started a petition to “substitute animal experimentation for alternatives that – to paraphrase Animal Welfare Specialist Nuno Henrique Franco – makes me wonder how much of what it implies is the result of deliberate intellectual dishonesty.

All the ideals of PAN and Associação Animal are making their way into the media, their demonstrations having more and more supporters and their media attention increasing. Also, the impact of such groups in Portugal is becoming very clear, though their tactics seem very peaceful. Recently, the Bioterium of Azambuja (a central breeding centre for animal research purposes) was dropped by the Portuguese Government after pressure from the Plataforma de Objecção ao Biotério.

On the other side, on the scientists’ side – who should be the first to speak up – there seems to be only silence, either for lack of concern, for lack of organization, or for fear, I can’t say. What I know is that, if nothing is done, we very well may find us in a country where these kind of arguments, fallacious and false, might just be the only ones who actually reach people. And if people and politicians make their judgement (and vote accordingly) based solely on that information, we can’t condemn them in the end – only ourselves.

Inês S. Albuquerque, PhD student
Lisboa

Is British Animal Rights Extremism Back? A Profile of National Operation Anti-Vivisection

There was reason for celebration on 12th August 2014 when SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) announced an end to its fifteen-year campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), an international contract research organisation who have been the subject of a long campaign of violence and harassment. The campaign has seen around two dozen activists sentenced to over 100 years’ worth of jail time in the US and UK, with more sentences due to be handed down next month in the UK. This comes at a time when animal rights extremism remains at an all-time low in the UK.

However, within a month of the SHAC campaign ending, a new animal rights campaign has sprung up in Cambridge (UK), which bears many hallmarks of SHAC.

national operation anti-vivisection

National Operation Anti-Vivisection (NOAV) claims to be:

“a completely grass-roots network of animal rights activists opposed to vivisection in the UK … We feel strongly that institutional animal abuse of all kinds will continue while the benefits to the companies abusing animals outweigh the detriments. Through campaigning, lawful protests, boycotts and all other lawful means we intend to create those detriments!”

The call to keep the campaign legal is laudable, but few animal rights extremist organisations openly declare illegal intentions. Indeed SHAC, with its 100 years of jail time, claimed that it “[did] not encourage or incite illegal activities.” NOAV go on to say that:

“The time for talking, thinking and plotting is over – it’s time for action! We are not a talking shop or a social club, we are a no nonsense anti-vivisection activist group! If you are ready to take action to stop animal testing, please check out our campaign pages!”

The campaign pages bring up two separate campaigns NOAV are running. The first, which offers cash incentives to students, for the details of fellow student animal researchers so that they “can be used for covert monitoring or naming and shaming student animal abusers.

The poster (below, left) produced by NOAV shares much likeness of a similar campaign poster (below, right) created by American animal rights extremist group, Negotiation is Over, led by Camille Marino. If you look carefully below you will notice the use of language, and structure of the poster is remarkably similar. Both offer students “easy cash/money” for the names, pictures, addresses, contact details, and experiment details of students involved.

Posters offering cash for details of student researchers by National Operation Anti-Vivisection (left) and  Negotiation is Over (right).

Posters offering cash for details of student researchers by National Operation Anti-Vivisection (left) and Negotiation is Over (right).

We have condemned the targeting of students before, and we do so again. Stalking and harassing students is not a legitimate way of running a campaign. It is these sorts of actions which can force brilliant minds out of the life sciences out of fear, as happened after an NIO campaign targeting Scripps student, Alena, in 2011.

National Operation Anti-Vivisection’s second campaign targets a new animal research facility being built by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca, in Cambridge. What makes this campaign concerning is a section of the website called “Secondary Targets”.

NOAV - secondary targets SHAC national operation astrazeneca

The webpage then provides names, addresses, pictures and contact details of individuals and organisations who are involved in building the new facility in Cambridge. This tactic is similar to SHAC’s campaign against HLS; as John Salon described these tactics in a Salon article:

“SHAC’s modus operandi is simple, elegant and shockingly effective: Publish the names, home addresses and telephone numbers of executives and employees of Huntingdon and any companies it does business with; identify these individuals as ‘targets’”.

It is at this point we may care to question why SHAC closed down its operations. SHAC’s wide reach and big impact in the preceding 15 years has made it a prime target for legal action by firms wishing to protect themselves. At least 18 companies, including Oxford University and AstraZeneca, have won legal injunctions to prevent or limit SHAC protests aimed at themselves, their employees, or their stakeholders. Any activists running under the SHAC name are therefore restricted in acting against these companies. Many may believe that by running under another banner they can avoid those legal injunctions imposed on SHAC.

Does National Operation Anti-Vivisection (NOAV) represent a violent threat at a time when extremism is almost unheard of? Time will tell. A rise in legal activism by animal rights groups is bringing fresh money into the movement. While most of this goes on above-the-level campaigns, it is often hard to prevent some of it spilling into more questionable hands. SHAC collected almost “£1 million in donations to SHAC’s collection buckets and bank accounts” back in the early 2000s.

Organisations and individuals must continue to be open in explaining why they conduct animal research. In this way the public and younger potential-activists will be dissuaded from supporting or joining these fringe animal rights groups, which threaten research and the benefits it can bring.

Tom Holder

Extremism is Not the Only Threat to Medical Research

Research into heart disease was dealt a blow when Maastricht University decided to suspend a scientific study involving dogs in August after growing pressure by animal rights groups in the Netherlands.

The University gave a statement saying that their Animal Experiment Committee had approved the cardiological study involving Labradors, but that “societal concerns with respect to the use of laboratory animals” had forced them to suspend the study “to take additional time to consider the case further”. The University then went on to assure readers of their commitments to the 3Rs, and say that “in some cases the use of laboratory animals remains necessary to achieve medical breakthroughs that will benefit both people and animals”.

The decision was questionable at best. On 28th August a statement by the University announced they were “stick[ing] by [their] researchers” and not “shap[ing] [their] course solely based on demands of activists with a pronounced view on the matter”. Four days later they announced that the “experiment has been suspended, and is unlikely to resume in the foreseeable future” and that they had given the eight dogs at the facility up for adoption.

So why had they given in? The animal rights group Anti Dierproeven Coalitie (ADC), the Dutch sister organisation to the UK’s Anti Vivisection Coalition (AVC), collected 120,000 signatures (online) and carried out a series of demonstrations outside Maastricht University.

protest animal rights labradors

Protest outside Maastricht University by the ADC

ADC and AVC have been growing in the UK, Netherlands and Belgium (as CAV). They are one of the few animal rights groups in those countries still drawing a crowd for semi-regular rallies and are increasingly making their presence known in the media (mainly local newspapers). Nonetheless, they have a chequered background. Five ADC activists (including co-founder Robert Molenaar) are currently on trial for breaking into a beagle breeding facility and stealing six dogs. In the UK, AVC has similar characters. Its former head was twice-convicted extremist, Luke Steele, and many of its current members have come in from the leftovers of the recently ended (and historically very violent) SHAC campaign.

The research in question had received funded from the medical research charity, the British Heart Foundation (BHF), who have been ahead of the curve in explaining the animal research they fund. The BHF put up a fantastic statement of support for the research, saying:

Recently, a BHF-funded study at Maastricht University involving dogs was suspended after a campaign by an animal rights group. This has been reported in the UK by a national newspaper.

Explaining why the BHF funded this project, our Medical Director Professor Peter Weissberg said: “This study could help to improve a pacemaker treatment for people suffering from severe heart failure – a debilitating condition that ruins the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the UK.

“The treatment, known as cardiac resynchronisation therapy, can help control the symptoms of heart failure which commonly include overwhelming breathlessness and chronic fatigue. But this treatment does not entirely relieve the symptoms, the risk of death remains high and in some patients it does not work at all.

“If this treatment were to be made more effective, it could dramatically improve the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people living with heart failure.

“The researchers are working to improve this pacemaker treatment but these studies must be carried out in animals before they can be assessed in clinical trials in heart failure patients. The electrical wiring and size of a dog’s heart is very similar to a human heart, allowing the researchers to see how pacemakers might behave in patients. There is currently no alternative that could be used to carry out this potentially life-changing research.

“Our research has led to life-saving medical advances for heart patients over the past half century. But there’s so much work to be done and, for the foreseeable future, that will involve using animals in research.”

To anyone who doubts the importance of heart research, I recommend they watch the following video produced by the BHF and a heart disease victim

In the last decade there has been a large, and long overdue, crackdown on animal rights extremism. This is positive, but is not enough. Unless scientists take advantage of this new found safety by speaking up in support of their research, it will still be at risk in the fight for public opinion.

The Maastricht University dog study provides a worrying case study for anyone not willing to put up a fight to defend their research, because in the end, we all lose out.

Speaking of Research

Show that you care about the future of research that is crucial to medical progress by signing this petition to urge the U. S. Surgeon General to Voice Support for Animal Research, and then making a donation to the British Heart Foundation.

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.

Why Animal Research-based Criticisms of the Ice Bucket Challenge are Misguided

The following is a guest post by Caitlin Aamodt, a neuroscience graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a debilitating motor neuron disease that progressively destroys the neurons required for voluntary movement, speech, and eventually breathing and swallowing, killing patients in just three to five years.  Through the Ice Bucket Challenge the ALS Foundation has raised over $100 million in funding while simultaneously providing a platform for over three million people to voice their support for scientific research.  But the wildly successful social media campaign was not without its critics.  Some were hesitant about the idea of wasting clean water, a luxury that isn’t afforded to many parts of the world and one that is growing more and more precious as the drought in the West worsens.  Others, particularly religious leaders, were unhappy with researchers’ use of embryonic stem cells, citing a conflict with their belief that life begins at conception.  But one of the most common criticisms, and the most dangerous, is that organizations that fund animal research should not be supported.

Aamodt Article Fig

Pete Frates, for whom the ice bucket challenge was created.

Initially it may seem harmless.  One might see a post about it in their Facebook feed and think, “Oh, so-and-so really has a soft spot for animals,” and then continue on without giving much thought to the implications of what they just read.  The issue can become murky, since the vast majority of people support the idea that animal abuse is wrong.  However, animal research is not abuse, and it is dangerous to voice opposition without considering the implications of what that really means.

What would one have to do to really extract him- or herself from taking advantage of the benefits of animal research?  To start this would involve declining any and all vaccinations, accepting vulnerability to dying from disease.  This actually extends to any intravenous injection, so all life saving therapies involving this simple procedure would be eliminated.  Death from blood loss due to a traumatic injury could not be prevented by a blood transfusion.  All surgeries would be off the table.  The basic antibiotics we take for granted would no longer be an option. No insulin treatment for diabetics.  No dialysis for those suffering from kidney failure.  Any hope for those suffering from breast cancer or depression would be lost.  Even the most recent medical advances, such as transplanting organs engineered from a patient’s own stem cells, would all be unavailable.  With these and countless other treatments directly resulting from animal research you would think that these activists would be sending us thank you cards instead of blind criticisms!

Could this hypocrisy be mitigated by any validity to their claims?  Absolutely- except for the fact that these concerns have already been addressed and protections already put in place.  Researchers and lay people alike want to ensure that no animal needlessly suffers.  Multiple oversight committees govern research activities conducted at universities. All federally funded research centers have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) made up of experts in the field as well as lay people to ensure that experimental design is deemed humane by both scientists and people unfamiliar with research practices alike.  Considerations include alleviating pain and side effects, minimizing the number of animals used, ensuring that animals are used appropriately and only when necessary, overseeing their healthcare and living facilities, and even requiring that a plan be in place to save the animals in the event of a natural disaster.  Research animals should be respected, and in keeping with that ethical consideration IACUC and many other oversight organizations ensure that they receive the best possible care.

The general perception of animal rights activists is that they are well-intentioned, if uninformed, individuals who are exercising their First Amendment right to protest whatever they want.  Unfortunately the reality is that their members include dangerous extremists willing to harass and carry out attacks on researchers.  At UCLA researchers are all too familiar with anti-research terrorism.  In 2006, 2007, and 2008 firebombs were planted at the homes of UCLA scientists.  In 2007 Dr. Edythe London’s home was flooded, along with a threatening note.  Dr. David Jentsch’s car was set on fire while he was in his home in 2009.  The terrorists also left a note filled with razorblades detailing a fantasy about sneaking up on him and slitting his throat.  On-going harassment includes yelling slurs at scientists outside their home.  In 2011 they referred to the daughter of holocaust survivors as “Hitler with a cunt,” and directed the homophobic slur “You cocksucking bastard” among others toward another researcher.  These extremists even directed their terrorism toward the children of Dr. Dario Ringach.  In 2010 they put on masks and banged on his children’s windows to terrify them and sent letters threatening to target them at school.

In the words of Dr. David Jentsch, “The anger generated by their failure to make a persuasive argument to the public, amplified by their sense of self-righteousness, is sufficient to convince them they are entitled to use violence to achieve their goals.”  We can no longer afford to be silent.  Animal research saves lives.  Anybody who reaps the benefits of animal research while claiming to oppose it should be made aware of this hypocrisy.  It is also essential that we banish the myth that modern-day biomedical research animals are tortured.  There are many layers of protections in place to ensure that they receive the best possible care.  There is no excuse for terrorism.  Nobody should fear for their lives or that of their children, especially researchers who dedicate their lives to scientific progress.  Now is the time to disseminate the truth about animal research and stand up for the welfare of all biomedical researchers.  The next time you hear someone claim to oppose the ice bucket challenge on the grounds of animal research be sure to speak up and educate them.  Society needs to hear the voices of the scientifically literate.  Don’t let them be drown out by ignorance.

Caitlin Aamodt
UCLA neuroscience graduate student

References

[1]  http://www.alsa.org/about-als/what-is-als.html
[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137497/
[3] http://www.alsa.org/news/media/press-releases/ice-bucket-challenge-082914.html
[4] http://www.refinery29.com/2014/08/73360/grimes-als-ice-bucket-challenge-peta
[5] http://www.animalresearch.info/en/medical-advances/timeline/
[6] http://grants.nih.gov/grants/olaw/tutorial/iacuc.htm
[7] http://unlikelyactivist.com/2014/02/03/join-pro-test-for-science-to-end-the-age-of-terror/
[8] http://unlikelyactivist.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/arson.jpg
[9] http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2010/02/23/time-to-get-mad-time-to-speak/
[10] http://fbresearch.org/als-ice-bucket-challenge-for-a-cure/

Animal rights fanatics offer stunts, not real solutions

This post is simulposted with the Unlikely Activist blog, run by this post’s author, David Jentsch.

Fanatical animal rights groups in the US love attention-getting stunts. PeTA creates video games extolling violence and propagates advertisements that exude adolescent sexuality. White Coat Waste uses Tea party rhetoric to insist federal investment in research is tantamount to borrowing money from China. And the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS] reels endless videos of sad animals on the television to raise money for their lobbying efforts, while tricking people into thinking their donations actually help animals in shelters.

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

An animal rights extremist group, White Coat Waste, uses Tea Party rhetoric in an attempt to undermine support for research investment

These are stunts, nothing more – nothing less.

In Los Angeles, local animal rights zealots are trying hard to carve out their own niche in the “stunt” art form. They light candles during vigils on the beach, hand out post cards decrying UCLA researchers at art events and recite chants in eerie synchrony, while standing in front of our homes. In truth, the occasional bizarre chanting during these stunts is slightly less demented than their usual shrieks, threats and harassment.

Later this month, the ironically named anti-science group – Progress for Science – will mount an 11-day campaign to “honor” the 11 monkeys they believe are involved in scientific research projects at UCLA. They will probably once again come to my home and threaten my neighbors, while trying to make my life miserable.

But if Progress for Science truly has the respect for life than they claim they do, perhaps they should consider a different strategy. Perhaps before mounting their 11 day campaign for 11 hypothetical monkeys, they should find it in their hearts to lead initiatives for real people affected by real disease. For example, they could:

Lead a 930 day campaign for the number of Africans that have died from Ebola so far this year.

Initiate a 4,600 day campaign for the young people in our country who took their own lives last year, often due to mental illness.

Kick off a 1.1 million day campaign for the number of people living with HIV in the US.

Support a 2.2 million day campaign for the people suffering from or disabled by schizophrenia in this country.

Demand an 8.2 million day campaign for the number of people that will die from cancer in one single year, worldwide.

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

Health care providers and patients rally in support of mental health services

It is, of course, true that multi-million day campaigns are impossible, but biomedical researchers in many cases dedicate their entire working lives to addressing the harm in these diseases: our own life-long campaigns. Animal rights fanatics could contribute positively to these efforts, rather than standing in the way of progress, but they won’t do that because they are not actually interested in preserving life. They are interested in stunts.

If you are interested in preserving life, then please support biomedical research, including that which involves animals. This year alone, two Americans received a treatment for Ebola that was developed based upon animal research and that likely saved their lives. This is the promise of science. Stunts, on the other hand, contribute nothing, save no lives and end no suffering.

David J. Jentsch