Archive | animal experimentation

Is animal experimentation really “cute”?


Today’s Scientist had an entertaining article  on holiday presents for scientists: Brain-slice coasters, silk scarves with red blood cells, bands of one’s own DNA blown up to portrait size, for example.

Another present suggestion was a package of knitting patterns of dissected animals available from a talented knitter at her company aKNITomy , where “biology no longer smells like formaldehyde, but like your favorite sweater.”

Of all the lovely objects available at aKNITomy, why would The Scientist choose animal dissections as the leading illustration for the article? Are dead frogs and dead rats, laid open as by 7th graders in class, cute? Fun? Happy reminders of high school?

A sense of humor is important, and a sense of humor about things that bother us can sometimes mitigate our nervousness….but it can also stop us from really looking at what is happening.

Hard to say what the artist’s motivation for cute and gruesome dissection knitting kits is, but The Scientist might well be trying to do what many scientist do- minimize the pain and cruelty of animal experimentation with humor.

Below is another illustration of this dark humor at the Narishige table in the exhibition hall at the 2015 Experimental Biology convention in Boston. Narishige makes equipment for micromanipulation in physiological research…for cells, yes, and for animals. To illustrate some of their devices for manipulation of live animals, they used little cuddly stuffed animals in place of pictures of real animals. Most scientists walked past the exhibit with little curiosity and no outrage or shame.

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The belief in the righteousness of humans’ right to dominion over the other creatures of the earth lies beneath much scientific training and practice. The devastation of rain forests, elimination of whole species, the poisoning of rivers and streams are actually akin the assumption that animals in labs are here just for us. For some mysterious reason, scientists seem to believe that the nobility of their quest to better human lives excuses causing pain and suffering to animals. For some mysterious reason, scientists seem to believe that the cruelty they cause is not the same as the cruelty caused by pit bull fighting or the abandonment and starvation of pets.

Somehow, many scientists seem to believe that the pain their own little poodles and kitties would feel is a fear more special and in need of prevention than the fear of all those beagles and cats and mice in the lab.

Shouldn’t the first law for scientists, as well as for physicians, be First, do no harm? Don’t cause pain? To anyone or any creature? Can science be a non-violent profession?

Animal experimentation is contrary to what many scientists believe and how they want live their lives, but cruelty to animals has become accepted as a part of science. It is insinuated that folks who do not believe in the use of animals for experiments cannot be serious about science. And so, people make jokes to mask the cognitive dissonance. They are quiet about animal experimentation, ashamed: They don’t tell their children or their dates how many mice they killed that day. They compartmentalize their scientific and family lives.

Rationalization is what scientists are trained to do. But it takes a toll when it is dishonest. Some people, including scientists, are unabashed believers of domination. Of dominance. But many people who are not dominance believers are somehow still convinced that animal experimentation is a given, without alternatives. Others think that animal experimentation should be carefully regulated- except for their own research.

There are groups that advocate for the use of animals in research. There are groups  that advocate against it. Read about it, if you will. But know the reality of what animal experimentation is about, and make sure your scientific side follows the same principles as your human side.

More humanity might even change the face of science and society.


Design winner human-organs-on-chips helps rationalize the end of animal research.



It will if Harvard cell biologist and engineer Donald Ingber and University of Pennsylvania bioengineer Don Dongeun Huh, designers of Human Organs-on-Chips, have their way.

Every year, the Design Museum in London holds a competition for the Best Design. The winner this year is Human Organs-on-Chips. A microchip perhaps the size of a domino and containing miniature wells with connections like rivers between the wells is lined with a polymer on which human cells can be grown. The experimenter can, for example, add drugs to one set of cells and measure the effect on the cells in other wells. Organ systems, using cells from individuals, can then be mimicked, and tested.

Human Organs-on-Chips had some tough competitors, in the categories of Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Graphics, Product (the category for Human Organs-on Chips), and Transport.  I saw the exhibit early in June, and was thrilled by the many science-based entries among the 76 entrants. A project that uses a 3D printer to make arm and leg protheses was an emotional favorite of the crowd, but the beauty and simplicity of the Human Organs-on-Chips display took my breathe away. I’d read about them, but seeing them displayed, with the implications boldly stated- “A way to research drugs without testing on animals”- was a thrill…beautiful science done with a stated purpose of being an alternative to animal research.

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Human-organs-on chips is only one example of the many products  being developed to improve in vitro testing on human systems.

There are 3 main reasons scientists say they would like to cut down or eliminate animal testing: animal upkeep and experimentation is expensive, animal models do not adequately represent humans, and there are ethical issues with animal experimentation.

That there are ethical issues with animal treatment is definitely the minority reason given, and even when it is, what is meant is that other people have ethical issues with animal experimentation and that makes it more difficult for animal experimentation to be done. All those rules! And the protesters!

Drug testing is only one of many, many ways animals are used in labs. But anything, whether moral, financial, or convenience-based, that leads scientists to stop assuming that animal experimentation is a given, is good.

Meanwhile, scientists and activists are directly addressing the ethical issues of animal research. For example, physician and lawyer Ruth Decker has been working relentlessly to stop experimentation on monkeys at the University of Wisconsin, starting an on- line petition against Ned Kalin, who studies rhesus macaque monkeys removed from their mothers and raised in isolation. Recently, when Ned Kalin spoke at the Univeristy of California-Davis on his research, scientists and activists, members of UCDavis Primates Deserve Better, demonstrated at the lecture to protest the cruelty of his experiments.

In March, a European Citizens Initiative with 1.17 million signatures proposed phasing out animal research. While it was rejected by the European Commission, the commission did say it would seek to speed up the development and use of alternative methods of research.

Many science organizations and a group of Nobel laureates spoke out in defense of animal research. As pointed out by the pro-animal experimentation group AnimalResearch.Info, 91 of 105 Nobel Prizes awarded for Physiology or Medicine were dependent on animal research. It is hard to change the paradigm. But every aspect of alternatives to animal testing will bring change to the culture of science. The collaboration of scientists and citizens, which brings new perspective, is vital in changing the insular and often conservative nature of science.

One nascent change is that biomedical scientists and physicians can question animal use without appearing to be “unprofessional,” an accusation and judgement that held many scientists from actually considering the morality involved in working on animals.



Researchers’ animal cruelty at U.S. Meat Animal Research Center



The treatment of experimental animal is not a topic many scientists are willing to talk about, other than to say that animal models are necessary for understanding human biology. With this belief and the belief that it is being done for the good of people, a critical look at the practice (and certainly not the morality) of animal experimentation is not systemically done.

Would knowing that animals are being treated extraordinarily cruelly in order to further the needs of the meat industry make a difference in considering the realities of animal experimentation?

“In Quest for More Meat Profits, U.S. Lab lets Animals Suffer,”  an article on page 1 of the January, 20, 2015 New York Times, reporter Michael Moss exposed the abuse of animals at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center.

The U.S. Meat Animal Research Center is a federal institution in Nebraska (associated with the Univeristy of Nebraska) that centralizes animal research in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It began about 50 years ago with the mission of helping producers of beef, pork, and lab turn a higher profit. And in the name of profit, gruesome experiments and horrible deaths are routine, as leaked by U.S. Meat Animal Research Center veterinarian scientist James Keen, who worked with the New York Times for a year for this article.

“Months into his new job at the center in 1989, Dr. Keen said, he got a call from a fellow worker asking him to help with a ‘downed cow.’

“There was a young cow, a teenager, with as many as six bulls,” he recalled. “The bulls were being studied for their sexual libido, and normally  you would do that by putting a single bull in with a cow for 15 minutes. But these bulls had been in there for hours mounting her.”

The cow’s head was locked in a cage-like device to keep her immobile, he said. “Her back legs were broken. Her body was just torn up.”

Dr. Keen wanted to euthanize the animal, but the scientist in charge could not be tracked down for permission. A few hours later, the cow died.”

44 scientists and 73 technicians currently work at the Center. Two dozen employees were interviewed by the New York Times, some of whom had left the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center. Some defended the practices, but others were unhappy with the sloppy conditions in which thousands of animals have starved to death, where pain was not a deterrent to surgeries and experiments, and animals were operated on without anaesthesia. These researchers, as well as technicians and other workers, spoke with the New York Times reporter, giving shocking testimony of callousness.

The Times points out that the meat business is a rough one, where even the successes are brutal: for example, 10 million piglets are crushed by their mothers every year because pigs have been breed for large litters and the mothers are kept alive so long to do nothing but reproduce. But even to other meat producers, the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center stood out for its cruel practices.

The work at the center is not subject to the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, which protects against animal abuse, but excludes farm animals used in research to benefit agriculture. Other farm animal experimenters have sought out oversight, anyway- but not the U.S. Meant Animal Research Center.

(Nor does the Animal Welfare Act protect birds, rats, and mice bred for research, for example.)

This was an unusual article for a mainstream newspaper to print, as the machinery of justice in the USA exerts itself to protect the businesses that profit from animals, and those that expose abuse are subject to legal action. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) of 2006 forbids any action “for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise.” Lauren Gazzola, who exposed animal mistreatment at Huntington Life Sciences, was convicted in 2006 through provisions of the weaker, pre-2006 Act because she and others ran a website that “reported on and endorsed legal and illegal protests that caused the company to lose money.”

In addition, “Ag-Gag” state laws- laws that forbid photography and other exposure of conditions in the agriculture industry are on the books in several states, and are being pushed for passage in other states.

This article is in the New York Times, not Science or Nature or another science journal- yet. Mainstream scientific journals and organizations protect scientists’ “right” to experiment on animals. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Association of American Universities (AAU) …the list is fairly endless. Perhaps scientists, and the scientific press, will one day speak out as the New York Times has done. Instead, they are reactive, with better treatment of animals following the exposures and actions of non-scientist activists and organizations.

When the Center heard that Keen had brought a reporter into a secure area, he was told that he would no longer be allowed in the Center. Presumably, he lost his job, and it is commendable that Keen spent a year helping the NY Times get this story out. But Keen had been there for 24 years, and most of the others who spoke out against the Center had already left. Fear and habit keep us silent.

Speak out when you see cruelty.



Update- Public shaming in the form of this NY Times article worked.

Push to protect farm animals

Science. This weeks session February 13, 2015

The U.S. Congress last week proposed new protections for farm animals used in scientific research. The move comes in response to an exposé published in The New York Times last month, which documented numerous cases of animal suffering and death at a Department of Agriculture facility that has been trying to create larger and more fecund farm animals for several decades. Lawmakers from both parties are backing a bill—called the AWARE Act—that would expand the scope of the Animal Welfare Act, which governs the humane treatment of laboratory animals. Farm animals are currently excluded from the act, unless they’re used in biomedical research or exhibition. The new law would require closer monitoring—and more inspections—of research involving cows, pigs, and other livestock.


March 13, 2015

USDA promises better oversight

New research projects have been halted at a controversial U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) facility, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced 9 March. The agency’s Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska, has come under fire for allegedly causing suffering and death while trying to create larger and more fecund farm animals. Last month, Congress proposed new protections for farm animals, backing a bill called the AWARE Act that would expand the Animal Welfare Act (Science, 13 February, p. 696). A draft of a USDA report released 9 March says “no instances of animal abuse, misuse, or mistreatment were observed” at the facility, but that the center had not provided proper oversight of animal care. Vilsack said no new research would be conducted until oversight is improved.

This Week’s Section Science 13 March 2015:
Vol. 347 no. 6227 pp. 1180-1182

But yet, the town where the Meat Laboratory is does not seem to believe there is any cruelty happening in the Laboratory. The local TV station, in response to investigations of the lab, reported an “anti-ag agenda” on the part of the NY Times. Deans and cattlemen spoke up to deny any wrongdoing. Cattleman Dave Nichols had this bit of nonsense to say in response to allegations of animal cruelty: “Too many people are too far removed from producing food. Too many are poorly informed. Too many do not understand the difference between domesticated animals and their wild ancestors from 50,000 years ago. Most domesticated dogs would not last long in the wild, nor would most domesticated livestock. Not many humans would either. This is the world we live in.”

So anything goes.

Yesterday on the supposedly more gentle west coast, USDA inspectors (really) reported cruelty at a research facility in Seattle: Research animals at Seattle’s Children’s denied care. Seattle Children’s spokesperson Alyse Bernal had her own bit of irrelevance in response: “Seattle Children’s Research Institute is committed to upholding the highest standards for animal research.”

If you say it enough times, perhaps cruelty isn’t really cruelty.