Recently, I went to Brussels, Belgium to moderate a panel at the European Parliament. The panel was titled, "Worldwide Implementation of the 3Rs in Regulatory Toxicology: What are the Leadership Challenges and Opportunities?"
The "3 Rs" refers to a framework and, in some countries, legal mandates about the use of animals in research and testing. The first "R" is replacement, and it refers to the use of alternatives, such as cell cultures, computer modeling or other methods, instead of using live animals. The second "R" is reduction, figuring out how to use fewer animals in order to get comparable levels of information in a given test. The third "R" is refinement, which means improving the procedures and caging so that the animals experience less suffering, for example, the use of appropriate pain relief (analgesics and anesthetics).
The use of animals in research and testing has long been and always will be a highly controversial and contentious issue. On one end of the spectrum are people who consider replacement the only ethical "R;" on the other end are those who believe that animals always will be (and should be) used in science. Those arguments haven't changed much in the 35 years that I've been involved in the debate. What has changed in the last decade is exciting technological progress to replace animals in toxicology and a groundswell of support among scientists who see in vitro or non-animal testing as the road to faster, cheaper and more reliable results. Finally, we can see light, however small and distant, at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
But, what has also become obvious is that the 3Rs are meaningless unless they are implemented in good faith. The Brussels panel brought together experts from various parts of the globe to describe and illustrate which of the 3Rs is being implemented in their region. It became clear that there is a great deal of variety in commitment to the 3Rs.
For example, in the U.S., as my colleague, Dr. Paul Locke of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins pointed out, refinement and reduction are getting greater attention and funding than replacement. We need to change that. Dr. Richard Fosse of GlaxoSmithKline pointed out that China, intent on attracting business, appears to show little interest in anything other than refinement.
On the other hand, Dr. Tuula Heinonen, Director of the Finnish Centre for Alternative Methods described the European Union's regulatory approach as the most progressive in the world. Pursuant to the European Union's Directive 2010/63, a researcher must first consider alternatives which will replace the use of animals. This may not sound like a lot, but it forces the researcher to consider methods which do not use animals before simply assuming that animals will be used. If no alternative exists, then the researcher must consider how to reduce the number of animals used (reduction) and how to minimize suffering (refinement). Mandating the implementation of this sort of structured approach on a worldwide basis would go a long way to reduce the reliance on animals and encourage the development of alternatives.
In Latin America, discussions about the 3Rs have only recently begun and organizations have been forming over the past decade to study and discuss the 3Rs. Dr. Octavio Presgrave of BraCVAM, the Brazilian Centre for Validation of Alternatives, described the nascent activities occurring in that region, but it will be some time before we can assess whether implementation of the 3Rs will become a reality.
Dr. Brett Lidbury, Assistant Professor of Alternatives to Animal Research and Fellow of the Medical Advances Without Animals (MAWA) Trust, Australian National University (ANU) described the situation in Australia and New Zealand as one in which there is a good deal of interest and some activity in the development of replacement tools, but no centralized coordination of efforts to bring about replacement. He hopes that his work at ANU will provide the leadership needed to push toward replacement in that region.
As the session drew to a close, I asked our audience to remember that animals are sentient beings who have not volunteered to be used in research and that we must find ways to replace their use. The way forward is to harmonize the most progressive approaches on a worldwide basis and to develop and validate alternatives at a much faster pace.
This event was part of an ongoing coalition effort of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, the Environmental Law Institute and the Center for Animal Law Studies.
To learn more about animal testing, check out ALDF's new animal testing resource.
The European Union (EU) banned commercial trade in seal products in 2009, in response to overwhelming European public opinion that seal hunting is cruel and unnecessary. Canada and Norway have challenged the ban at the World Trade Organization (WTO). (See the EU's First Written Submission setting out its legal arguments in defense of the ban here.) Hearings at the "world trade court" in Geneva took place this February, and a decision should be made later this year. The case, known as EC-Seal Products, raises important issues about the interaction of animal welfare legislation and international trade law, and it has implications for other progressive European animal protection laws like the ban on animal-tested cosmetics that came into full force this year.
The European legislation prohibits commercial marketing of all seal products, whether domestic or imported. On the face of it there is no discrimination against other WTO members. But there are some limited exceptions to the ban; for example, products of traditional subsistence hunting by indigenous peoples can still be placed on the market. Canada and Norway say the exceptions discriminate against their products, and that including these carve-outs in the legislation undermines the EU's claim that its objective is to prevent animal suffering (they say the real purpose is to shut out certain seal products based on where they come from). According to Canada and Norway, protecting animal welfare cannot be the real purpose of the EU law, because in some circumstances that purpose is overriden by other values like the rights of indigenous communities. In reality, of course, virtually all animal protection law is based a similar kind of balancing and compromise between the protection of animals and other ethical and practical considerations.
Canada and Norway also say that the EU ban is more trade-restrictive than needed to address European citizens' concerns about the cruelty of seal hunting. They propose an alternative: a labeling program to certify that products come from 'humanely' hunted seals. They claim that they could sell products into the EU under this alternative system, because their own seal hunts are well regulated to ensure that seals do not suffer unnecessarily. That claim was belied by video evidence presented by the EU at the hearings in Geneva, showing seals in the Canadian hunt suffering prolonged agony. The video evidence underlines what opponents of the seal hunt have been saying for years: given the combination of harsh weather conditions, a remote location, and commercial pressures to bring in as many seals as quickly as possible, the seal hunt is inherently inhumane. The hearings were live-blogged on the International Economic Law and Policy blog by Professor Robert Howse of NYU, who reported that the chair of the WTO panel was so affected by the horrific video footage that he recommended everyone present should avoid having meat for dinner that night. (Professor Howse submitted an amicus curiae brief to the panel, co-written with me and Joanna Langille, which can be found here; see also "Permitting Pluralism: The Seal Products Dispute and Why the WTO Should Permit Trade Restrictions Justified by Noninstrumental Moral Values" by Robert Howse and Joanna Langille.)
Global justice activists and environmentalists often criticize the WTO for prioritizing trade flows over non-commercial values, and often their concerns are not misplaced. But the WTO's adjudication system is sophisticated and well respected, and in many cases it has struck an appropriate balance between fair dealing among members of the global trade system and the legitimate principles that WTO members seek to uphold in their domestic legislation. Everyone who cares about animal law should watch the EC-Seal Products case with interest, and see whether the WTO gets the balance right in this one.
Katie Sykes is a JSD student at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie
University in Canada
Several months ago, I developed a terrible pain in my stomach that wouldn’t go away. Not being fond of doctors, I ignored it as long as I possibly could. The pain was relentless for weeks. Initially, the doctor assumed I had some sort of mild acid reflux disorder but after noticing an abnormality with my blood tests, he told me, "I see scoping in your future." The endoscopy involved sliding a thin, flexible viewing instrument into my mouth and down my esophagus to view my stomach. Before the procedure started I was assured that most people remain unconscious and don’t remember a thing. I was given an IV and sedated, but I woke up in the middle of the procedure choking.
It’s hard to describe the sense of panic and complete helplessness I experienced. I was suddenly awake and very aware of the fact that I was uncontrollably gagging and choking on the tube. I realized in that moment how completely vulnerable I was. I wanted to scream at them to stop and to put my arms out in protest, but the tube was already down my throat. I couldn’t open my eyes and the sedation prevented me from doing anything but jerking my body in uncontrollable spasms while my throat reflexively tried to eject the foreign object.
It was at this time that I heard my nurse’s voice. Although she sounded alarmed, she touched my arm and told me that everything was OK. "Just try to relax. Just try to breathe and relax your throat. We need you to swallow." I have a lot of self-control, but her instructions were difficult to follow. It took time, but I managed to force myself to breathe a little more deeply. Eventually, I mustered up the strength to will my throat to relax and swallow. The second I swallowed the doctor shoved the tube further down my throat into my stomach. My body jerked in protest but I continued to do my best to fight my natural instinct to escape. It was painful and terrifying.
I’m not sure if they increased my sedation or if I passed out, but the next thing I remember I was being taken to recovery. While the incident probably only lasted a few minutes it felt like an eternity. Still groggy in recovery, I started to reflect on my episode during the procedure and a clear picture came into my mind from a video about Foie Gras on ALDF’s website that shows a tube being shoved down a duck’s throat to pump food directly into his stomach. I remember seeing the indentation of the tube pressing against the duck’s throat - it could be seen protruding from the outside as it was thrust into his stomach.
Suddenly, I had this horrifying epiphany about exactly how much ducks and geese suffer in in the production of foie gras. These beautiful birds are force fed abnormally large amounts of food, several times a day, through a pipe that is much larger than what they used during my procedure. The result causes liver disease and often cripples and poisons the birds. It is this diseased liver that is used for foie gras. There is a good reason why this practice has been banned in over a dozen countries—it’s is terribly cruel and inhumane. Anyone who doesn’t believe this fact should try undergoing an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, without sedation. After my procedure, my throat was sore for weeks.
I understood in my mind they were trying to help me but my body didn't understand that. My body felt like it was being battered. For the birds, there is no logical understanding. There is no compassion. There is only brutality, betrayal, and pain.
When the doctor came in to talk to me about my results, I watched his lips move but I couldn’t hear him. I couldn’t shake the image of that tube being callously forced down that poor ducks throat. I am grateful for the sedative I was mercifully given (even if it didn’t quite work), the medical staff that was trying to help me instead of harm me, and the knowledge that they were trying to find the cause of my discomfort, not create it.
For me, it’s a gift and a curse that I now have a glimpse of understanding into what the duck in that video and others like him have endured, and, sadly, continue to endure.
If, like most Americans, you and your loved ones eat meat as a regular part of your diet, you should consider the following: an astounding eighty (80%) of all antibiotics sold in this country is fed to farmed animals. That's because the standard practice in raising farmed animals today is to house them in crowded and unsanitary factory-like facilities. Adding antibiotics to their feed or water helps prevent infections and sickness that occur when the animals are raised in these substandard conditions. It also helps promote faster growth.
This mass use of antibiotics in animal feed is enabling bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotics. In other words, the continuing overuse of antibiotics for farmed animals is creating "superbugs" that don't respond to the antibiotics that doctors normally employ to treat pneumonia, strep throat, and other infections.
A new study, published last week in EMBO Molecular Medicine confirms that antibiotic-resistant bacteria, specifically methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been transmitted from livestock to human beings. Responding to this public health risk, Rep. Louise Slaughter (the only microbiologist in the U.S. Congress) is demanding that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration take immediate action to reduce the use of antibiotics fed to livestock. Please read what she has to say.
Here's what you can do:
- Become an informed consumer—learn more about factory farming and what is in the meat you eat.
- Oppose the mass use of antibiotics in farmed animal feed. Support Rep. Slaughter's efforts.
- Ask your Senator or Congress member to introduce federal legislation that offers basic health and welfare protections to animals raised for food. The European Union is way ahead of the U.S. on these common sense reforms and has adapted the "Five Freedoms," which include:
- "Freedom from Hunger and Thirst—by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
- "Freedom from Discomfort—by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
- "Freedom from Pain, Injury, or Disease—by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
- "Freedom to Express Normal Behavior—by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and company of the animals' own kind.
- "Freedom from Fear and Distress—by ensuring conditions and treatment that avoid mental suffering."
- Support "Pasture Based" farming. Thousands of farmers in the U.S. are returning to the tradition of raising animals in the field and allowing them to eat grass and move around freely. A smart pasture operation (SPO) is a growing phenomenon in the U.S. SPOs don't require the mass use of antibiotics because the animals are not under the terrible stress that they are in factory facilities.
- Join the movement toward Meatless Mondays—find out just how great vegetarian and vegan options are.
- Go vegan: good for you, good for the cow, and good for the chicken! You can find thousands of delicious recipes on the web.
I always knew I had finally landed at the best job ever here at ALDF, but this past week just confirmed it.
Last September, I bought my first house that has a beautiful backyard surrounded by large trees. Birds flocked to my home in the trees and bushes. I was so excited to finally be able to put out feeders and sit on my deck and watch the birds—finches, doves, blue jays. And, then a friend took me to a lecture on the “language of birds” and I learned to appreciate them even more.
So, when I got a call from an activist with a strange, non-believable bird story asking for help, of course I had to follow through to see if the story was true. It seems that a prisoner in a southern California facility had found a baby bird some months back and smuggled it into his prison cell, where he fed the bird on prison food. The bird thrived and became attached to the prisoner, sleeping on his chest at night. The prisoner soon learned that he was to be transferred to another facility and fearing the fate of the bird (would the guards release or would another inmate kill her?), he began reaching out to various organizations asking for help. One of the organizations called the prison and the prison denied there was any such bird.
Having worked in jails, myself, I was finding it really hard to believe the story. But, on the possibility that it could be true, I reached out to a prison ombudsman and asked him to help. Although his first reaction was similar to mine, and his second reaction was if it was true, the guards would just
release it. I reminded him, that since so many organizations had already been contacted about this bird, that would probably not be very good publicity for the prison.
As it turns out, the story was true—the bird was located and animal control was called. Animal Control picked up the bird and turned it over to a bird rehab, Project Wildlife. The little finch is thriving, doesn’t really know what to do with other finches and created a great story for all the groups involved about breaking a bird out of prison!