The following guest post is written by Shaul Peretz, a former Israeli investigative journalist and founder of Pro-Test Israel.
Three years ago I learned about Mazor Farm, a small farm located in Moshav Mazor, in central Israel, and the country’s only farm breeding monkeys for biomedical research. All the information about the farm on the Internet came from animal rights activists, who described horror stories.
They said the monkeys are kidnapped from Mauritius and taken to Israel, where greedy dealers sell them to the highest bidder for experimentation, including cosmetic toxicity tests.
For ten years of my life, I was an investigative reporter for the major Israeli newspapers Yedioth Ahronoth and Ma’ariv so I was curious about these claims. Frankly, I found it hard to believe what was written. I began to research animal experimentation is Israel and discovered that the claims being made by activists were a mix of lies and half-truths.
In truth, monkeys are not kidnapped. Rather, the government of Mauritius is begging research laboratories to take as many monkeys from the island as they can. Monkeys on Mauritius are considered to be a pest by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the local government so they control the population by euthanizing them. So the truth is that the fate of the monkeys in Mauritius is death by local authorities or being used for biomedical research for life-saving experiments.
Investigating further, I discovered that macaque monkeys are not used for cosmetic testing, as claimed by opponents, but only for biomedical research to save lives and prevent suffering. Furthermore, contrary to activists’ claims, cosmetic testing on animals is prohibited in Israel, as it is in almost every other country.
I discovered that research using monkeys at Mazor Farm resulted in:
- An innovative method to improve bone marrow transplant from donor developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Using Mazor farm primates, Professor Yair Reisner discovered that injecting a donor with a hormone could increase the production of young bone marrow cells that could be easily collected for transplant.
- Development of the drug Copaxone by Teva Israeli, which is used by MS patients.
- A ten-year project by Uppsala University (Sweden) to understand and improve brain imaging through PET scans.
For many years, scientists in Israel have been threatened by animal rights activists. We determined that the person behind the threats against Prof. Moshe Abeles, Director, Institute for Brain Research at Bar-Ilan University, was Anat Refua, who might be called an Israeli equivalent of U.S. activist Camille Marino.
I tried to join the Facebook pages of animal rights activist including “Together we close the Mazor Farm” to bring the real information to the attention of its readers, but it was a lost cause. I was soon censored and blocked from writing. Animal rights activists support “freedom of speech” only if it is theirs. So I created two pages “Uncensored truth about animal research and monkeys” and “animal research is saving lives” that are designed to tell the truth about what animal research is and what it has given us.
As a result of our successful activities, animal rights activists began to harass and try to frighten me. They published an image of my then-young daughter, and I had to file a complaint with the police to protect my family.
They set up a page with a similar name to our page (“uncensored truth about research”) and called it “The official page.” As a result, some people who are looking for our page accidentally go to their page and read more lies about animal research.
Top contributors to our page who are physicians, researchers, and medical students have received threats in their personal email accounts.
We are going through a period of a great struggle against opponents of animal research. The Israeli media has given a lot of publicity to the growing trend toward veganism, a practice that many activists share.
The previous Environment Minister of Israel, Gilad Ardan – whose office signs the permits needed to export monkeys from of Israel – has added restrictions as a result of pressure from activists. The new regulation will prohibit the export of monkeys for biomedical research starting in January, 2015, although there is no restriction on importing monkeys to Israel for research here. Mazor Farm is expected to close since Israeli research institutions need only around 30 monkeys per year.
Our investigation revealed what is behind this decision. A month before a hearing was held into the future of Mazor Farm, Environment Minister, Gilad Arden received a private donation from the chairman of Let the Animals Live (comparable to PETA), which was actively trying to close the farm. A State Control judge is now investigating this.
Two years ago, Israel’s largest airline, El Al, succumbed to activist pressure and stopped transporting any animals for research and lifesaving biomedical research. As a result, research institutions in Israel must charter private flights at a cost of tens of thousands of euros (Israel has no land transportation option).
However as a result of the activists’ tactics, public feeling in Israel is turning against them. In academia, people are starting to wake up and try to counter the lies.
Many wrote to the new environment minister, Amir Peretz, asking him to change the regulation and allow the export of monkeys for biomedical research so that Mazor Farm can continue. Hundreds of Israeli researchers and doctors have signed a petition to this effect.
As result of our activity and the spread of factual information – the activists lost their “exclusive ownership” of the publicly available information. More and more people in Israel understand the importance of animal research and confront activists’ claims on Facebook and elsewhere.
In the UK, US and Italy, scientists and members of the public have stood up against animal rights misinformation. Through the Pro-Test movements, activists have been challenged on their lies and harassment – this is what Israel needs. This is why I am founding Pro-Test Israel, to bring people together to defend the research behind life-saving medical research. I hope many will join me. If you wish to find out more, click here (website in Hebrew).
I am optimistic that the activist tactics will not last long:
You can lie all the people some of the time,
You can lie to some of the people all the time,
But you cannot lie to all the people all the time.