Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Meat workers health problems

Meat is not just bad for the animals slaughtered, of course, and for the humans who consume it. It’s bad for the humans who work in the meat industry too.

Few people realize that, in a country like the USA, meatpacking is the most dangerous occupation.

In the year 2000, about 25 percent of all employees of American meatpacking plants had non-fatal occupational injuries or job-related illnesses: that is as many as 4 times the national average for all private industry sectors.

In addition, serious injuries and illnesses (measured by lost workdays) in the meatpacking sector are almost 5 times the national average in all private industry sectors (14.3 percent versus 3 percent).

The frequency of disorders associated with repeated traumas, mainly back problems and tendinitis, is an astonishing 30 times higher than the private-industry national average. This is the effect produced by the working pace of some modern slaughterhouses, which “process” as many as 400 cattle per hour, and in which some workers make up to 10,000 repetitive knife cuts every day.

So much for the idea that man is a “natural” meat-eater. Meat seems to be associated with diseases and unnatural lifestyles wherever it occurs.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Anti-Fur Week at Harrods

CAFT (Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade UK) is organising a fur week of action in the run up to Christmas next week at Harrods, in Knightsbridge, London, Europe's largest department store, and the last one in the UK to still sell real fur.

Harrods has over a million square feet of floor space, and has large amounts of real fur throughout the store, made from a wide variety of animals including fox, beaver, mink, chinchilla, wolf, coyote, rabbit and squirrel.

In recent years, CAFT has successfully campaigned to persuade the few remaining department stores in the UK selling fur, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and then Liberty, to adopt fur-free policies.

That left Harrods as the only department store selling fur. In October last year CAFT launched the Harrods campaign, and within two months, Harrods went to the High Court to obtain an injunction against CAFT and three named individuals, applying to have the protests moved away from the store.

Anti-Fur activists have been carrying out regular protests outside Harrods.

Now, to persuade Harrods to stop selling fur, the campaign intensifies and there will be protests every day in the week leading up to Christmas, a vital time of the year when the store makes a large proportion of its annual profits.

Whether or not you can make the protests, please politely email, phone, fax, write to Harrods during anti-fur week (see below for details) to request that it takes the compassionate decision to stop the sale of all real animal fur and adopt a fur-free policy. Remember to point out that fur farming is illegal in the UK, so the store should come into line with the wishes of the British public and the democratic will of Parliament.

Harrods Ltd 87-135 Brompton Road
Knightsbridge London SW1X 7XL
Telephone 020 7730 1234
Fax 020 7581 0470

Harrods Corporate Service
+44 (0)20 7225 5843

Other email addresses

If you get any replies please forward them to:

PO Box 38
Manchester M60 1NX
0845 330 7955

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Vegetarian dogs

Can dogs be vegetarian? Judging from the fact that in England more than 50,000 best man's friends are fed on the vegan product Happidog Supermeal, the answer should be 'yes'. Among them, are many dogs of celebrities.

Everyone knows that Paul and the late Linda McCartney's dogs were vegetarian. And what about the pop singer Howard Jones, who says: "I spoke to my vet before I put my dog Benny on a non-meat diet and we worked out his meals together. Benny was seven then, and he's certainly as fit as any other dog".

Script-writer Carla Lane, who dreamed up British TV's The Liver Birds, Solo, Butterflies and Bread, is another case. A vegetarian for 40 years, she said: "I've always had vegetarian wolfhounds. My previous wolfhound Egor lived on a vegetarian diet from the age of five onwards. The vet advised the diet after he had a haemorrhage and a stomach complaint. "Wolfhounds normally live for six to nine years, but Egor lived a very long and full life and was healthy right to the end. His eyesight and teeth were perfect. For two years he lived with a rather racy heartbeat, which is all the more reason why it was exceptional that he should have lasted. He loved being a vegetarian dog. He never showed any interest in bones at all".

Not everyone agrees, though. Desmond Morris, the animal behaviour expert, is opposed: "It's not only wrong; it's cruel and stupid too. Dogs are natural carnivores, and to deny them meat and substitute vegetables means that they lack a vital part of their diet". His opinion is shared by many.

Yet, to base the argument purely on the concept of "carnivore", both in the sense of belonging to this order of mammals and of meat eater, does not help because this concept, taken as an absolute barrier beyond which it's impossible to go, does not mean much. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, for example, explains: "Although the word "carnivores" means meat eaters, the diet of these animals ranges from an exclusively meat-eating one to an almost totally vegetarian one. Some Ursidae (bears), Procyonidae (racoons) and Canidae (dogs) depend very much on vegetation, and the giant panda lives almost entirely on bamboo sprouts". For jackals, close relatives of our Fidos, fruits form an important part of their diet; coyotes, wolves and foxes consume great amounts of fruits and berries even in times of the year when it's not difficult to find something to eat, which indicates a genuine predilection for these foods.

The idea that domestic dogs are perfectly healthy on a vegetarian diet is now, anyway, the most commonly accepted by vets and pet experts. The RSPCA is fully in favour. Its chief veterinary officer agrees that it is quite possible to feed a dog on a vegetarian diet: "However, you do have to be careful to get the right balance of protein, vitamins and minerals. If you are proposing to turn a dog from a meat and biscuit diet to a vegetarian one, it is best to consult your own vet and to introduce the change gradually".

Neil Wolff, American vet and Chairman of the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, says: "Dogs and cats on vegetarian (or close to vegetarian) diets often do better in terms of coat condition, kidneys, liver and heart. With geriatric animals we often supplement with additional vitamins, amino acids, anti-oxidants or herbs".

The UK Vegetarian Society has received so many requests of advice on dogs' menus, that it has published an information sheet on the subject. A typical day should be divided into two meals: breakfast (morning or midday) and dinner (afternoon or evening). For breakfast, dogs should be given wholegrain cereals (for example muesli) with milk, adding, if necessary and according to taste, honey or dried powdered yeast. For dinner, pulses like baked beans or cooked lentils, or textured vegetable protein, or nutmeat, or else, for lacto-vegetarians, eggs or cheese, adding to the whole lot raw or cooked vegetables. The guidelines remind owners that dogs need some hard foods to chew to exercise their gums and jaws: suitable for this purpose are raw whole carrots, cabbage stumps and apples, and hard wholemeal dog biscuits.

Dr. Alan Long, of the Vegetarian Society, warns: "You must know your dog and what he likes to eat and follow his liking. A dog does not have a vast stomach area for fibrous foods, so watch he doesn't get fat. Try him with vegetables, wholewheat bread or toast, and make sure he has oil in his diet for a shiny coat and keep him fit by giving him lots of walks. "It's easier to start a puppy off. At eight weeks old introduce sloppy baby foods, cereals, gruel and mixed savouries. You can then introduce eggs, milk and cheese, remembering a puppy needs more food in proportion to its weight than a dog".

There are cases in which a vegetarian diet is recommended by the vets themselves. Skin allergies and digestive problems are often caused by meat. The ingredients used in the preparation of some dog foods are slaughterhouse by-products unsuitable for human consumption, such as diseased or damaged parts of the slaughtered animal, chicken feathers, horse hair and other refuse. Recent research has shown that the consumption of great quantities of these impurities contribute to gastro-intestinal and allergic diseases. Some skin disorders, such as itch and loss of hair, have been effectively cured simply by improving the animal's nutrition. The American product Nature's Recipe, for instance, has been formulated just for dogs with skin disorders. It contains soya flour, rice flour, potatoes, carrots, salt, spices, with a number of vitamins and minerals added.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Singer's ambiguity on vivisection is damaging to animals

The BBC programme Monkeys, Rats and Me: Animal Testing, shown on 27 November 2006, does not, as one could have easily predicted, fulfill any of the promises declared in its press releases.

It does not “attempt to determine if these experiments are effective”: it actually rather takes their effectiveness for granted, blindly accepting the words of experimenters without any search for independent evidence.

And it, or its presenter, does not “have a ring-side seat at the heart of the conflict”, especially it does not have a balanced, unbiased position giving equal weight to both sides of the “debate”.

Throughout the programme we heard only one voice arguing the case for the animals, that of animal rights activist Mel Broughton.

Other than that, and the occasional shouting of demonstrators, the show consisted in a long succession of pro-vivisection voices.

Among the latter, unfortunately, one has to list that of Peter Singer.

It was not entirely a surprise, knowing Singer’s utilitarian position that, to put it simply, “the end justifies the means”, that is, if an experiment can demonstrably save more lives of higher value by sacrificing fewer lives of lower value (and the calculation of suffering is similarly in favour of the experiment being performed), then it should be carried out.

The rights’ view in ethics is certainly superior to the utilitarian one, in my opinion.

So, Singer has made statements that have resulted in headlines like “Animal guru gives tests his blessing” in The Observer of November 26, 2006, which says:

“Monkey research has benefits, equal rights philosopher admits.

“One of the most important figures in the animal rights movement has publicly backed the use of living creatures in medical experiments. The endorsement - by the philosopher Peter Singer, who coined the phrase Animal Liberation and whose Seventies book on the subject led to the creation of the animal rights movement - has surprised observers.

“Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton, is renowned for insisting animals should have equal rights with humans but is quoted, on camera, backing research in which experiments on monkeys are carried out to develop surgery for Parkinson's and other patients.

“'It is clear at least some animal research does have benefits,' Singer admits on Monkeys, Rats and Me: Animal Testing, which will be screened on BBC2 tomorrow. 'I would certainly not say that no animal research could be justified and the case you have given sounds like one that is justified.'

“The admission has delighted scientists, including the Oxford surgeon Tipu Aziz, the doctor involved in this work. 'It is a very encouraging sign,' he said.”

The Tipu Aziz in question, the programme forgets to mention but we’d better remind people, is the same man who, in an interview with The Guardian on March 4, 2006, defended cosmetics tests on animals:

“In an interview with the Guardian, Tipu Aziz said: "People talk about cosmetics being the ultimate evil. But beautifying oneself has been going on since we were cavemen. If it's proven to reduce suffering through animals tests, it's not wrong to use them. To say cosmetics is an absolute evil is absurd."”

Obviously for Aziz, the only ethical question about cosmetics testing on animals seems to be the Islamic problem with women’s wearing make up and similar ways of “beautifying oneself”. The moral issue of the treatment of animals is so far away from his frame of mind as Islamabad is from London. He is so remote from this type of problem that he has totally misunderstood it, and believes that the battle to fight is against people who think that “cosmetics is an absolute evil”.

So, when he started one of his many utterances during yesterday’s programme with “I don’t think there’s an issue”, I knew exactly what he meant. Animal welfare is not an issue for him.

And this is the kind of man whose words Singer took at their face value, without a challenge, when he said something to this effect: “You are the expert, so you will know whether your experiments are useful and justified”.

It took Singer two minutes to make up his mind on the matter. Wow! What a philosopher! What about saying “You are presumably an expert, but you are also the person with powerful vested interests in the continuation of your experiments”?

As for the other two most recurrent pro-vivisection voices in the show, one, Laurie Pycroft, is a school drop-out. The other, Colin Blakemore, is notorious for having carried out “experiments” in which he blinded kittens by sewing their eyes shut from birth: needless to say, those experiments never led to any “medical breakthrough”.

An in-depth study of his vision research on animals concludes:

“we found no evidence that our understanding amblyopia's causes or treatments have improved as a consequence of this research”.

I just hope that Singer’s views were misrepresented by selective quoting, a well-known journalistic and propagandistic tool. He may have added something which in fact he has written many times, ie that Aziz should not perform on non-human primates experiments that he would not be prepared to perform on humans of equal or inferior intellect and/or sentience, perhaps orphaned infants. That at least would avoid the speciesist bias.

Either way, Singer’s opinions are easily misreprented in this way, and he’s giving the media and the vivisection lobby powerful weapons.

Peter Singer’s ambiguity on the issue of vivisection is extremely damaging to the animals’ case.

The fact that Singer was given a voice on this programme, but none of the many people who have strong medical arguments to oppose vivisection were heard, makes one think who is tame and who is a powerful enemy of the vivisection lobby.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Post hoc, propter hoc - a common fallacy of vivisection apologists

The reason why so many claims made by defenders of vivisection are unfounded or plainly false is, I think, the following.
They make the mistake of thinking that "post hoc, propter hoc" (after that, therefore because of that).

For example, they may say that a certain cure or drug has been found "because" of animal experimentation, when in fact it could be that it was simply found "after" (unfortunately) time and money was devoted to animal experimentation.
The example of effective rehydration for diarrhea (mentioned some time ago in a letter to Peter Singer in The New York Book Review) seems a good one.

Bruce Max Feldmann says in answer to the letter to Singer:
"Rothman claims that oral fluid rehydration of Third World diarrheas is a treatment ‘based on many years of animal experimentation.’ To the contrary, in the three seminal papers on oral fluid rehydration for severe human diarrhea there is not a single reference to oral fluid rehydration experiments in laboratory animals with diarrhea. What really happened was that some more-creative-than-average health professionals said to themselves: ’Hey, wait a minute. Third World people are dying right and left from diarrheas. And intravenous fluids and fluid administration equipment necessary to save their lives are not affordable. So why not at least try oral fluids, even though we've been taught that they aren't much use in severe diarrhea. Maybe they'll help.’

"Well, oral fluids did help—a lot; tens of thousands of lives have been saved as a result. So Rothman's example to argue the importance of animal research illustrates precisely the opposite point — Singer's point: more of the world's limited medical resources should be allocated to immediate human life-saving efforts and to non-sentient animal research; less resources should be expended on animal research of questionable ethics and dubious value."

Here's a good example of how probably someone had jumped to the conclusion that a treatment had been found due to animal experimentation, because maybe there had been considerable resources devoted to animal experiments, but the actual solution was found in another way.
So a link which did not exist was established.

I suspect many cases will be of the same kind.
Post hoc, propter hoc is a very common fallacy.
We tend to assume that, if a fact follows another fact, the second was caused by the first.
See, for example, the idea that psychotherapy "cures" only because people after some time feel better: they probably would anyway (spontaneous remission).

The way vivisection apologists talk about animal experiments sometimes is a bit like this.
Suppose that someone, a traveller, has taken a long and tortuous route to get somewhere, not knowing that there was in fact a simpler, direct, shorter one.
He may then say that it was only thanks to that long route that he got to his destination.
Well, it's true. But the fact that he actually got to his destination through that route says nothing about alternative routes he might have taken which could have been more effective.

In the case of animal experimentation, furthermore, in many cases the link between the route taken and the results achieved is not so obvious but is on the contrary highly speculative.
When alternative methods are looked for, they are often found: I said “often”, but I would say “always”.

A well known example. Years ago the campaigner Henry Spira tackled Revlon over their use of rabbits to test cosmetics for potential eye damage, and exerted enough pressure to persuade the company to put $750,000 into the search for alternatives. Having seen the public relations disaster that Revlon had narrowly averted, Avon, Bristol-Myers and other major American cosmetics corporations soon followed suit. Though it took ten years for the research to yield the desired results, they did find what they were looking for: alternative methods. And so many cosmetics corporations can now truthfully state that their products are not tested on animals.

Monday, October 02, 2006

RSPCA Freedom Food under scrutiny

Apparently the RSPCA (for non-Brits: it is the UK’s main animal welfare organization and one of the oldest in the world) is under scrutiny for its Freedom Food campaign.

The animal protection charity has just published a report to coincide with its Freedom Food's Farm Animal Week (25 Sept - 1 Oct). Entitled Everyone's a winner, the 30-page document describes the terrible conditions in which chickens reared for their meat (broilers) are kept on intensive farms.

It then compares the Assured Chicken Production (ACP) standard (Red Tractor logo), the chicken industry’s own assurance scheme, covering over 90% of UK chicken producers, providing a “baseline”, the minimum requirements that allow factory farming of poultry to go unchallenged, with the RSPCA Freedom Food scheme.

It goes on to say that the the RSPCA standard is better not only for the welfare of chickens, but also for the consumers and the producers and retailers, hence the title of the report.

The problem is that farms that had been certified by Freedom Food have been found in the past guilty of neglecting their animals, and have been the subject of BBC Watchdog investigations. Animal rights campaigners say Freedom Food is still large-scale industrial farming with terrifying consequences for animals.

In fact, organic (certified by the Soil Association) and free-range broilers have a better life than Freedom Food birds, but these are reared in better conditions than is the norm for the industry and its own ACP standard.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

This week's Observer article on broiler chickens

This week The Observer's supplement Food Monthly Magazine carries a good article on the conditions in which broiler chickens are reared and the RSPCA's Freedom Food scheme.

Of course it is not going far enough because it is not promoting a vegetarian diet, but it is good for a wide-circulation Sunday paper to devote space to the welfare of farm animals. I usually don't like The Observer, but in this case I have to say: well done.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A letter to Cancer Research UK

Some health charities ask for donations to help people with diseases and disabilities and then spend the money they receive from a trusting (sometimes gullible) public to fund horrific experiments on dogs, rats, mice, primates, rabbits, hamsters, pigs, and other animals.

Instead of wrecking animals’ bodies in the application of a highly unreliable experimental method in pursuit of an impossible scientific answer, compassionate charities concentrate their funds on the research which holds the best hope for treatment: with humans. They know that we can find treatments through modern methods in alternative to vivisection, and they finance only non-animal research.

One of the charities which do fund animal experiments has written to me. This was my reply to them.

You can use this letter, indeed I encourage you to use it.

Letter to Cancer Research UK:

We have received a letter from your organization asking for funds. We want to inform you that we do not support your charity in any way, because you fund animal experimentation. This is a highly immoral practice, no less criminal than murder and torture. We find hypocritical that an organization that claims to be a charity and to take the moral high ground can fund such a criminal practice. You should take example from the charities which do not conduct or fund experiments on animals, such as Caring Cancer Trust, New Approaches to Cancer, Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research and many others.



Are pesticides saving animals' lives?

"Kenya plans massive elephant translocation to ease human-wildlife conflict." We constantly hear news like this. In Africa in particular, animals living in the wild have to "make room", one way or the other, for a growing human population which uses low-yield, traditional agricultural methods and therefore requires much more land than if it used high-yield, modern methods involving pesticides.

Elephants and gorillas, among others, are always losing habitat to humans.

We know that occasionally birds and other non-human animals accidentally eat the pesticides and are killed by them.

The question is: what kills more non-human animals, pesticides or the alternative to them, the farming techniques which require much more land and destroy much more wildlife habitats?

Pesticides may be more good than bad for non-human animals.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Animal tests responsible for Elephant men drug disaster, UK official body says

The so-called “Elephant Man drug victims”, the 8 healthy volunteers affected by the TGN1412 drug trial disaster of last March in the UK, have just been told to expect early death. A medical assessment by immunologist Professor Richard Powell indicated that they face contracting cancer and other fatal diseases.

This is the umpteenth disaster caused by the bio-medical research establishment’s obstinate reliance on animal testing.

The drug in question, TGN1412, had indeed been tested on animals, as is unfortunately always the case, including non-human primates.
The company conducting them claims that these experiments showed the drug to be safe.

The result of the investigation into this incident by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the UK government official regulatory body, says:

“…this product showed a pharmacological effect in man which was not seen in preclinical tests in animals at much higher doses” (emphasis added).

In their report, the MHRA found no deficiencies in the drug’s animal, pre-clinical and clinical work: everything was in order, including dose measurement and administration. In short, the MHRA thought that the actions of the companies involved did not contribute to the serious adverse reactions.

Similarly, German Regulatory Authorities inspected the production, manufacture, testing, storage and distribution of the material, and found no deficiencies which could have contributed to the tragic adverse events.

The MHRA concluded that the most likely cause of the adverse effects in trial human subjects was an unpredicted biological action of the drug in humans.

When tested on animals, then, the drug had appeared to be safe in animal models, but researchers have observed that there are reasons why these may not be indicative of the response in humans. Other similar drugs, tested safe on animals, have previously shown side effects in human trials.

Even the British Medical Journal is starting to see the writing on the wall for animal research:

“Why were all eight volunteers given the drug at the same time? Several observers have asked whether minimal standards should include observing a single dose in a single carefully monitored individual, rather than relying solely on dose as a function of animal lethality.” (emphasis added)

And the BMJ goes on to say:

Relative lack of severe toxicity in animal models should never be construed as a guarantee of safety in man, as the story of thalidomide taught us.” (emphasis added)

In Britain the Early Day Motion 2088, a new bill tabled by the Member of Parliament David Taylor, argues for more government funding for new technology advances, such as micro-dosing, which would make human testing far safer and accurate.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Vivisection opinion polls

Looking at MORI polls of public opinion in the UK on the subject of animal experiments, you think you've spotted a clear trend but then you realize it's not so simple.

There have been 3 MORI polls on the subject in the last few years: 1999, 2002, 2005.

Comparing the data, the trend seems to be going badly for anti-vivisection.

In the 2005 survey, 75% of the GB population responded that they can accept animal experimentation so long as it is for medical purposes: the corresponding percentage in 2002 was the same 75%, but in 1999 the figure was only 64%. Correspondingly, fewer people than before disagree with that statement: 14% in 2005, 15% in 2002, 24% in 1999.

A similar proportion (76%) say they can accept animal experimentation as long as there is no unnecessary suffering to the animals (it was 69% in 1999). 72% of adults claim to agree with animal experimentation for all types of medical research where there is no alternative (61% in 1999).

Something must be wrong, though, because in 2005 53% (58% in 1999) said they can accept animal research only for life-threatening diseases, which seems somehow odd in view of the 75% accepting animal experimentation so long as it is for medical purposes: clearly the questionnaire used in this poll, allowing respondents to agree or disagree with a number of statements (some of which limit the significance of others) gives results which are not as clearcut as it seems prima facie.

That response of 53% accepting animal research only for life-threatening diseases is relatively positive for the anti-vivisection cause, which qualifies the magnitude of that other datum: 75% accepting animal experimentation so long as it is for medical purposes.

Anyway, another depressing result is that fewer respondents in the poll now report a lack of trust for the regulatory systems in place, compared with before. In 1999, 65% of people agreed with the statement "I have a lack of trust in the regulatory system about animal research". By 2002 this had dropped to 50% and in 2005 to 36%. And the proportion actively disagreeing with this statement has grown from 11% (in 1999) to 19% (in 2002) to 37% in 2005.

In 1999, 29% said that they trusted scientists not to cause unnecessary suffering to the animals being experimented on. In 2002 this figure had increased to 39%, and in 2005 it is 52%. The corresponding figures for the proportions who disagree with this statement are 56% (in 1999), 44% (in 2002), and 31% in 2005.

52% of participants expect that the rules in Britain on experimentation are well enforced, compared to 22% who think they are not. The agreement figure has risen from 29% in 1999 and 40% in 2002; and the disagree figure has decreased from 41% in 1999 and 29% in 2002.

On the other hand, online opinion polls often produce opposite results. Check these:


Mister Poll

Irish Health


True, online opinion polls are not necessarily reliable but that also applies to all opinion polls: what makes a survey reliable is the methodology used, not just whether it is done on the internet or offline.

We can make a number of conjectures. The MORI 1999 survey was conducted for the Medical Research Council, but the MORI 2002 and 2005 surveys, markedly more favourable to vivisectors, were conducted for the so-called Coalition for Medical Progress (CMP), an organization which the National Anti-Vivisection Society described as "an extremist group of vested interests representing a very narrow area of medical research", responsible among other things for the online petition in favour of animal testing also signed by the Prime Minister Tony Blair.

We know that one of the reasons why opinion polls have limited reliability lies in the way questions are formulated and in the attitudes of the pollsters towards the respondents. So, a different sponsor for the poll may produce significant differences.

Another factor which may have had an impact, producing different results over the years, could be the diverse composition of the population polled, due to the great influx of immigration to Britain of the last few years.

Last but not least, we could also ask ourselves whether certain tactics of direct action or other methods, perceived by the public to be means of intimidation and overly aggressive, might have alienated sectors of public opinion.
The rise of new pro-vivisection groups, like Pro-Test for instance, seems to be another sign of this.

One thing which I've noticed is that the veil of secrecy that once surrounded vivisection, as far as public opinion and popular culture are concerned, has now dropped.
Some time ago, in films and on the TV the words "animal models" or "experiments on mice" were taboo and never uttered: the reference was always to an unspecified "research" or "scientific studies".
That taboo seems to be gone now.

I find this significant because "popular culture" is indicative of the public mood. What I think it shows is that the public has now been exposed to the issue of animal experimentation enough to be de-sensitised: it's got used to it.

The end of the secrecy could be a good thing: it could mean that the debate over vivisection is now more widespread and centre stage. Or it could mean that people are more accepting of animal experiments, as the MORI polls seem to indicate, in which case maybe we have to review something we've done wrong.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Fen-Phen drug combination: another case where animal studies misled research

Weight-loss drugs fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine, used in the fen-phen combination, caused heart valve problems in patients. Cases of primary pulmonary hypertension stopped the use of the Fen-Phen drug combination as a weight-loss aid.

Some sources say that the combination had been tested on animals (specifically, dogs and cats) and it was safe for them, others say that the individual substances had been tested on animals but they had not been extensively tested on animals in combination.

Gina Kolata reported in the New York Times of September 16, 1997, on fen-phen:
"Why weren't these problems [heart valve abnormalities] noticed before? Dieters in Europe had used Dexfenfluramine for decades. Dr. Friedman [an FDA official] said he could only speculate. No one had initially thought to examine patients' hearts, he said, because animal studies had never revealed heart abnormalities and heart valve defects are not normally associated with drug use." (emphasis added)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Health benefits of vegetarian diet

There are many reasons to be vegetarian purely to improve your health and to diminish the risk of contracting the diseases that kill most people in the Western world.
Research shows that in many ways a vegetarian diet is healthier than that of a typical meat-eater.
The vegetarian diet falls closely into line with the recommendations issued in two UK government-commissioned reports by the National Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy.
And, for food poisoning and diseases spread from farm animals, should vegetarians be concerned about BSE? As far as we know, there are no cases of cow pus, blood or prions being observed in rice, oat or soya milk.

So, I've collected here some authoritative sources on the subject.

* British Medical Association: "A vegetarian diet confers a wide range of health benefits. Research has proven that vegetarians suffer less from many of the diseases linked to a modern Western diet: obesity, coronary heart disease, hypertension, type II diabetes, diet-related cancers, diverticular disease, constipation and gall stones."

* The American Dietetic Association: "Scientific data suggest positive relationships between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk for several chronic degenerative diseases and conditions, including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and some types of cancer. Vegetarian diets, like all diets, need to be planned appropriately to be nutritionally adequate.
"It is the position of The American Dietetic Association (ADA) that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases."

* A major report by the World Cancer Research Fund in association with the American Institute for Cancer Research published in 1997 provides the most comprehensive world-wide review of diet and cancer research, presenting dietary guidelines for prevention, public policy recommendations and a thorough review of the scientific evidence.
Here are the report's main findings:

  • High intakes of animal protein might increase the risk of a number of colorectal, breast and endometrial cancers
  • An increase in animal fat consumption may increase the risk of lung, colon, rectum, breast, endometrium and prostate cancers
  • Diets high in milk and dairy products may increase the risk of prostate and kidney cancer
  • Protein of plant origin from cereals and pulses is as good as protein of animal origin
  • The typical Western-style diet was condemned with these words: "...within the last 50 years, the trend has been to invest in the very resource-intensive rearing of animals. The consumption of fatty meats and of meat, milk and other dairy products has also been promoted with the incorrect message that such foods are especially healthy. Increasing consumption of meat and fatty foods will lead to a massive increase in incidence of a large number of diseases that are expensive to treat. It reflects the impact of widespread perceptions of a cultural link between affluence and Western lifestyles. Traditional diets, when adequate and varied, are likely to be generally more healthy."

From "Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: a global perspective". World Cancer Research Fund, 105 Park St, London W1Y 3FB. Tel: +44 (0)20 7343 4200. American Institute for Cancer Research, 1759 R St NW, Washington, DC 20009. Tel 001 709 329 7744. Fax 001 202 328 7226

* From Encyclopædia Britannica:
"Medical and nutrition professionals around the world continued to examine the health benefits of low-fat, high-fibre diets. One style of eating that was receiving a major share of attention was the diet of the Mediterranean region, where the population had traditionally enjoyed low rates of heart disease and some cancers. In 1994 an international group of experts interested in traditional eating patterns developed the Mediterranean diet pyramid as a model for healthful eating. The Mediterranean pyramid called for a largely plant-based diet. Cheese, yogurt, and olive oil were included with fruits, vegetables, and grains as foods that could be eaten daily, while red meat was to be consumed only a few times a month... Meanwhile, in France investigators from the Lyon Heart Study demonstrated that a Mediterranean-style diet was effective in reducing the risk of further heart problems in individuals who had already experienced a heart attack. Some 300 patients were encouraged to increase their consumption of grains, fruits, and vegetables and to eat less red meat and more poultry. The butter in their diet was replaced by a spread rich in alpha-linolenic acid, which some experts believed to have cardioprotective effects. During a follow-up, which averaged 27 months, there were three coronary deaths and five nonfatal heart attacks among those on the diet, compared with corresponding figures of 16 and 17 in a similar group that received no dietary advice.
"The health benefits of a vegetarian diet were substantiated by the results of a 12-year survey conducted by nutritionists in London and Oxford, England. Comparing the fates of more than 5,000 British meat eaters with those of some 6,000 who were not meat eaters, the investigators reported a 40% lower rate of death from cancer among the vegetarians. Those who did not eat meat also had a markedly lower rate of atherosclerotic heart disease, though this was at least partly attributable to their much larger proportion of nonsmokers."

* From Baby and Child Care (1998 edition) by Benjamin Spock, M.D., considered the greatest authority on baby and child care:
“If a mother drinks cow’s milk, which I do not recommend, some of the cow’s proteins will actually pass into the breast milk and actually irritate the baby’s stomach. … The nursing mother’s daily diet should include the following nutrients: (1) plenty of vegetables, (2) fresh fruit, (3) beans, peas, and lentils, and (4) whole grains. Another good reason to get your nutrition from plant sources is that animals tend to concentrate pesticides and other chemicals in their meat and milk. … Traces of these chemicals can easily end up in a mother’s breast milk if she eats these products. Plant foods have much less contamination, even if they are not organically grown.” (pp. 113-114).

* Cornell University's nutritional biochemist Dr. T. Colin Campbell, director of the renowned "China Project" (a long-term study of the relationship between diet and health):
"The vast majority, perhaps 80 percent to 90 percent, of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented, at least until very old age, simply by adopting a plant-based diet."
Dr. Campbell has also shown that excess animal protein actually promotes the growth of tumors; and most people on a meat-based diet consume 3 to 10 times more protein than their bodies need.

A vegetarian diet not only helps prevent heart disease, it can also reverse it without drugs and their side effects.

* A study of patients with advanced heart disease was published in the British Lancet, the most prestigious medical journal in the world, in 1990, by Dr. Dean Ornish, S.E. Brown, L.W. Scherwitz, et al., "Can Lifestyle Changes Reverse Coronary Heart Disease?".
Dr. Ornish put a group of patients on a completely vegetarian diet, which was less than 10 percent fat. They were also asked to begin a moderate exercise program, walking a half hour every day, and were taught relaxation techniques. Patients in this group found that their chest pain disappeared and their cholesterol levels dropped at a rate comparable to that of cholesterol-lowering drugs, without the side effects. Because the patients felt so much better, they were motivated to stick with this program. The plaques that had been growing in their hearts for decades actually started to dissolve within one year.

Prostate cancer has been strongly linked to meat consumption. In a study of nearly 48,000 men aged between 40 and 75, those eating red meat five or more times a week were 2.6 times more likely to suffer from prostate cancer than those who ate it once a week or less (Giovannucci, 1993b). Mills (1989b) also noted a link between meat consumption and prostate cancer risk.

Some of the world's leading sporting champions are vegetarian, so veggie food is certainly good for muscles. People who follow a varied, well-balanced vegetarian diet are eating in line with current nutritional recommendations for healthy eating, as most vegetarian meals tend to be low in fat and high in fibre.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Animals victims of road traffic

Going out on a drive can sometimes turn into a nightmare.

Along country lanes, roads, major thoroughfares and motorways alike lie the bodies of many, too many, wild animals whose paths humans have unfortunately crossed.

Only a few days ago a saw a little rabbit lying dead on the side of a motorway coming into London from the East. S/he (I never say “it” when referring to a non-human animal, and I think it’s wrong to say that: it influences us to see them as objects) must have been hit by a car only recently, because the shape and colours of the body and fur were still clearly visible.

The brown, still shiny coat gradually getting lighter in colour until it became white on the belly was a crying reminder of all the things that could have been in the rabbit’s life, a tragic symbol of all the beautiful features with which nature had endowed him/her, a harrowing sign of the tremendous waste and loss that had been caused.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Animal equality may be a better name

The expressions “animal rights” and “animal liberation” have both become unfortunately associated in a large part of public opinion with what the public considers, rightly or wrongly, terroristic tactics, intimidation and violence.
A Google site search of many media websites will reveal that this is the case: “animal rights” will come up almost always followed by “terrorists”.

“Animal equality” is perhaps a better name, because it encompasses all the internal, sometimes little more than semantic, differences among the various philosophers, activists and organizations who are, after all, fighting for the very same cause.

These distinctions may appear more important than they actually are. For example, moral philosophers of different schools of thought might provide different justifications to outlaw human slavery, but in the end they agree on the most fundamental principles.
Something similar happens within the animal equality movement.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Animal equality

Ethics (or moral philosophy: the two are synonims, the only difference being that the former is a word of Greek origin, the latter of Latin) is the rational exploration of what is right and wrong, what ought to be and what we ought to do.

Any moral theory must have a theory of moral status, defining moral agents (beings who act on moral grounds) and moral patients.

Not all beings are moral patients, ie not all beings should be considered when we make moral decisions. Some beings, like inanimate objects, don’t pertain to the moral sphere because they don’t have the characteristics that would make them affected by an action in a subjective sense: in a word, they experience nothing. They, therefore, have no interests.

So, what beings belong to the sphere of moral concern and why?

Animals, both human and non-human, both as individuals and species, possess a very high number of characteristics.

The overwhelming majority of these characteristics have no effect on the moral status of their owner: having a certain hair colour, or thickness of fur, or being able to fly, walk or swim, are examples of such characteristics.

What characteristics are relevant to ethics, then?

Although there is no absolute agreement on this among moral philosophers, there are several characteristics which are generally recognised as the likely candidates.

Moral philosophers may disagree on their specific lists of characteristics, but most characteristics will appear on most philosophers’ lists. That is: the school of moral philosophy A, utilitarianism for instance, will give more importance to sentience, whereas the school of thought B might give more importance to rationality. But basically, the characteristics of moral relevance are a circumscribed number.

Sentience will appear on almost every philosopher’s list. Sentience is defined as awareness of sensation and the ability to feel pleasure and pain.

Other candidate characteristics include memory, self-consciousness, oral language, a sense of justice, intelligence, ability to communicate, concern for others, playfulness.

Almost all these characteristics are variable. Different individuals have them in various degrees.

Human beings, too, greatly differ in their possession of them. Some human beings don’t possess some of them at all.
Newborn, mentally retarded, severely senile, brain-damaged humans fall into this category.

On the other hand, many capacities that have been proposed as a demarcation line between humans and non-humans have turned out, on closer scrutiny and as our knowledge of animals progresses, not to be unequivocally unique to humans.

Many other animals possess them in some degree. Examples of these behaviours and characteristics are the development of complex family ties, a system of morality, advanced social rules, problem solution, the expression of emotions, wars, sex for pleasure, abstract thought.

If we wish to restrict our definition of what is necessary to be included in the sphere of moral concern to higher characteristics, such as self-consciousness, oral language or a sense of justice, then not all human beings possess them, so some human beings will be excluded from the moral sphere of consideration.

If, on the other hand, we decide to broaden our definition so as to admit characteristics like capability of feeling pain, then non-human animals must be included into the moral sphere too.

There is no way to escape this iron logic.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Online poll on the circus' treatment of elephants

There is a poll now on AOL News about elephants in circuses.

The question is:
What's your opinion on the circus' treatment of elephants?
It's fine 52%
It's abusive 48%

Of over 55,000 voters, a slight majority (52%) has voted that It's fine, so take a second of your time to vote in order to get the balance right.
Every vote counts.

And please inform others of the poll.

Via Easy Vegan Info.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

How the myth of vivisection is perpetuated: asymmetry between new drugs and withdrawn drugs

Over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen can double the risk of a heart attack: this was the warning given by researchers on 1st June 2006 in the UK after the publication of a study by the British Medical Council, which analysed the results of 138 trials involving 140,000 patients.

There is a problem with the perception of drugs by public opinion, which goes to the heart of animal testing and how the myth of its usefulness is perpetuated, with the help of the media.

In a word, the problem is: asymmetry.

There is an asymmetry between the ways new drugs and withdrawn drugs are respectively treated.

When a newly-developed drug is introduced into the market, it is saluted by great media fanfare and at that moment, implicitly or explicitly, an association with the animal research involved in its development is formed in the mind of the public.
“Look at the enormous benefits of animal experiments” is either said directly or somehow this message is tacitly conveyed (after all, “everybody” knows that).

On the other hand, when a drug is found to have serious (or even fatal) side effects and is either withdrawn or warned about, the fact does not make headlines, sometimes is not even mentioned in the news, and in any case there is no equivalent “look at what disasters animal research causes” message trumpeted.

So, an association is formed in the public mind between new, good (because we haven’t yet discovered their harmful effects) drugs and animal testing; but no corresponding association is formed between bad, disastrous or withdrawn drugs and animal testing.

We must not forget that all drugs are extensively tested on animals before being marketed, and therefore every time a drug causes serious problems it is undisputedly a failure of animal experimentation as a method.

Victory over vivisection on medical grounds will advance the ethical case

How should we fight vivisection?

We know that there are unassailable arguments, on both ethical and scientific grounds, to oppose it.

But what is the best, most effective strategy to use: to pursue the moral route or to follow the medical path?

Personally, although we should use both, I think that the medical arguments will win the battle. Am I over optimistic?

Perhaps. But only a few years ago all cosmetic companies were saying that they couldn’t do without animal tests, and now many major cosmetic corporations are eager to proclaim that they don’t use animal testing.

The same, I think, will happen to the rest of animal experimentation, because the scientific arguments of vivisectors are really and simply wrong.

If vivisection were ended for medical reasons, ie for the selfish reason of its being misleading and dangerous to humans, would that be a defeat for the battle for animal equality?

Far from it. It would be exactly the opposite.

I’ll explain why.

If there is one area where animal and human interests do appear to be genuinely in conflict, it is animal research.

Nobody can seriously claim that wearing fur coats, hunting foxes, going to circuses with performing animals and the like satisfy important needs and necessary desires, when compared to the suffering and death that they cause.

Even animal exploitation for food is not a necessity, given that, not only we can survive without eating meat and animal products, but in addition we survive better, on a healthier diet, that way.

Animal research, on the other hand, touches an area where important human interests are at stake: fighting disease.

If we can show that this conflict of interests is only apparent, we will have achieved a major victory which will go beyond having ended vivisection, although that in itself, since vivisection is one of the worst evils, will be of enormous importance.

With that victory, we will have demonstrated that the justification for the ruthless use (the philosopher Harlan Miller used the word “consumption”: I like that) of animals has no foundation. If it has no foundation when something vital like the fight aginst disease is at stake, it will be much more difficult for our opponents to resort to similar excuses in other fields.

We will always be able to use that victory against vivisection to show that we humans can live without the need to kill, damage and impose suffering on other animals in any major, intentional way.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The strange case of smoking animals, tobacco companies and research - Part I

British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently said that he would sign a public petition in support of animal testing in research. And the ex-Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, almost as if in reply, claimed: “Animal Tests Are Unreliable and Cruel”.

The debate over animal research has never been as public and centre stage as it is now.

There are both medical and ethical reasons to ban animal testing. Most people are mainly interested in the medical aspect, so I’ll focus on that here.

First of all, it’s no good to say that animal research is essential because researchers say so. People in the biomedical field are part of animal research, have a vested interest in it, and therefore their views are biased in favour of it. So it’s important that the public, who after all have to bear the consequences of it (and in many cases pay for it through taxation as well as by buying its products), make up their own mind.

Animal research is unreliable in the extreme. Let’s analyze one particularly important and significant example, before giving general arguments to back it up.

Smoking and cancer

The link between smoking and lung cancer was discovered by the British scientist Sir Richard Doll in the 1950s, by means of a study of human lung cancer patients in twenty London hospitals. He used the epidemiological method, i.e. the statistical study of diseases in human populations. The practical application to medicine of this all-important discovery had been hindered and delayed by animal research. Why?

First, because animal experiments had previously failed to demonstrate this link and they had ruled it out. Medical researchers were dismissive of Doll’s discovery. They had already tried to trigger cancer in animals using tobacco tar but had failed, they pointed out. Only later was it shown that their experimental procedures contained serious errors.

And then, even after Doll’s theory was published, animal researchers tested it by trying to reproduce the carcinogenic effects of smoking in animals. Some of this animal research was funded (you may guess) by tobacco manufacturers. Look at what they said: "No clearcut case against cigarette smoking has ever been made despite millions spent on research ...The longer these tests go on, the better our case becomes." (Phillip Morris, 1968)

Smoking beagles

It took 50 years to induce lung cancer in laboratory animals forced to breathe tobacco smoke (remember those pictures of rows of smoking beagles with cigarettes fixed in their masks?), thus delaying the health warning to humans and resulting in millions more unnecessary deaths.

In the end, it was the so-called British doctors study, a prospective clinical trial which ran from 1951 to 2001, that provided convincing statistical proof that tobacco smoking increased the risk of lung cancer. Doll’s study has provided the foundation for all other research into the impact of smoking cigarettes on health. It has arguably helped to save millions of lives.

This was a particularly important discovery, because it shows the role of lifestyle in cancer prevention (it actually paved the way to other discoveries linking cancer and diet) and, as we know, prevention is better than cure. There is here an analogy between the animal research lobby and the tobacco manufacturer's lobby, an analogy that goes beyond the fact that in this case they formed an “unholy alliance”.

Some smoking experiments on animals, intended to disprove its link with lung cancer and to give smoking the okay, were financed by cigarette companies. The analogy goes beyond this “unholy alliance” because both lobbies (animal experimentation and tobacco manufacturers) put the interest in their own self-preservation above public health.

The strange case of smoking animals, tobacco companies and research - Part II

Why animal experiments are unreliable

At this point people might say that yes, this was a case in which animal research retarded science and misled medicine, but it is an isolated case, the odd exception. But it is not an exception: it is indeed the rule, for obvious and necessary reasons, which will become apparent.

Animal experimentation is by its own very nature unreliable for application to humans. One of the reasons is that minuscule differences in biochemistry and miscroscopic composition of organisms produce enormous effects, hence the huge differences existing between not only species, but also individuals.

It’s easy to see that it is so. Think of how an incredibly tiny alteration at the microscopic level in the DNA can give rise to so many dramatic changes between individuals. In fact, it can give rise to a new species if the DNA change is a mutation.

Moreover, the differences between species will be greater and more difficult to compensate for exactly in those areas which interest animal researchers. This is the case, for example, of metabolic differences between species, which are centrally important in toxicological (effects of drugs and chemicals) and teratological (effect on the fetus) investigations.

Researchers refer to animals as models. But models which are useful to inspire hypotheses are not necessarily good to test them, in fact they often are terribly and disastrously bad at that.

For instance, to see what this means in practice, think of the planetary model of the atom in physics, according to which in atoms the electrons orbit the nucleus the way planets orbit the sun. In the early stages of the atomic theory, when knowledge was limited, the solar system has indeed served as a useful tool, something known to help understand the unknown.

But no one would dream of testing on the solar system a hypothesis about electrons’ behaviour, for example, even if it were physically possible.

If you are inclined towards logic and formal arguments, read Two Models of Models in Biomedical Research. Otherwise, what was just said would suffice.

The fundamental mistake of animal research is to transfer an experimental technique (replication of phenomena) from physics to biology. The problem is that biological entities like animals, including humans, are extremely more complex than physical objects. This technique which is valid in physics is not valid in biology, where such regularities as “effect B always follows cause A” do not apply.

Biological beings behave in a probabilistic way, not in a deterministic one. This is a major factor of great uncertainty in predictions. Even when animal research results were later confirmed, we only know that they were valid because they were confirmed by their application to humans. So, the latter was, in the end, the final test of the former, not the other way around.

It’s a classical case of post hoc propter hoc fallacy (mistaking time sequence with causation), as Prof. Pietro Croce, MD, an eminent pathologist, puts it in his brilliant book Vivisection or Science - A Choice to Make, which anyone who would like to develop a serious position on the subject, fruit of thought rather than pre-conception, should read. You can also find a short version of it published online.

Here’s an analogy that helps picture the problem of unreliability. Suppose I like mushrooms but I cannot recognize the good ones from the poisonous ones. I go and pick them in the wild. Then I call a mushroom expert, and he says they’re okay. It does not mean that I did the right thing by choosing them myself, I could just as easily have picked up the poisonous mushrooms. And it was only after, not before, the mycologist gave his opinion that I knew if the mushrooms were edible or not.

So it is with animal research: it’s only after, not before, its results are applied to humans that we know whether they are valid (for us humans) or not. And believe you me, when they are not, some of us are going to pay for it with our health. That’s why so many drugs are quietly and surreptitiously withdrawn from the market after they have caused some disaster. Remember that a new drug being introduced will make headlines, but a drug being withdrawn will likely be ignored by the media.

The strange case of smoking animals, tobacco companies and research - Part III

Alternatives to animal experiments

There are many methods and techniques which could replace animal experimentation, and are more precise, cost-effective, and humane.
The main ones are:

  • the epidemiological method, the study of human populations, which was used to discover the smoking-lung cancer link discussed above;
  • in vitro techniques, ie cultures of cells and tissues on which to conduct tests - penicillin and streptomycin are historical examples of in vitro discoveries;
  • clinical research, ie careful observations and analyses of patients;
  • computer and mathematical modelling, a relatively new branch of medical research using complex software to simulate biochemical reactions by recreating our body components structurally and in terms of healthy and diseased chemical reactions, then submitting them to chemical and curative substances;
  • genetic research, often used alongside epidemiological evidence;
  • autopsies - practically every disease has either been discovered or clarified as a result of autopsy, which also indicates aspects of illness missed in diagnoses;
  • post-marketing drug surveillance (PMDS), the reporting of effects and side effects of a medication after its release, which unfortunately is not required at present and only relies on voluntary and infrequent reporting. The current situation therefore makes it impossible to maintain comprehensive data on any drug’s potential for negative reactions.
  • technology, for example ultrasound, blood-gas analysis machines, monitoring devices, DNA sequencing, gene chips, combinatorial and solid phase syntheses, bio-compatible materials, polymerase chain reaction, separation and purification methods, the Fast Fourier transforms used in spectroscopy and CAT scans, fast sequence alignment and database methods used in genomics, conformational search and optimization methods used in protein folding.

These methods would represent an improvement if they replaced animal research now, even considering the little money and time that have been spent on them in comparison to the gigantic resources invested in animal experiments. The main problem is not that there are no alternatives, but that there is no or little political will to make that choice. If funds and energy were devoted to these other methods, great progress could be made.

And, to go back to the fungal analogy above, in case you were thinking that I could have fed the mushrooms to some animal to test them, don’t. It is well known that a mushroom can be eaten by squirrels, rabbits, or other animals and still be dangerous for humans.

The Illinois Mycological Association, for example, says: “According to Dr. John Rippon, an IMA member and world expert on fungal diseases, squirrels have an interesting adaptation that allows them to eat mushrooms containing deadly amanita toxins without being affected.”

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I have no more doubts about vivisection

I must confess.

I have always been opposed to animal experimentation on ethical grounds. For this reason, the anti-vivisection medical arguments of great authors like Hans Ruesch and Prof Pietro Croce have always made me feel that, in true reality, they were just like me: people who abhorred vivisection morally, and tried to use scientific reasons simply to reach and stir an indifferent public opinion.

Deep down, I thought, they know that some benefit must have derived from animal research, if for nothing else because of statistical reasons: the sheer, huge amount of animal experimentation performed must have produced some benefit, sometimes.

I don’t think that any more.

Now I am sure that their medical arguments are entirely correct, and that animal research is indeed dangerous to humans as well.

What’s the reason of this change?

I have done more research myself into the issue, recently, and also I entered a debate with some defenders of vivisection who work in the biomedical field, and I’m telling you: go ahead, anti-vivisectionists, our adversaries have no arguments able to stand a modicum of scrutiny.

In fact, I find it extremely interesting what Dr Vernon Coleman says in his website:

“Many supporters of the anti-vivisection movement are concerned that they do not know what to say when vivisectors make specific medical or scientific claims about the value of the work they do. Vernon Coleman debated many times with vivisectors (including several television debates). He never lost a debate when the audience was asked to vote. Today vivisectors refuse to debate with him [my emphasis] and so you won't see or hear Vernon Coleman allowed to discuss vivisection on television or radio. Producers of programmes who invite Vernon Coleman to debate are quickly told (by the vivisectors) that they must find someone else if the debate is to go ahead. (When Vernon Coleman was invited to debate vivisection at the Oxford Union in the UK not one vivisector or vivisection supporter in Britain would debate against him. Oxford Union subsequently withdrew their invitation to Vernon Coleman and found someone else to oppose vivisection.)”

I have no problems in believing it.

I shall post here my original article to Blogcritics in 3 parts, with the subsequent debate.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The origin of moral judgements

A user of this blog posted a comment saying:

"Psychologist Jonathan Haidt (at the University of Virginia) argues that people make moral judgements not through rational thinking but through the same sort of intuitive process by which they make aesthetic judgments. Rational reasons are generated after-the-fact as a plausible 'cover'."

I'm not convinced that the hypothesis of psychologist Jonathan Haidt, although it has some merits, can serve as a total explanation. It seems to me that such a complex question as the origin of moral judgements is unlikely to be resolved by means of a single, simple cause (eg intuition).

I am more inclined to believe that there are several factors at work.
Reason and emotion often work together, subjectively, as mental faculties, and ethics is an area where this happens more frequently than in other areas.

I think that it is only our idea that reason and emotion should be in opposition.

In fact, I would say that it is a measure, if not of mental health, at least of mental well functionality how much reason and emotion can influence and complement each other.

The more dysfunctional a mind is, the more conflict there is in that mind between reason and emotion.

It seems to me that Haidt has chosen for his experiments particular cases of ‘scenarios’ which are bound to provoke disgust, and consequently ‘moral’ rejection with or without a reason.

(Actually, I’m not even sure whether we could call a condemnation of ‘wiping your toilet with a national flag’ a ‘moral judgement’ at all. It’s more akin to an aesthetical appraisal.)

But it’s doubtful that all moral judgement adhere to that pattern of following from disgust or similar feelings.

So, it’s impossible to generalize from his experiments, because they portray only a sub-class of moral judgement, a special sub-class to which his theory may find suitable application.

His examples of moral judgement are not the ones that you would find philosophers debate about in ethics books.

That he is blurring the line between moral and aesthetic judgements he is aware himself, as one can see from the following quote from his interview:

“Now, by moral judgment I mean any time you have a sense that someone has done something good or bad. Think of how often you have that sense. If you live in a city and you drive, you probably have that sense many times a day. When I read the newspaper, I think unprintable thoughts, thoughts of anger. So I think moral judgment is ubiquitous. Not as ubiquitous as aesthetic judgments. As we walk around the world we see many beautiful and ugly things. But we don’t deliberate about them. We just see things as beautiful or ugly. My claim is that moral judgment is very much like aesthetic judgment. In fact, whenever I’m talking with philosophers who are trying to get me to clarify what I’m saying, if I ever feel confused, I just return to aesthetic judgment, and that saves me.“

He seems to define ‘moral judgement’ in emotional terms (‘you have a sense’, ‘I think thoughts of anger’ and so on), so it’s not surprising that he finds that moral judgements, as he defined them, have a non-rational source.
QED. It is rather circular.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Green Party and ritual slaughter

Abattage rituel halal sans étourdissement
Uploaded by GAIA-TV. - News videos hot off the press.

If you'd like to have an idea of what ritual slaughter of animals without pre-stunning is, watch the above video.

The first animal in the video is slaughtered according to the EU law, i.e. with a captive bolt which is shot into the brain. Brain death is virtually instantaneous. The animals are then hung by the hind legs, the throat is slit and the blood is allowed to drain out.

The other animals on the video are killed in the ritual halal and kosher way, still permitted as exemptions to humane slaughter laws in most western countries, with their throat cut without prior stunning. The time they take to die while still fully conscious and in excruciating agony can be up to 2 minutes. If an occlusion occurs, preventing the blood draining from the brain, the animal remains conscious for a considerable time.

One user of this website has sent this e-mail to the Policy Development Coordinator of the Green Party:

“I'm interested to know what is the Green Party's policy regarding ritual slaughter, ie halal and kosher.”

The following correspondence has ensued.

Green Party

“At the moment the Green Party has no official policy on ritual slaughter, although I am aware that our animal rights groups has been discussing the issue in order to take a policy to our conference for agreement.

“However I think it is fair to say that most of us feel that it is incumbent on those who want to eat meat to be responsible for causing the animal as little suffering as possible and are aware that halal and kosher slaughtering methods are attacked for being particularly cruel. But equally, some argue that the techniques used mean the animals die more quickly than with conventional slaughter.
“Rules state that the knife must be sharpened between each killing and the animal must be cut with one stroke from ear to ear and never within sight of another animal.

“Care must be taken not to pick on one method and criticise it when there are faults in all methods and perhaps the focus should be on improving conditions in slaughterhouses.

Brian Heatley
Policy Development Coordinator
The Green Party”


“I find the position of the Green Party on this matter less than satisfactory.

“I resent the implication contained in ’Care must be taken not to pick on one method and criticise it’.

“I don't wish to ’pick on’ any one method.

“I am a long-standing vegetarian (almost vegan) and animal rights activist, and have been throughout all my life.

“Of course there are faults in all methods of slaughter, as you euphemistically put it. Slaughtering animals for food is murder, nothing less.

“Which is why your party's policy on this is hypocritical.

“The Green Party website says:

’Real Progress towards a better society means respecting the right of animals not to suffer. We believe that Real Progress is not farm animals growing faster than their hearts can stand or cows producing drugs instead of milk. That's not progress.

’Greens oppose factory farming and advocate banning cruel live exports.’

“This creates an ambiguity, by giving people the impression that you support animal rights (that ‘the right of animals not to suffer’ phrase), whereas in fact you don't do that at all.

“There is a right which is just as basic as freedom from suffering, and that is the right to life.

“And even the right of animals not to suffer, which you theoretically accept, cannot be respected by simply opposing factory facrming and cruel live exports.

“A lot of animal suffering is a necessary part of any form of rearing animals for the slaughterhouse.

“If you really respected the right of animals not to suffer, you would oppose it in all its forms.

“Its abolition is a long-term goal, and perhaps not realistic in the near future.

“But banning ritual slaughter is achievable (Sweden has done it), that is why your policy (or lack of) on this is particularly unexcusable.

“The reasons you give for justifying it sound more like excuses than real reasons.

“’Some argue’ that it's better, you say. But who?

“Exactly the people who have a vested interest in maintaining it.

“Would you prefer to have surgery performed on you while conscious and ‘more quickly’, as you put it, or would you rather be made unconscious first?

“Here is a description of ritual slaughter (from Vegan Outreach website):

“‘Ritual slaughter – Animals are fully conscious when their carotid arteries are cut. This is supposed to cause unconsciousness within seconds, but because of blood flow through the vertebral arteries in the back of the neck, some animals can remain conscious as they bleed for up to a minute. Additionally, Temple Grandin, PhD notes “Unfortunately, there are some plants which use cruel methods of restraint such as hanging live animals upside down.” This can cause broken bones as the heavy animal hangs by a chain attached to one leg.’

“And this (from Animal Aid website):

‘Nor can I stomach hearing protagonists of religious slaughter claiming their method is swift and painless - when the evidence shows that animals can take minutes to die, are often cut about the neck numerous times rather than the prescribed one clean cut; and young calves can actually choke to death on their own blood.’

“If, in confronting this issue, you were here dealing with, say, a corporation, a multi-national for example, rather than religious lobbies, would you blindly believe what the corporation says, or wouldn't you be suspicious of its vested interest in the matter?

“Ritual slaughter is actually a remnant of ancient animal sacrifices performed in the past and, in the case of Islam at least, still in the present:

“’When in Mecca kissing the Ka‘aba, it is also incumbent upon pilgrims to kill an animal in the Mina valley on the tenth day of the month of pilgrimage, since Allah, like the Yahweh of the Jews, is believed to enjoy having animals killed for his viewing pleasure. (It is amusing to imagine what will happen if P.E.T.A. and the Animal Liberation Front ever get wind of this. How Muslims would deal with the threat of animal-rights terrorism would be something worth watching closely.) After killing a goat or other suitable sacrificial species (for some reason, dogs and pigs are deemed unsuitable), most pilgrims then betake themselves to Medina (Yathrib), a city located 210 miles north of Mecca, in order to pray at what is claimed to be Mohammed's tomb.’ (from An Atheist's Guide to Mohammedanism webpage,

“It is highly hypocritical of these religious groups to pretend that their method has anything to do with considerations of animal welfare.

“The reason why humane slaughter laws have been introduced throughout Western countries is because they are aimed at preventing suffering.

“Exceptions (or rather loopholes) in those laws, permitting ritual slaughter (including EU directives and national laws in Europe, the USA, Australia), have been introduced only to make happy some ethnic minorities, and certainly NOT for the animals' sake.

“The issue is now particularly important, not in order to ‘pick on’ anything but because the number of halal shops, restaurants, outlets and similar has grown enormously, particularly in the UK, and is bound to grow even further, due to the high number of Muslims in this country, their rate of reproduction (the highest among all groups) and their increasing intransigence in the application of their own laws and prescriptions.

“Even many non-Muslim and non-Jewish Britons who eat meat are more and more unhappy with this situation, because it's a well-known fact that much of halal and kosher meat ends up being bought or served without their knowledge to people who abhor these methods.

“So, there is a growing public opposition to halal and kosher methods of slaughter being allowed in the UK under British law.

“I think that the Green Party should do better than putting its fear of offending minorities (in particular, paranoid and vociferous minorities who are extremely easily offended and see enemies everywhere) above even extremely basic animal welfare.


Green Party

“Thank you for your reply.

“As I said, this is something we are currently considering, and the fact that we are doing so is because many in the party are not happy with the present position. However, we are a democratic party, and our policy can only be changed by our party's conference when a proposal is put before it.

“So I tried to answer your query with our present position, and I can understand why you did not find that satisfactory.



“Thank you.

“I do sincerely hope that the Green Party will change its policy.

“The reason of my e-mail (and perhaps others) is to offer points for reflection and information that can be used by the Green Party in deciding its policy and hopefully change it in the right direction.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Green Party and animal issues

Local election time in England.

It’s a good time to look at the Green Party and its hypocritical stances about animal rights issues.

From the UK Green Party’s website:

“Real Progress towards a better society means respecting the right of animals not to suffer. We believe that Real Progress is not farm animals growing faster than their hearts can stand or cows producing drugs instead of milk. That's not progress.
Greens oppose factory farming and advocate banning cruel live exports.”

So, the GP thinks that ‘respecting the right of animals not to suffer’ implies only opposition to factory farming and cruel live exports.

There is no mention in the GP’s documentation of any opposition to rearing animals for the slaughterhouse.

And, even more seriously since this could be more easily preventable by eliminating the loophole in the humane slaughter law, there is no mention of ritual slaughter.

Sweden has, after all, banned ritual methods of slaughter, so it is obviously a realistic short-term goal. But not for the Green Party.

The Green Party is not opposed to halal (Muslim) and kosher (Jewish) ritual sacrifices and has no policy aimed at banning them.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

When appeal to authority is misleading

Here is a very interesting argument for not presuming that an appeal to authority is always appropriate.

The argument is part of a website entirely devoted to the analysis of logical fallacies of all types. “Appeal to Misleading Authority”, the title of the above-linked web document, is one such kind of fallacy.

Of particular interest to us when opposing animal experimentation on medical grounds is the point n. 3: ”The authority is an expert, but is not disinterested. That is, the expert is biased towards one side of the issue, and his opinion is thereby untrustworthy.”

How many times animal research has been defended on the basis of its common acceptance among ‘experts’ in the bio-medical fields?

These ‘experts’ are exactly the kind of authority to which this fallacy relates, ie ‘not disinterested’ and ‘biased towards one side of the issue’.

It is not anything new, but it is useful and interesting to have a formal argument to which to resort.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Obsession with avoiding health risks is unhealthy

One fifth of all Americans has asthma or other allergies. More Americans than ever before say they are suffering from allergies. Allergy is among the country's most common, yet often overlooked, diseases.

And the picture is similar in other developed countries. Allergies are increasing among the populations of the affluent Western world, but they are relatively rare in poor countries. Children, in particular, seem to be more and more prone to allergies in rich nations.

Allergies are often considered a minor ailment, but the truth is that they can be very serious, and sometimes fatal.

Although allergies have a genetic component, a shift in the human gene pool is an unlikely explanation for the increased prevalence of allergies, because it would require several generations and a much longer time.

A plausible hypothesis to explain this increase is that our immune system has weakened, because of excessive hygiene and sterilization.

Basically, allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to practically harmless substances (the ‘allergens’) that should not cause a reaction. They are a disease of the immune system.

The immune system's role is getting rid of any organism that should not be in our body, from microscopic parasites to viruses, from cancer cells to bacteria to fungal spores. Aids occurs when the immune system is not capable of carrying out its function. Allergy is the contrary: it develops when the immune system is too sensitive and performs too much.

Why should allergies be increasing? A theory proposed, the Hygiene Hypothesis, says that inadequate exposure to genuinely harmful agents leads to immune dysfunction. Under normal circumstances, the immune system is exposed to various viral, bacterial and other challenges, getting strengthened after successful defenses. Today's over-cleanliness and phobias of germs have minimized these opportunities.

Supporting evidence is ample. Children who have had early infections manifest less tendency to allergies. Populations in which parasitic infestation is common show lower levels of hay fever and asthma. People who have had measles have fewer allergies, as do children who have multiple siblings and therefore more infections in childhood.

New Scientist magazine reported a discovery that microorganisms found in dirt influence maturation of the immune system. The lack of connection with these organisms through soil may be the reason why allergies, bowel diseases, chronic fatigue and other immune disorders are now reaching epidemic proportions.

This is to me one of the classical cases of defeating the object.

Parents are particularly prone to this kind of obsession with protecting their children from any possible risk, as the furore in the UK about MMR vaccine's alleged link with autism has shown, leading to decrease in vaccination and increase in diseases.

But it is a common trend.

The problem is that we obviously cannot live in a risk-free environment, and we should instead learn to accept and live with the risks, and perhaps develop a more intelligent understanding of risk assessment, based on reason rather than emotion.

How does all this relate to the issue of animal experimentation?

I think there's a lesson to be learned from the allergies case.

There was a time when people sacrificed animals to the gods (tragically, they still do in some religions and in certain parts of the world), in the hope that the sacrifices would deliver them from evils.

The times have changed, but the hope that sacrificing somebody else, someone who cannot defend himself, will save us is still present.

Animal experimentation is the heir to the ritual sacrifice. And similarly it is founded on an attitude which, rather than accepting risks and developing a rational method to control them, relies on an emotionally charged hope of protection and salvation by risk-displacement, by transferring the risks on someone else.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The problem with animal models

Here is what I find one of the most powerful, effective arguments for replacing animal experiments with other methods of investigation.

It is an essay in logic of science and is written in a formal way, so for those who are not inclined to read it all I’ll try to summarize it in non-formal style here.

The authors of the essay, entitled Two Models of Models in Biomedical Research, Hugh LaFollette and Niall Shanks, make the crucial distinction between two uses of animals as models. These two models are normally confused in the general discourse, leading to the current difficulties in clarifying the question of usefulness of animal experiments (we are here letting aside the ethical question).

The two models are:

1) animals as models that are similar to the objects to be modelled, ie humans, functionally (HAMs). To understand what it means, think of the planetary model of the atom in physics. In the early stages of the atomic theory, when knowledge was limited, the solar system has indeed served as a useful tool, something known to help understand the unknown.
Or think of a spiral staircase as a model of DNA molecules.

In this way, though, the only use of a model is to inspire hypotheses, but, crucially, not to test them.

There are indeed demonstrable functional similarities between humans and our close biological relatives.

But there is a big difference between an animal model's being a good source of hypotheses and its being a good means to test hypotheses.

2) animals as models that are similar to humans causally (CAMs). Here is where the problem lies, because most biological phenomena do not follow a simple linear cause-effect pattern (deterministic), but are probabilistic: only in a certain percentage of cases the same effect will follow the same cause.

In fact, biomedical experiments on animals are doubly probabilistic: they involve not only the probabilistic causality within the (non-human) laboratory population, but also the probabilistic causality within the human population outside the laboratory.

In addition, there is an uncertainty about whether the results observed in the non-human animal population will be (statistically) relevant to the human biomedical phenomena of interest.
For this uncertainty to be small, there must be no causally relevant disanalogies between the test subjects and humans (the model and the thing modelled)..

The fact is: these important causal disanalogies exist.

Researchers who think non-human animals are good causal models (CAMs) of human biomedical phenomena believe human and non-human animal systems are causally similar because they are functionally similar.

But this is not so.

The same function in biological systems can be caused by entirely different mechanisms. Both birds’ and mammals’ lungs oxygenate blood (same function); but peribronchial lungs of birds, ventilated in a unidirectional fashion using a series of air sacs, and the alveolar lungs of mammals, ventilated in a tidal fashion using a diaphragm, differ considerably in structure and mechanism.

Functional similarity does not guarantee underlying causal similarity, nor does it make such similarity "probable".

This is predictable from Darwin’s evolution theory. Different organisms have evolved similar functions due to their phylogenetic proximity, but "descent with modification" means, in part, "modification of anatomical and physiological sub-systems, and the relations between them."

Resultant species differences are biologically significant. "The species is one of the basic foundations of almost all biological disciplines. Each species has different biological characteristics" (Mayr p. 331). Species differences, even when small, often result in radically divergent responses to qualitatively identical stimuli.

This is why, for example, even when species are phylogenetically close, as are the rat and the mouse, we cannot assume that the two species will react similarly to similar stimuli. Tests for chemically induced cancers in rats and mice yield the same results for only 70% of the substances tested. The figure drops to 51% for site-specific cancers.

Human mechanisms for metabolizing phenol are closer to the mechanisms in rats than to the mechanisms in pigs, despite the fact that humans are phylogenetically closer to pigs than to rats. And the carcinogenic effect of aflatoxin B is more similar in rats and monkeys than in rats and mice.

So, to reason that phylogenetic continuity implies underlying causal similarity is a fallacy.

As if all this were not enough, an additional complication is given by the fact that the various sub-systems of a biological organism interact with each other, thus multiplicating the number of variations of possible effects.

Biological objects are complex in the extreme: this is why the simple modelling method to test hypotheses that animal experimenters have imported from physics does not work in biomedical research.

Moreover, the differences between species will be greater and more difficult to compensate for exactly in those areas which interest animal researchers: this is the case, for example, of metabolic differences between species, which are centrally important in toxicological and teratological (effect on the fetus) investigations.

As one widely-used pharmacology text sums it up: "The lack of correlation between toxicity data in animals and adverse effects in humans is well known".

In short: different animal species are similar functionally but not causally, and that includes the human species. We tend to think they are similar because we only consider what is visible, ie the functions, not the underlying causal mechanisms.

Finally, the argument often used by animal experiments’ advocates, “It just works”, is subjected to such a potent critical analysis that it leaves it almost as naked as a tree in winter.

Partly, the authors here use an argument which is similar to the one explaining the post hoc, propter hoc fallacy used by Pietro Croce in his classical book Vivisection Or Science: A Choice To Make.

In a nutshell, simplified, it goes like this: how do we know that animal experimentation works?

Because, wait for this, after experimenting on animals, we then test the results of those animal experiments on humans!