Report: Animal Rights Conference – Part 2

This is the second part of my report on the animal rights conference. Read Part 1 here.

Discovered! As I stood in line to enter the video room I was recognized by a man called Gary, who knew of my UK activities with Pro-Test. I confirmed his suspicion and we had a quick chat before I entered the video room. Like most activists there Gary was friendly, and we politely debated a few quick points on animal research before going onto the next session.

Abuse of animals in science. This shock-titled session was delivered by Camille Hankins (for more on her read part 1 which includes some of her quotes) and Matt Rossell of In Defense of Animals. The video shown was from Rossell’s undercover infiltration of Oregon National Primate Research Center. Instead of going through a point-counterpoint of the entire video, I will instead reflect upon some of the broad tactics used – many of which can be seen in my post some weeks back on a more recent infiltration.

1. Disingenuous motives. Throughout the presentation Rossell implied that he had applied to ONPRC as a technician with no ulterior motives, had been shocked by what he saw, had tried to “change the system from within”, had failed, and then decided to make tapes. In truth, Rossell had infiltrated other organizations including a laboratory before, making tapes in secret before coming out as a whistle blower. He had neglected to mention his employment with PETA on his application to ONPRC (and well as omitting his college education), and for someone who, supposedly, decided to take video footage as a last resort where other methods failed, he started filming just one month after joining the Psychological Well-Being program (3 months into the job) which gave him an excuse to be filming the animals, which he proceeded to do for the next two years. Suspect motives? Almost certainly!

2. Exaggeration. We see a monkey with a swollen arm, and some footage of a cage with several bent bars while the narrator (Rossell) informs us that monkeys regularly get their hand caught in cages, and the cages have to be cut open. At no other point in any footage do we see another cage with any bent bars. According to veterinarians at Oregon this is a rare occurrence, although most incidents tend to be repeats (like humans, certain monkeys are more prone to repeated mistakes), this would explain why there is a single cage with multiple bent bars. It is not uncommon for AR groups to paint relatively rare occurrences as the status quo.

3. Misinterpretation. We are shown a video of a monkey sucking its penis, later on we see a monkey sucking it’s toes. We are told that this abnormal behavior shows distress in the monkey. In reality, human babies do exactly the same thing with regards to sucking fingers and toes, however they lack the flexibility to able to suck any other part of their body. Excessive sucking is may well be a reaction to the stress of having a camera in its face (see video below).

4. Provocation? We see a group of monkeys huddled inside a corner of an otherwise large enclosure. We are led to believe that the monkeys are normally in this state of distress. What we don’t see is cage bars, why? Because Rossell is physically standing inside the enclosure filming the infant monkeys – no wonder they appear to be scared.

5. What You Don’t See. In the video we never see any footage of the large outdoor enclosures in which MOST of the monkeys are housed. Despite the fact that 77% of the monkeys live in social (2 or more) housing, we only tend to see single housed monkeys (an exception is made for infant monkeys that hug one another). Below we see an example of outdoor housing at ONPRC.

There are many other clever camera tricks, such as filming monkeys while a feeding tray is around (anyone with dogs know they exhibit more “manic” behavior when someone has their food bowl ready), and taking footage in the early morning before cage cleaning. These techniques are designed to decieve the viewer as to the conditions in ONPRC. We are never told of th result of the USDA inspection – Oregon were cleared of all allegations of abuse, with only a few minor proposals for improvements (all of which were acted upon), this can be seen in the USDA report.

The raw footage shown to the USDA often has the “context” of Rossell’s videos. In the below video we can clearly see Rossell being the cause of stress to the animal, and yet only the final reaction makes his presentation – as an example of stress from being caged!

Camille then briefly spoke, backing up a handful of Rossell’s points. She informed us of the existence of “better, faster, cheaper alternatives” – but neglected to tell us what they are. I would somewhat guess she is making some of the common mistakes in her understanding of “replacement” methods – of which you can read more about.

After the talk Gary (who had worked out who I was) introduced me to Matt Rossell, and we engaged in a debate for 15 minutes on the merits and demerits of animal research. Rossell is very well spoken, he comes across as dedicated in his beliefs and actions, which his repeated commitment to undercover work confirms. I said I was writing something on the conference, and he asked if he could reply to any comments I made – I accepted. Before writing this blog post I phoned Rossell and asked him about the 5 issues written above. I have addressed his replies at the bottom of this post.

Being as this post is longer than I expected – I will finish it here – look out for the next blog post where we discuss confronting corporate threats, as well as some of the presentations given during the rest of the conference.

Leaflet of the Day – Staples must cut ties to HLS
Staples: How can they be so callous knowing beagle puppies will continue to be killed by a firm they suppy

Hopefully Staples are well aware of the important medical research going on at HLS and are more than glad to be providing office equipment for them. Perhaps the person who made the leaflet misunderstood the intended use of the paperclips and staples which are sent to HLS.



Rossell’s counter-claims

On Disingenuous Motives, Rossell said he did not initially intend to be going as an infiltrator, but when he saw the monkeys he decided to (somewhat different to what he said at the presentation). However with him giving interviews such as this (click link to read), one begins to suspect it was a motive all along.

On Exaggeration, Rossell agreed that such cases were rare, and tended to be repeat offenders – however he seemed shocked that it had to happen 2-3 times before mesh wire was put in to prevent future occurrences. Most people and animals learn from their mistakes. Some monkeys who get their arms stuck will never do it again – no wonder ONPRC does not put in mesh after one incident. Rossell then said that sometimes an animal’s cage that he had installed mesh on, was not returned to the right animal after being taken for cleaning, and that when an animal was stuck the technicians would use lube as well as tugging the monkey before resorting to bending the cage – as if the monkeys were worth nothing. Interestingly, as a technician himself, it was the job of Rossell and others to ensure the right cage was returned to the right monkey. It also stands to reason that if a monkey get his hand through the bars, it may well be able to get it out with a little help (lube, a little force), and that bending the bars should only be used if the limb is well and truly stuck (anyone who has got a finger stuck in a bottle probably knows they prefer to riggle it out with a little discomfort, than to break the bottle).

On Misinterpretation. Rossell asserted that the monkeys were definitely showing signs of stress and that was the reason for the extent of the sucking behavior. We can probably agree that there is some stress related to an animal recently weaned off its mother, but to say they were displaying neurotic behavior from massive stress is probably taking it to far. We must also consider the effect of the camera in the stress reaction (see video above). In the constant effort to improve their own standards, ONPRC have increased the weaning age from 6 months to one year.

On Provocation. Rossell admitted standing in the cage, which he was cleaning, but said that he did not provoke the monkey – that they were frightened and stressed from being separate from their mother. He did then go on to saying he had a hose at the time and said that he had the water on, although was not spraying it. Whether or not Rossell intended to frighten the monkeys, ti does seem his presense to close may be the reason the animals are scared (No one would deny that infant macaques are more prone to temporary fear than an adult – this is the process of growing up.

On What You Don’t See. Rossell explained he only filmed the “dark side” of ONPRC because he was there to give one side – animal abuse at ONPRC. This is a fair point, yet at no point in his presentation did he attempt to explain that most monkeys were in outdoor enclosures.

Rossell had the advantage of knowing the facility and its schedules. If a nurse was to run an expose on her hospital, she would know where to look and which wards to film. In any primate facility (even in the wild) some animals will hurt themselves. Some animals will be undergoing painful experiments (7% of experiments involve some degree of pain that is not alleviated becauise it may affect the experiment egatively). Being as Rossell’s job included spotting distressed monkeys, he was in a position to film them before telling a veterinarian.