Beauty AND Brains – Hens (& Roosters) Have It All

The hen “puts more light into every day”

“I’m Matteo and I’m a professional photographer. I’ve always been fascinated by the beauty of birds. In 2013 I decided to go in search of a Concincina as a pet for my studio garden in Milan.
“That very same day, hen Jessicah stole my heart.
“My friend and work partner Moreno joined me in this passion/madness and we started to take pictures of literally hundreds of chickens and roosters.
“Just look at them. They are beautiful. And they know it.” Matteo Tranchellini, photographer


Don’t they just! Enjoy more of their gorgeousness as depicted by Matteo below, interspersed with (hopefully) interesting insights into the person that is the hen


If these stunning photos were not a good enough reason in themselves to throw the spotlight on to hens and roosters, one more could be that these sweet and fascinating birds, especially those of less exotic breeds than those captured by Matteo’s lens, are sadly overlooked and underrated.  So that’s two. Another reason I’ll come to shortly.


Each of my own feathery girls, Rosa, Juliet and Tiddlo, had a definite and distinct personality – which would come as no surprise to anyone who has had the pleasure of sharing companionship with hens. Tiddlo was ring leader and bold as brass. She led the charge of the troops into the house whenever the back door was open. Back in the garden, collie dog Jim would put his jaws around her neck and shake her gently from side to side. She was quite unfazed. Back on terra firma and with barely a ruffled feather she’d carry on where she left off, scratching at the grass for tasty bugs and worms. All three have long since moved on to contented clucking in hen heaven.


You’ll notice I’m choosing not to call hens ‘chickens.’ This is how the dictionary defines ‘chicken’:
A domestic fowl, Gallus domesticus, descended from various jungle fowl of southeastern Asia and developed in a number of breeds for its flesh, eggs, and feathers.
See that? They define this living, breathing, thinking, feeling creature only in terms of a commodity. But we know better.


So what doesn’t the dictionary know about hens?
1 As I mentioned, hens have personalities
Some are a little nervy and jumpy like Rosa, others curious and bold like Tiddlo. We may find one hen gregarious, and another aggressive. Some love human company, some are more standoffish. Like dogs or cats and (unlike children!) many will answer to their names and come when they’re called.


2 Hens are brainy
Far from being birdbrained or featherbrained (where did that notion come from?) hens can outperform dogs, cats and 4 year old kids in some intelligence tests. As Dr Christine Nicol says, “Studies over the past 20 years have… revealed their finely-honed sensory capacities, their ability to think, draw inferences, apply logic and plan ahead.” (Delighted to see that Christine, author of review paper ‘The Intelligent Hen’, agrees with me on the preferred name for the animal!)
In one test, hens were taught that if they refuse a food reward in the present, they will receive more food later on. Remarkably, or maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at their good sense and patience, ninety-three percent of the birds chose to hold out for the later but better option.
In this sweet short video, watch Little Miss Sunshine show off her talents
Hens are curious and like to investigate new things. Hens learn from observing the successes and failures of each other, and pass cultural knowledge down through the generations. They ‘get’ cause and effect. They realise that objects still exist even when hidden from sight.


3. Hens talk
Don’t you just love that clucking! It’s the most soothing sound. But it’s a lot more than just a comforting, homely noise in the background. Researchers have identified at least 30 different kinds of vocalisations hens make. Amazingly hens have one cluck for a threat coming their way over land and a different cluck for danger approaching by water. A mother hen even talks to the developing chick inside her egg, and the unhatched chick talks right back to mum. Wouldn’t it be lovely to know what they are saying to each other.


4. They have their own complex society
– that is if humans allow them the kind of life that Nature intended – the well-known pecking order in which each hen knows its own rung on the social ladder. Hens can know the faces of more than a hundred other hens and remember where each one’s place is on that ladder.


“The social and emotional lives of chickens are no less impressive than their plumage”

5. Just like us, they have deep feelings 
They love their families. Nigh on 2000 years ago Plutarch remarked,What of the hens whom we observe each day at home, with what care and assiduity they govern and guard their chicks? Some let down their wings for the chicks to come under; others arch their backs for them to climb upon; there is no part of their bodies with which they do not wish to cherish their chicks if they can, nor do they do this without a joy and alacrity which they seem to exhibit by the sound of their voices.” Mother Hens par excellence!
They sometimes find true love. While it’s more usual for a rooster to mate with several hens, it has been known for a rooster and a hen to form a profound and unshakeable bond of love. Read the deeply moving story of Libby and Louie, one such pair for whom existence without the other would have been but as the dust they scratched in .
As well as caring for their families, they also look out for the other hens in their group. They can forge lasting friendships, and like to hang out with their best buddies. And sometimes the buddies are not other hens! Thousands have already seen this beautiful 14 second video, but a second, third or fourth viewing still melts the heart.
6 Hens’ calming influence has not gone unnoticed.
Now we have ‘therapy hens’. Inmates of Scotland’s Saughton and England’s Holloway Prisons enjoy their soothing presence. “[The birds] have got such a therapeutical effect on you so it’s brilliant,” said one of the inmates working on the Saughton project. “It puts more light into every day.”  The Holloway hens are rescues, restored to good health by the prisoners.


These wonderful animals are also working their magic among children, the elderly and the mentally ill. We hope the interaction is mutually beneficial.
7 Sleeping with a hen next to your bed helps prevent malaria, dengue fever and zika 
Yes, truly. A study was conducted in Ethiopian villages and found that Anopheles arabiensis, one of the main mosquito species spreading malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization, was repelled by chicken odour.  Although it’s early days, the research could pave the way for a chicken-scent repellent being introduced on the marketTake Part


Now we come to number 8 – and this tragic fact is my other reason for putting hens in the spotlight today – though this is less about them and more about we humans:
Many billions of farmed animals are killed for food each year, virtually all having been bred for that sole purpose. Chickens account for the largest number of these animals, with an estimated 20 billion slaughtered annually. There are almost triple the number of chickens as there are humans in the world – Faunalytics
The photo below is a far cry from Matteo’s wonderful portraits, but this is the terrible fate of billions of these wonderful animals across the globe each and every year.
Image courtesy of PETA
Notice no roosters. This article in the Independent explains why.
What Professor of Veterinary Science John Webster has to say about modern chicken production can scarcely be denied:

“In magnitude and severity [it is] the single most severe systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient being.”

Remember Little Miss Sunshine? She was one of the lucky few saved from just such a place as that, and went from spent battery hen to TV star. How awesome it would have been to see Matteo’s pictorial take on this little lady, but she’s moved on now to sprinkle her sunshine in the green fields of hen heaven.
For everyone who would like to see the world a kinder, friendlier place – if you haven’t already, take the first step and leave these incredible underrated animals, and their eggs, off your plate.
And maybe consider going vegan for the animals
Check out this link for more of Matteo’s beautiful portraits, and info about his book


Related posts

Libby & Louie, A Love Story

If Rembrandt Painted Farm Animals, They’d Look Like This

The Real Truth in Numbers about the Farming of Animals

Bringing Us Up Close & Personal

Further reading

Research shows Birds Have Skills Previously Described As Uniquely Human – The Scientist


Drawn from original post 8 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Hens – with apologies to those who may have read it before

We Photographed Hundreds Of The Most Beautiful Chickens, And Just Look At Them! | Bored Panda

Chickens: smarter than a 4 year old – NY Daily News

Chickens’ Personality –

Chickens’ Personality – Toronto Vegetarian Association

The Social Life of Chickens – United Poultry Concerns

Imaging a World Without Chickens 

Thinking Like a Chicken – Domestic Chicken Ethology

Chickens Teach Life Skills to Prison Inmates – The Dodo

Prisoners Nurse Chickens in Holloway Prison – Islington Gazette

Why You Should Give a Cluck About Chickens – World of Vegan






High Schools Across China Are Now Offering Animal Welfare Courses!

“In a long due yet still impressive act of growth, the Chinese Ministry of Education has added an animal welfare course for high schools and students.”

This is MAJOR good news, so welcome after everything anti-animal and anti-nature emanating from the other side of the Pacific in the USA, a country which is travelling back into the dark ages under the present administration.

What makes the news even more exciting is that China has a population of 1.411 billion¹, the largest of any country in the world. And approximately 30% of them are aged between 0 – 24 years². That is a lot of young people, and they will be the ones to shape the country’s future.

Can we hope this is a turning point in Chinese attitudes towards animals and Nature? There have been some exciting trends in the last couple of years –

  • Just last week at a media event in Beijing, China announced it will host the 11th World Wilderness Congress (Wild11) in 2019
  • In 2016 the Chinese government formulated a vision to become the ecological civilization of the 21st century
  • Also in 2016, this vast country – which accompanying its growing affluence had seen an off-the-scale increase in demand for meat and diary in the last couple of decades – announced its plan to cut meat consumption by 50% – a move warmly welcomed by environmentalists and animal-lovers alike
  • And in 2017, then the market for 70% of ivory, China announced its ban on the ivory trade
  • Now “China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA) earlier this month announced it will dramatically curb commercial development of coastal wetlands. “I’ve never heard of anything quite so monumental,” says Nicola Crockford of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds U.K., which has worked to protect habitat of migratory birds in China and elsewhere.”

Does China need to keep making changes? It so does. In spite of there being a growing animal advocacy movement in recent years, the country and its people at large still have a reputation for horrific cruelty to animals.

Bear bile farming 

Bears are kept in cages sometimes so small they cannot stand up or turn around in them. Bile is extracted from the living bear’s gallbladder as an ingredient for traditional Chinese medicine. Most of the bears are starved and dehydrated and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumours that end up killing them.

Dogs and cats

Are cruelly slaughtered for their meat. Often they are stolen pets. They suffer broken limbs being transported vast differences without food or water to meat markets.

Animal in Zoos

Kept in small barren cages. Some such as elephants in chains. Live (and terrified) hens, cows, donkeys and pigs are dropped into the enclosure of lions and tigers for the entertainment of the crowds. The animals are often cruelly broken by trainers to force them to perform. Tigers and lions have their teeth ripped and claws ripped out. Babies are removed from their mothers for lucrative photo ops.

Donkeys for Ejaio

Donkeys hit with sledgehammers before having their throats slit. Then skinned. Their skins are rendered down into ejaio, a gelatin considered to be a cure for all ills in traditional Chinese medicine.

Illegal imports of endangered animal parts in huge quantities from around the world

Animals Used in Science

Even now Chinese scientists have announced their breakthrough cloning of 2 macaques. They and further cloned monkeys will be used for animal testing. Scientists have also perfected the technology for creating the human/pig hybrid – ‘incubating’ human hearts in pigs. The intention is to use pigs to produce a regular supply for human heart transplants.

At this point China has no kind of animal welfare laws in place. There is much that needs to change if we are to credit the country with any sense of humanity towards nonhuman animals. So, if these Animal Welfare classes can open up Chinese youth to a newfound empathy with and compassion for their fellow creatures, we can hope for some big changes in the not-too-distant-future. For once, some animal news to get excited about!

(The cover photo is there simply because I couldn’t resist its absolute gorgeousness. Hopefully the endangered red panda will eventually be a beneficiary of this step forward in the education of Chinese children.)


China, of course is scarcely the only culprit treating animals with scant regard for their welfare. It has to be said that even in countries like the UK and the US with long established animal protection laws, there are still so many ways both domesticated animals and wildlife experience cruelty at human hands.


8th March 2018 Massive new panda national park in China will try to save the iconic species

¹Demographics of China



High Schools Across China Are Now Offering Animal Welfare Courses! – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet

Facts about Cruelty to Animals in Asia

China moves to protect coastal wetlands used by migratory birds

Related posts

World First – China’s Bird Airport

Hands Clasped Across the River for Two Big Cats

The Next Extinction – Donkeys??

When Everyone is Telling You Meat is the Bad Guy


Taking the Lid Off Animal Research Labs -Don’t Worry, It’s All Good

If I said to you, “You are invited inside an animal research lab, free to venture where you will on an open access, 360-degree, street-view-style virtual tour,” what would you think?

Would you even want to – even in the interests of arming yourself with the facts? What if I added, “Don’t worry, there is absolutely nothing here to upset you”? Would you be ready to believe me and give it a go?

Well, it’s for real – times 4. Four animal testing facilities in the UK opened up their doors and welcomed in the film crew of the Lab Animal Tour. And so with this groundbreaking initiative, you and I, anyone and his aunt can now nosey around inside the labs to our heart’s content. Just click on the link.

I promise you will be impressed and reassured. It’s all gleaming and spotless and the animals are so well looked after – not that you will see that much of them. But when you do, they are looking healthy and well-fed, with clean dry bedding and constant access to water. Their pens or cages for the most part are of a ‘decent’ size, you might think. And they are not being kept in isolation. The very worst I saw was an apparently willing and calm rhesus macaque monkey placed in some contraption designed to keep him/her immobilised while being slid into an MRI machine. Not too terrible, one might consider.

What’s more, there are little videos embedded in the tour, with researchers or animal-carers explaining what they are doing and why. And it’s all very nice, clean and reasonable, and entirely devoid of anything remotely cruel or bloody.


Notably and significantly, certain rooms on our virtual tour such as the operating theatre, the post-mortem suite and the intensive care unit are displayed with no animal presence. We only get to view these rooms empty, in all their nice, shiny, glass and steel clinical cleanliness. But just the names of those rooms must surely sound alarm bells.

The Lab Animal Tour, a commendable project in open access and transparency? Open access yes. Transparency no. As you may have worked out by now, my take on the Lab Animal Tour is more than a little sceptical. The Lab Animal Tour is no better than a PR exercise, a carefully sanitised piece of propaganda on behalf of those who have no interest in animal testing coming to an end.

So who created the tour? And how is it funded?

It’s all the work of an organisation called Understanding Animal Research (UAR), a misleadingly innocuous title. Who are they? “A not-for-profit organisation that explains why animals are used in medical and scientific research. We aim to achieve a broad understanding of the humane use of animals in medical, veterinary, scientific and environmental research in the UK. We are funded by our members who include universities, professional societies, industry and charities.”

In other words, the force behind the Lab Animal Tour is none other than the designated spokesbody for the researchers themselves. Faultless PR is UAR’s remit, not impartiality.

Understanding Animal Research’s website purports to tell you everything you need to know about animal research in the UK. This is a flavour of their list of ‘Myths’ we the public have ‘erroneously’ swallowed about the use of animals in medical research – which they are at pains to debunk:

  • Research on animals is not relevant to people because animals are different from people
  • Systematic reviews demonstrate that animal studies are meaningless for human health
  • There is an endless list of drugs that have to be withdrawn because of side effects, and these side effects are a major cause of hospital deaths
  • Many pointless, unnecessary experiments are carried out
  • Researchers do not care about the wellbeing of laboratory animals
  • Laboratory animals suffer great pain and distress

How could we be so stupid as to believe such nonsense! There are lots more supposed ‘myths’ listed on this page. If you want to look at them and see the ‘facts’ with which the organisation puts us straight on our delusions, click here

Animal Aid though, paints a very different picture

The difference is that Animal Aid (with assistance from PETA) is courageously uncovering the truth animal researchers are at such pains to conceal. UAR’s carefully-edited version of life in the lab is designed to reassure a public only too happy to believe that testing on animals is both necessary and humane. After all, which would you prefer to be true: that animals suffer, or that everything is fine?

According to Animal Aid,“Each year inside British laboratories, around 4 million animals are experimented on. Every 8 seconds, one animal dies.” No mention of that in the Lab Animal Tour. And these are just some of the unhappy animals making up that number, everyone a person not a statistic

There’s a short video on Animal Aid’s website, “This will make you rethink animal experiments”, which I chose not to watch. So just to warn you, I can’t vouch for how graphic it is. Their Animal Experiments section is packed with impeccably resourced information. And another important fact you won’t discover on the Lab Animal Tour is that animals are being abused daily, not just for ‘vital’ medical research, but also for testing:-

  • Product safety – agricultural and industrial chemicals, food additives, paints, and household cleaning products
  • Warfare – effects of injury, shooting, radiation, chemical poisoning and gases
  • Pain analysis  I won’t list the tortures animals are subjected to for this purpose. Refer to the Animal Aid website if you really want to know
  • Psychology –  sounds innocent enough, but ditto the above

Animal Aid also tells us that hundreds of thousands of genetically modified animals are specially bred every year, mostly mice. “And for every GM mouse used in an experiment, hundreds more die or are killed, either because they are surplus to requirements, because they fail to exhibit the desired genetic alteration or because they are born with other, unintended malformations.” Another unpalatable fact that the Lab Animal Tour and UAR avoid mentioning.

UAR and their Lab Animal Tour/Animal Aid – diametrically apposed to one another
‘Have no truck with Animal Aid; it is the same lunatic animal rights brigade in a new package. Society must leave these dangerous fools behind’ 

That strongly worded statement appears on UAR’s website, on a page called Life Stories – ordinary people bearing witness to how animal testing “has changed their lives for the better.”

It’s unlikely any of us have ever heard of David Dade, the man who made that statement, and one whose ‘Life Story’ is featured. This unfortunate man has both parents suffering from cancer, and his son from diabetes. Understandable then that he’s willing to provide a testimonial for a website promoting the use of nonhuman animals in medical research.

He’s possibly unaware of what a glance at Animal Aid’s website would tell him: the large and growing number of reliable alternative methods – such as organs on a chip, and the use of human tissue – that can make animal testing a bad dream of the past.

The moral of the story?

It has to be, looking out for what we are not shown, not told. People who have something to gain by using animals, in whatever way, are always expert at putting a gloss on their activities. Think McDonald’s and their ads with kids and animals frolicking happily together on a picture-perfect farm.

Compared with other users of nonhuman animals though, the Lab Animal Tour, UAR and lab animal researchers in general have an additional and potent weapon up their sleeve. They claim to have moral right on their side. No-one is morally obliged to eat meat, or take a trip to the zoo. But who, they say, could be so callous as to deny those suffering from crippling diseases the hope of a cure? That is the way subjecting unwilling victims to horrific, and sometimes fatal procedures is justified.

What we can do

Click here for Animal Aid’s useful pdf document about human tissue donation (to donate your tissue you don’t have to die first!)

To ensure your charitable giving does not help fund research on animals click here for a comprehensive list of testing and non-testing charities.

Sign up to receive Animal Aid’s e-newsletter here

Check out the Humane Research Trust

And Animal Free Research UK


Source New project gives you 360-degree, Open Street-like view into animal research labs

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Throwing Wide the Window on Animal Testing – A Blessing or a Curse?

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Throwing Wide the Window on Animal Testing – A Blessing or a Curse?

“Biomedical research using animals is a largely secretive process and the public knows little about what goes on in research labs.”

In my recent web meanderings, I stumbled across a site called AnimalTestInfo.
Apparently – I wasn’t aware of this, but maybe you were – in 2010 the EU issued one of its famous/infamous directives requiring every member state to publish open access summaries of animal research taking place in their country.
AnimalTestInfo is Germany’s response to that directive.  It takes the form of an online repository for those research summaries. As yet I haven’t been able to discover if and how other member nations have responded to the directive with their own open access websites. Maybe you have? (If this all sounds very academic, dry and dusty, please bear with it a little longer – it could possibly be a matter of life and death to millions of animals.)

What is Open Access?

“Open access is about making the products of research freely accessible to all. It allows research to be disseminated quickly and widely, the research process to operate more efficiently, and increased use and understanding of research by business, government, charities and the wider public.” ¹

AnimalTestInfo’s emphasis is on the public. It describes its purpose as publishing generally understandable, non-technical project summaries of approved animal experiments in Germany.”

That has to be a blessing, right?

No more concealment behind closed doors. Anyone and everyone can access the information and see which animals are involved, what is happening inside those formerly secretive labs. The hope has to be that with free and open access to animal testing information, the public will be moved to rethink their support for it, and start demanding alternative cruelty-free methods of research.

And the gains for the animals may not be confined to a hoped-for shift in public perception. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), which authorises the animal tests in the first place, has done a pilot study of the summaries researchers have uploaded to the AnimalTestInfo site. The study matched the test summaries against the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems – the ICD system. This gives the BfR “a fine-grained overview of the use of animal testing”, which they claim will be an aid in minimising the harm to the animals in accord with the 3Rs:

  • Replacement – methods which avoid or replace the use of animals
  • Reduction – methods which minimise the number of animals used per experiment
  • Refinement – methods which minimise animal suffering and improve welfare

So that’s got to be good too. Hasn’t it?

Trouble is, national bodies that authorise the tests in the first place (like the BfR in Germany and the Home Office in the UK) are only too ready to trot out the 3Rs mantra – if you doubt my word, just write to your MP about animal testing and see what comes back. I’ll put on a white rat costume and lock myself in a cage in front of the Palace of Westminster on the day of 2018’s State Opening of Parliament if you get a response that doesn’t mention how hard the government is working to implement the 3Rs. (Maybe I should do that anyway.)

In reality do they pay the 3Rs anything more than lip service? Both in the UK and in the US the numbers of animals on which lab tests are performed continue to rise. And between 2011 – 2016 the rise in Germany was a huge 35%. So much for replacement and reduction.

The down side

AnimalTestInfo is of course in German, so maybe not that that easy for non-German speakers like me to navigate. It’s “Search” though clicks open to invite you to pick the particular lab animal you are interested in – and it’s a big and unhappy list:

Mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, Mongolian gerbils, other rodents, cats, dogs, rabbits, ferrets, other carnivores, horses, donkeys and crossbreeds, pigs, goats, sheep cows, lemurs, marmoset and tamarin monkeys, macaques, rhesus monkeys, meerkats, baboons, squirrel monkeys, other species of nonhuman primates, apes, other mammals, domestic fowl, other birds, reptiles, frogs, other amphibians, zebrafish, other fish, and cephalopods.


That’s the first shock.

The second is that German scientists have been adding their summaries to the site at the rate of 3,000 per year. That has to be 3,000 too many.

The curse

And the third lies in this statement: that BfR believes its analysis of the summaries on the website will reveal

“new insights about animal testing ….[which] could enable the public to easily pinpoint who might benefit from controversial studies involving non-human primates.”

In other words, the belief is that if the great German public can see that this or that animal test is conducted in the cause of finding cures for horrible conditions like cancer, stroke or heart disease, it will strengthen public support for what might otherwise be seen as abhorrent abuse of nonhuman primates. It will be accepted as a necessity that no reasonable person could deny.

And will simply offer up on a plate to scientists a publicly-sanctioned justification for their continued abuse of sentient animals in nightmarish research – animals who experience psychological trauma, and feel pain, fear and loneliness as much as we do – to get test results that in all likelihood will never be replicated in humans.

Only time will tell which way the open access scales will tilt for our nonhuman fellow animals. Will the blessing outweigh the curse? I’d like to think so, but somehow I doubt it.

For facts and figures on animal testing click here An overview of testing in the US here And to look behind the numbers and see how to help click here


On BBC iPlayer you can see the #ChimpSanctuary in Louisiana where more than 200 chimps used for medical testing in US labs have been retired to, and another 200 are due to arrive. Be warned though – there is horrifying undercover lab footage filmed by PETA, 33 minutes in.

But an absolute must-see (48 minutes into the program) is the first meeting of the female chimps with the males, who together will form a new family troop. Once they have bonded they will be released into a forested area of the sanctuary, to live out the rest of their lives in a way that is as near as possible to what would have been their natural life in the wild.

Disappointingly, in spite of the program revealing something of the trauma suffered by the chimps, and though the US National Institutes of Health have now drawn a line under the use of these primates, the assumption remains in the program’s narrative that it is ethically acceptable to use nonhuman animals in lab tests in the interest of improving human health. An assumption with which I cannot agree.


¹Higher Education Funding Council for England

Tracking planned experiments online could spot ways to improve animal testing

Action needed as numbers of animals used in experiments rise in Europe

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You Love Animals Right? Your Brain IS Different from Those Who Don’t

Is the human race divided into two tribes, those who love animals and those who don’t? Yes, it seems so. But what makes us this way? If only we could open a window into the human brain and see what is going on in there, what it is that makes one ‘tribe’ so different from the other.

Oh, hang on – we can. Exactly what was revealed when neuroscientist Massimo Filippi and his team did just that, opened that window, we will come to very shortly.

We’ve already seen in his fascinating book The Animals Among Us, John Bradshaw delving deep into the past to unravel the threads of our relationship with domesticated animals. He uncovers an evolutionary forking of the path – one group of humanity opting to settle, begin domesticating and living with animals, while the other remained hunting, marauding nomads.

Through the generations, passing those tameness genes down, the domesticated cats and dogs, cattle and sheep gradually got tamer. And at the same time the humans who lived with animals passed down their own evolving animal-loving genes to their descendants.

Meanwhile, the nomads found themselves an easy living without the trouble of making animals a part of their daily lives, by raiding the others’ settlements and stealing theirs. Animal-lover of animal-unlover, whichever group we fall into, that is very likely how we came to be. With apologies to John Bradshaw for squeezing what takes a book to explain into an ever-so-slightly oversimplified couple of paragraphs!

Now back to Massimo & co and their window into the brain

Their project set out to measure and compare the levels of empathy towards other humans and towards nonhuman animals in 3 different groups: omnivores, ethical vegetarians, and ethical vegans. By ethical we mean those who are veg*n for the animals rather than say, simply for their own health.

All the participants were first given an ‘Empathy Quotient’ survey to complete. Social cognitive neuroscientist Claus Lamm’s definition of empathy might be useful at this point:

“When we are confronted with another person [human or nonhuman] – say, someone in pain – our brains respond not just by observing, but by copying the experience. Empathy results in emotion sharing. I don’t just know what you are feeling, I create an emotion in myself.

Next, using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) they showed the different groups images of human suffering and animal suffering, and monitored their brain activity to establish exactly what was happening inside these people’s heads.

The results of the fMRI:

  • The veggies and vegans showed more activity in empathy-related areas of the brain to images of both human and nonhuman suffering than the omnis
  • The veggies and vegans responded more strongly to the animal suffering than the human suffering
  • The vegans responded more strongly than the veggies to animal suffering
  • The veggies reacted more strongly than the vegans to human suffering
  • The omnis reacted more to the human suffering than the animal suffering
  • Both vegans and veggies showed reduced activity in the amygdala, which means that they were trying hard to control their emotions. Especially the vegans

All of which corresponded with the results from that preliminary EQ survey.

The study does leave some questions unanswered. For example, wouldn’t it be important to know which nonhuman animals appeared in the images? Were they dogs, cats, rats or hens? If they weren’t companion animals, might not cognitive dissonance have come into play for the omnis? After all, veg*ns don’t hold exclusive rights on loving animals, do they?

Cognitive dissonance – a brief excursion into the secret that enables our crazy species to both love animals and eat them. This is how it works:

In our Western culture we are socially conditioned to see animals as falling into specific groups defined entirely by how we humans relate to them, and how useful they are to us. We absorb this way of thinking completely unconsciously from our mother’s knee, and everything we encounter throughout our childhood, books, movies, games, toys, advertising, reinforces the construct.

So we have:

Wild Animals with whom we have little contact

Utility Animals who ‘work’ for us – horses, donkeys, farm and police dogs and so on

Food Animals – cows, pigs, sheep, hens

Animals for entertainment – racehorses, greyhounds, circus animals, animals in zoos and aquaria

Animals for ‘education’ – animals in labs, zoos and aquaria, in schools and universities

Companion Animals – pet dogs, cats, hamsters, budgies etc

And let us not forget

Vermin – this category can be made to emcompass any species from buzzards to badgers that humans discover reasons for finding ‘a nuisance’

What makes veg*ns different, is that they have broken down and demolished this construct. To them it matters not whether it is a woodlouse or a wolf, a chicken or a cheetah. A life is a life, and each and every one matters and has a right to live free from harm and exploitation. But might it not make a difference which animals’ pics were shown to the omnivorous participants? As they remain captive to that social conditioning which compels them to allot a category to different animals, some animals might matter to them more than others.

That aside, it’s no surprise that omnis responded more to human suffering than animal, or that for the veg*ns it was the reverse. The interesting finding was that the veg*ns were more responsive to suffering overall than the omnis. Yet most veg*ns including me, started life omnivorous.

So do the study’s results mean we were born with an innate empathy that turned us into vegans, or did becoming vegan make us more empathetic? Who knows.

If we fail to imagine what animals might be feeling, ” we could do a great deal of harm, and put suffering in the world that doesn’t need to be there”

Philosopher Janet Stemwedel

One thing the findings do, is cast doubt on how effective it is for animal advocates to try ‘converting’ omnivores by showing them images of the misery endured by so many animals at human hands. The response might fall disappointingly short of a ‘road to Damascus’ experience. The research shows that for some, seeing is not necessarily feeling.

But it isn’t only written in the genes. The brain has plasticity – it is capable of being moulded. So let’s take the hopeful view and assume that becoming vegan helped make us more empathetic. And that omnivores may have more of those nomadic raiders’ genes with an animal-disconnect. But they are also profoundly conditioned, as we all are or have been, in their attitudes to nonhuman animals by the prevailing norms of our society.

Do you love animals but still eat them? Here is one eloquent, passionate man who may be able to change your mind. Philip Wollen, tearing down those malignant social norms – so inhumane towards nonhuman animals, and indeed, so disastrously damaging for humankind and the planet itself.

Help to go vegan here



Veg*n Brains & Animal Suffering

Empathy for Animals is all about us

The Conceptual Separation of Food and Animals in Childhood

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Millennials Are Veggie Because They Don’t Know Any Better!

Who says so? A certain Richard Kottmeyer addressing the ‘2017 Chicken Marketing Summit’

The industry has a problem. Millennials just don’t want to eat their chickens. Kottmeyer, senior partner at the Farm to Fork Advisory Services, acknowledges it’s a challenge marketing ‘poultry products’ to them, and appears to be struggling to dredge up reasons for their entirely unreasonable behaviour. Judge for yourself.
Reason No.1
Millennials believe they are self-experts. They ”believe”, he says, they can find things out for themselves using Google as their source of information. And I guess there’s plenty on the web the poultry industry would prefer they didn’t see.
Kottmeyer’s strange answer to this particular marketing problem is, “Common sense has to replace [the] complexity of data and science.” He reckons if you approach millennials only with science-based information, they think poultry producers have something to hide. Well, don’t they?
Is it significant, I wonder, that this marketing summit took place in North Carolina, one of the handful of states that succeeded in getting ag-gag laws passed, making it illegal for whistleblowers to expose the cruelty and horrors hidden behind the doors of the livestock industry?
I don’t follow Kottmeyer’s logic, but I’d love to know what science-based information the industry could possibly offer millennials that would convince them eating chicken was a great idea. Or even how a ”commonsense” approach might do the trick. Mr Kottmeyer fails to specify.
Reason No.2
He continues. This generation is all about the character of a brand. ”Millennials relate to companies’ products with which they can see a benefit, even if they don’t exactly know what that benefit means.” Translation: millennials are dumb.
Reason No.3
Food has become a statement, so chicken is no longer just chicken.


Take, he says, the appeal of products labelled organic, ”even if the consumer doesn’t fully understand what that label means. The consumer may simply believe the product to be better because it’s labeled differently.”
Translation: millennials are dumb. Is he seriously suggesting the factory farmers slap a different label on the dead bodies in the supermarkets and we’ll all start buying them again?
K’s Reason No.4
Pets are now millennials’ ‘children’ and they trust their vets more than their own doctors. What millennials don’t understand, he says, is that those same vets are treating Big Food’s poultry and other livestock.
They probably don’t ‘understand’ it because the same vets are not treating both companion animals and livestock! Is Kottmeyer implying that the industry’s livestock receive the same kind of care as companion animals, and for marketing ‘poultry products’ to difficult-to-manipulate millennials, this could be a way in?
Reason No.5
Millennials believe in transparency. Well, why wouldn’t they? Kottmeyer bizarrely cites as evidence for this claim that 9 out of 10 of millennial women have taken and shared nude, or semi-nude pictures of themselves. The marketing conclusion he draws from this statistic is that brands need to be as naked and vulnerable as millennials. (I know!)
”If your brand isn’t naked, it isn’t going to last very long,” he says. We live in hope Mr K.
Reason No.6
Millennials struggle with self-identity, he says. He bases this assertion – again, bizarrely – on the apparent fact that there are 58 ways to gender-identify now on Facebook. Are you starting to wonder, like me, if Mr K has a few snapped synapses inside that head of his?
This means, he believes, that millennials are lost, and ”don’t know what to believe other than to follow the trend.” Translation: millennials are dumb.
Poultry and other meat producers must create that trend.”
Kottmeyer sums up
Millennials are lost souls, don’t know who they are, or what they want. They just follow trends they believe are popular. All they “need [is] to be inspired and coached,” by the poultry industry, naturally. In your dreams Mr K.
Therefore he concludes, poultry producers need to create a trend of their own, “a soulful brand that stands for something and allows the millennial to relate to the company.” 
Find me the “soulful” in this. All I see is callous disregard & death
Now for the truth without the marketing spin – the real reasons millennials are rejecting Big Food’s ‘poultry products’
  • The vast majority of hens are bred to grow so big so quickly the poor creatures’ legs buckle and give way under their own weight so they can no longer stand
  • To cut costs factory farmers commonly change the hens’ litter only every few months, or even once a year. So hens who are generally sent to slaughter at 6 -7 weeks are lying in the waste of who knows how many hens before them. The result: hens suffering ammonia burns, respiratory diseases, and eye problems
  • Conditions are so bad, at least 139 million hens in the U.S. annually, maybe more, die before they even reach an age to get sent to slaughter. 139 million wretched and entirely wasted lives
  • Those who do get to slaughter are shackled upside down by their feet, then shocked in an electrified water tank before having their throats slit, some still conscious
  • The worker on the slaughter line slits 140 hens’ throats per minute, more than 2 birds every second. Now, in line with Trump’s de-regulatory agenda the National Chicken Council is petitioning the USDA to permit poultry plants to operate “at any line speed” they can safely handle, freeing them from the 140 birds-per-minute limit


Chicken production quote john webster

If you can bear it, watch this. THIS is the real reason why millennials don’t want your chicken, Mr Kottmeyer. No amount of clever marketing can disguise the truth.

And if you’re not already, you might want to go vegan. Find out how here


Millennials and livestock: A mindset worth changingWATTAgNet

Big Food Is Worried About Millennials Avoiding Animal Products – EcoWatch

Another Obama decision reversed? – NBC News

Related posts

Can You Help Save the 19 Billion?

8 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Hens

The Real Truth in Numbers About the Farming of Animals


Cecilia Blazes the Trail – Or Does She?

20 year old Cecilia is famous. So much so, she will surely go down in history. Marcelino, her ‘boy next door’ at Sorocaba Great Apes Sanctuary in Brazil, is turning on all his charm for his sweet neighbour. He thinks she’s pretty special but he, like Cecilia herself, has no idea just how special.
Last November (2016) chimp Cecilia became the first animal ever to have been adjudged a nonhuman person in a court of law.

The judgement by the court in Mendoza Argentina granting Cecilia habeas corpus meant release, finally, from the cramped zoo she’d been confined in her entire life. Up until that memorable day it was all she had ever known, a miserable life made even more wretched by the deaths of her lifelong friends and companions, Charly and Xuxa. Can you imagine it. Cecilia was left heartbroken and alone.

It’s little wonder then, even after four months at Sorocaba she is still depressed. It takes more than a few short months of freedom and loving care to obliterate the emotional scars of 20 years imprisonment.

Cecilia, though special in terms of legal history, is just one of the many traumatised chimps, trafficked and mistreated in circuses and zoos before finding a safe haven at Sorocaba. “It is very important to talk to them so they don’t feel lonely,” says Merivan Miranda, one of the 30 carers. “So that they know there is someone there who understands them.”

When she first arrived, Cecilia “used to spend all her time lying down and did not interact with anyone,” says sanctuary vet Camila Gentille. Before handsome Marcelino moved in as her neighbour, the sanctuary staff had already tried a bit of matchmaking with Billy, but Billy was “too impulsive” for sad Cecilia.

But she is slowly getting better. And now, when Marcelino calls to her, she is starting to show him some interest, and even joining in the conversation.

Pedro Ynterian, director of the sanctuary, is certain that with time Cecilia will overcome her depression.“That is what she is seeking to do, so that she can partner with someone, and stop living alone.

“And she will manage to do it.”

Cecilia – now a person, no longer property.


Tommy, Kiko, Hercules & Leo

You may already know these guys as the chimp clients of the altogether awesome lawyer Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project. Unlike Cecilia though, their right to be designated nonhuman persons under the law has been denied by a succession of presiding judges in New York courts.

Woeful as this is for the 4 chimps – and all the others for whom the precedent would be set – Steven though disappointed is undaunted. He remains utterly convinced that advocacy for legal personhood and not advocacy for welfare improvements is the way forward for the animals.

Here is the upbeat opening of his keynote speech at the recent Animal Rights National Conference 2017:-

“It’s the beginning of the end of the age of animal welfare and animal protection and the end of the beginning of the age of civil rights, true legal rights, for nonhuman animals.

“It is the beginning of the end of activists having to beg and plead and cajole other human beings in an effort to get them to do the right thing for nonhuman animals, to get them to try to respect the fundamental interests of nonhuman animals, whose interests are presently invisible in courtrooms, invisible to civil law. And it’s the end of the beginning of the struggle for personhood and the civil rights of nonhuman animals for whom we demand those fundamental legal rights to which justice and equity and scientific fact entitle them.”

Steven continues (my paraphrasing):

There have been laws to protect animals’ welfare in America since the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties which stated, “(n)o man shall exercise any Tirranny or crueltie toward any bruite Creatures which are usuallie kept for man’s use.” But to what extent, if at all, things have improved for animals “usuallie kept for man’s use” in the last 376 years is open to dispute. In spite of animal welfare laws working their way on to statute books in most countries and states, they remain, in Steven’s words, “pathetically ineffective”)

And there are other problems with pushing for improvements in animal welfare. One is that those who make money from them, the meat companies, the farms, the labs, the circuses, the zoos, the puppy mills can always, and often do, choose to ignore our advocacy on the animals’ behalf.

Another is that even if the owners of the animal ‘property’, or their political representatives do yield to public concerns, what has been conceded can as easily be revoked. Take the hard won successes for animals former President Obama signed into federal law. Along comes Trump – no friend of animals he, nor indeed of anything else much except money – and with one stroke of the pen, he can strike them out. Indeed, some are already consigned to the presidential trashcan, and more look like heading that way.

High welfare or low, protected or not, the animals still have “the problem of being a thing versus being a person.” 

“For years I have talked about a great legal wall that exists, and has existed, for 2000 years between things and persons. On the ‘thing’ side of the wall, today, in 2017, are all the nonhuman animals of the world. You have to understand what a legal thing is.

“A legal thing is an entity that lacks the capacity for any kind of a legal right. It lacks inherent value. It only has instrumental value for legal persons.

“It is a slave to the master. A legal person is a master to the slave. All of us here are legal persons. We are the owners of things, whether that thing is an elephant or this podium.”

But you don’t have to be a human being to be a legal ‘person’. A corporation can be a person. In india a mosque, a Hindu idol, the Sikh holy books are all legal persons. In New Zealand a river and a national park are both persons under that country’s law.

Let’s not forget Cecilia. And in July this year the Supreme Court in Colombia declared a bear a person and issued a writ of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus gives the right to bodily liberty and can only be granted to a legal person.

Today the NhRP is working with lawyers in 13 countries on 4 continents “to help them win personhood for as many nonhuman animals in as many countries as we possibly can.”

In the USA the NhRP will shortly be filing a lawsuit for elephants, and moving against the captivity of orcas at SeaWorld San Diego.

Steven finds a parallel between US courts denying his nonhuman clients personhood, and personhood being denied in the past to black and Native Americans, and women – unthinkable as that is to us now.

“They were wrong then. They are wrong now”

“With respect to the judges who are ruling that way now, at some point they, or their children, or their grandchildren are going to be embarrassed by the fact that they said such things in cases involving such extraordinary beings as chimpanzees or orcas or elephants.”

I am certain Steven is right. But much as I wish for it, I cannot see how this is going to help all the myriads of other animals in the world. Steven and his team have based the arguments they bring to court on the basis of the autonomy of their (at present captive) clients. The NhRP’s plaintiffs are members of species who have been scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous: currently, great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales.” In their natural state, in the wild, a chimp, an elephant, a dolphin and an orca are all animals, it is universally agreed, who make their own decisions and determine their own lives. That autonomy NhRP says, is more than sufficient for them to be deemed persons. (Remember, you have to be a person to have the right to bodily liberty)

But what of other wildlife – pigeons, rats, frogs, fleas? Aren’t they autonomous too? Don’t they have a right to bodily liberty? But what judge is going to concede their personhood?

And what of the billions and billions of farmed animals? There are massive vested interests determined that cows, pigs, hens and sheep should never be considered autonomous and entitled to legal rights as persons.

Take this, for example, from the Animal Agriculture Alliance‘s home page: “Radical activist organizations are leading the fight to grant animals the same legal rights as humans and eliminate the consumption of food and all other products derived from animals. The ideology of the animal rights movement- that animals are not ours to own, enjoy, or use in any way- is a direct assault on farmers and pet owners.”

In June last year Canadian MPs voted down Nathaniel Erskine-Smith’s Bill C-246 — the Modernizing Animal Protections Act. Mr Erskine-Smith was not proposing animals should be designated persons in law. Nevertheless, Tory MP Robert Sopuck voiced the strong concerns of many about the idea of moving animals out of the property section of the Criminal Code and placing them into the public morals section. He said such a step would have “drastic implications” for farmers, hunters, trappers, anglers, and medical researchers. Clearly many of his fellow MPs agreed. The bill was defeated 198 to 84.

How will these nonhuman animals ever cross that wall that Steven talks about from property to personhood? Humans, especially those who exploit nonhuman animals for profit, will never be willing to give up the power bestowed on them by ownership. And unfortunately, it’s humans who make the laws that decide on the status of animals, and humans who enforce them.

“The Nonhuman Rights Project now, and we hope others in the future, are no longer going to ask. We are going to demand the rights that nonhuman animals are entitled to. The day of animal welfare and animal protection is passing and will soon be over.”

Fighting talk Steven, fighting talk. I so wish it could be true.

Please sign the Declaration of Animal Rights

Watch “Unlocking the Cage” – Full movie

Can You Help Save the Nineteen Billion?

A truly disturbing fact I never knew until now, maybe you did. There are way more hens than people in the world. Nineteen billion in fact, 3 hens to every 1 human. And the numbers just keep rising.
( I like to call these clever, social birds hens rather than chickens. Chicken is their flesh, not their personhood.)


To mark yesterday’s National Poultry Day, and in the run up to Easter when chicks and eggs traditionally take centre stage, here’s what I’ve gleaned from three recent pieces about hens, and indeed chicken, the meat:-

First up

Will Brexit & Trump really force us to eat chlorine-washed chicken?

Well, that’s a pretty unpleasant sentence all round, isn’t it? And the implications are even worse. Certain farming practices in the USA such as the use of specific antibiotics, pesticides and growth hormones, and yes, washing chicken in chlorinated water, are  banned on health and environmental grounds under EU law. Which of course applies to the UK at the present time – but in the future, who knows?

“That could all be set to change—at least in Britain. There are worries that the UK Government may be about to open the door to hormone-pumped beef, pesticide-treated wheat, eggs from poor welfare hens, and swimming pool chicken.”

Because right at the top of Theresa May’s wishlist as she negotiates the UK’s withdrawal from Europe is a trade deal with the States. Chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation Bob Young is on record as saying if any deal is to be struck, the UK will have to lift its current (EU) ban on US food products.

This is what we could be exposed to:

including the trauma endured by those millions of hapless hens.


Did you know that in the USA

  • There are no federal laws governing the conditions in which farmed animals are raised?
  • The majority of farmed animal suffering is exempt from state criminal anti-cruelty laws?
  • Many individual state criminal anti-cruelty laws exempt “standard” or “commonly accepted” agricultural practices?¹

Let’s hope those pics of PM May holding Donald Trump’s hand aren’t an ominous sign of things to come.

Our premier says not:”We are committed to maintaining, where possible improving, standards of welfare in the UK”. But haven’t we seen politicians of every hue executing spectacular u-turns when under pressure?

And in Mrs May’s statement the sting is in the tail: “while ensuring of course that our industry is not put at a competitive disadvantage.” Mmm, seems she’s already feeling the hot breath of the National Farmers Union on her back. They’re demanding a level playing field for meat sales and if that means lowering standards to US levels, so be it, is their thinking.

Read more here

The answer of course is in our hands (see below)


Crisis in the Chicken Coop

For the first time in 100 years those champion meat-eaters of the world, the Americans, are eating less beef. Sadly, although they are eating less beef, they are eating a lot more chicken. And it’s likely numbers will rise. By 2018 chicken consumption is expected to reach over 200lbs per head per annum in the US. There are at least 3 reasons for the trend away from beef to chicken:

  1. Health warnings. Folk are getting the message that red meat is linked to cancer, heart disease and diabetes. They see chicken as the healthier option.
  2. The message of livestock farming’s extravagantly huge environmental footprint is getting through, at least to some.
  3. And the deal-clincher: beef prices are nearly double what they were a decade ago, and now more than double the price of chicken.


If you think about it pound for pound of meat, in terms of hen’s feet on the ground this actually means an even greater number of individual nonhuman animals suffering at the hands of agribusiness for the benefit of consumers. This is why One Step for Animals focuses exclusively on hens. The numbers are the greatest. Therefore so is the need.


Nearly all of those 19 billion hens live a life of appalling suffering that has to be kept hidden from the eyes of the chicken-eating public who have no idea of what is going on behind closed doors. In Defense of Animals describes it like this:

“In less than 50 days from the time she is born, her bones will break beneath her own weight. By that time her breast valued only for the quantity of its white meat and not the gentle animal inside will be so massive, she will no longer be able to walk to the water bowl. Left in her own urine and feces and the bodily waste produced by up to 60,000 other chickens in the warehouse, her skin will blister and burn until the day she is brought to slaughter.”

Help expose the horrors these gentle souls are made to endure by supporting IDA’s appeal to fund a secret Easter rescue mission that reveals once and for all how cruel and unnatural factory farming is for chickens, and documents the story of the chicks and chickens rescued to inspire others to choose alternative plant-based sources of protein.”

Donate here

But let’s wind up on a happier note – this is what you won’t be exposed to if you choose not to eat the flesh of the hen


Maybe, just maybe, ‘clean meat’ will be the answer for those who still want to satisfy their chicken cravings – enter Memphis Meats’ first lab-grown chicken. Churchill’s prophesy was spot on:
“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”— Winston Churchill, Fifty Years Hence (1931)
©Memphis Meats

The company served its chicken and duck strips at an event in San Francisco last week and it passed the taste test. All the testers/tasters liked it and said they would happily eat it again.

A pound of the stuff at $9,000 is not quite as expensive as the first lab-grown burger which came in at $325,000. The plan is to bring the price tag down to the level of supermarket chicken by 2021.

Even so Memphis Meats will have its work cut out making significant inroads into the quantities of factory-farmed chicken the average American is currently eating in a year.

Clean meat is so much more environmentally friendly than the other kind. Studies show clean meat would potentially use 96% less greenhouse gas emission, 45% less energy, 99% less land and 96% less water than meat from animal agriculture.

Of course the meat though ‘clean’ in that it is grown from stem cells humanely harvested one would hope from live animals and only a few at that, is not vegan as the Beyond Burger grown in the lab entirely from plant cells most definitely is.

Read more here

What we can do

Help save the 19 billion by supporting the work of ADI here

Be prepared to resist detrimental changes to our welfare and environment law here in the UK when the time comes.

Best of all, stop eating animals & go vegan!


¹Farmed Animals & the Law – ALDF


Crisis in the chicken coop – In Defense of Animals

Chicken More Popular Than Beef in US for First Time in 100 Years – Huffington Post

I just ate meat for the first time in 20 years – The Medium

Related posts

8 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Hens

Libby & Louie – A Love Story

Brexit – The Animals’ View


The Stripey Dog, CRISPR & the Chimaera

Cover pic from Pedigree Dogs Exposed

Two news items clicked together in the brain one week last year: one on the surface at least quite frivolous, and the other of such profound significance it has the potential to throw a bomb into life-as-we-know-it and blast us into utterly uncharted terrain.

Let’s start with the harebrained one. Do you remember when designer dogs first became the must-have accessory? Or maybe they always were. But a few years ago, someone came up with the bright idea of taking established breeds and cross-breeding them with each other in the search for the cutest combo-pup. Nowadays, puggles, goldendoodles, labskys and cockerpoos are everywhere. There was, and still is, good money to be made and breeders are cashing in.

Of course, this is nothing new. Humans have been interfering with natural selection for centuries, cross-breeding both animals and plants in the worlds of farming and horticulture, in search of desired ‘improvements’: more productive milk cows; heavier meatier livestock; disease-resistant crops; or just prettier flowers.

But cross-breeding as a way of getting what you want, is so yesterday. Make way for CRISPR.

CRISPR is not a typo, as one might be excused for thinking, describing how omnivores like their breakfast bacon. It is, apparently, the acronym for

Clustered   Regularly   Interspaced   Short   Palindromic   Repeats

Gene-editing to you and me. In the simplest of terms that I can understand, it means cutting out a section of the DNA double helix (see below) with something called Cas9 – biological scissors, in effect – and replacing the removed section with a new piece of DNA- which can be just about anything the scientists want it to be.

Gene-editing CRISPR Cas9 génome DNA double helix

What has made this biotechnology possible are the huge strides in genome mapping over the last couple of decades. Because of course, you don’t want to just cut out any old piece of DNA. Now, because each bit of the double helix can be identified, you can target the exact piece you want to remove, and replace it with the piece of your choice.

So your new designer dog can now be gene-edited any way you want. No more need for crossbreeding, lots more scope for innovation, and better control over results. Genetic-engineer James West has spotted the money-making potential. His Nashville-based firm AgGenetics engineered Angus cattle to have white coats instead of black or brown, to make them more heat-tolerant, thus doubling beef production. (And milk cows are already being gene-edited to be born without horns, so they no longer have to be burned off.)

Inevitably, it didn’t take Mr West long to realise that the change-the-coat-colour technique could be applied to other animals too. He tested his idea on mice, and produced poor little newborns sporting their little fur coats patterned with squares, stripes and spots.


Maybe soon he will be taking orders for the customer’s choice of novelty designer dog picked from an online catalogue. There are so far four colourways: red, brown, yellow and black. And would you prefer squares or stripes, Sir/Madam?

Ludicrous as it sounds, gene-editing for striped dogs provokes serious questions. Who knows where it could lead, and what the implications could be – and not just for dogs?

And the designer stripey dog is one thing, but how about wiping out an entire species at will?

We ran across this even more worrying application for CRISPR earlier this year, in Should We Wipe Mosquitoes off the Face of the Earth? With CRISPR it’s possible, for instance, to delete the mosquito DNA involved in reproduction and replace that section of the sequence with DNA that makes the insect sterile. This ‘permanent solution’ for mosquitoes is being researched for obvious reasons – these insects carry malaria, zika and dengue fever, and by transmitting malaria in particular, have probably killed more than half the humans that have ever lived.

This seems to be the default human mindset: how can we use this new technology for the benefit of our own species before and above all others?

With CRISPR, humanity now holds in its hands the power of god, the power to gene-edit Nature. I’ll say it again,

Man now has the power to gene-edit life itself

And that is a terrifying prospect for us all.

In 2011 a group of geologists called for the recognition of a new era in the history of the Earth – the Anthropocene, to acknowledge the impact of humans on the planet. How much more apt now than it was just five short years ago.

So when we ask that question, how can these new technologies be used to further our own interests, there are other, and even more important questions that need to be addressed: Should we be doing this? What are the ethics controlling our ever-increasing powers? And who gets to decide?

This is what natural scientist and poet Melanie Challenger has to say about the new power we have, to deliberately wipe out a target species if we so choose (as opposed to accidentally wiping out random species which tragically, we’re proving spectacularly successful at)

If we start getting cavalier about the existence of a living being, if we start to think it’s OK to eradicate something because it’s a threat to us, we put other ideas about the sanctity of life in question”

Striped dogs, a world without mosquitoes, can it get any more bizarre and perturbing? Well yes it can – the Chimaera (chimera in the USA), already here. In Greek myth the Chimaera was a monstrous fire-breeding hybrid, a goat-headed lion with a serpent-head tail. These days, we’re more familiar with the electro-petroleum kind of hybrid on four wheels. But the very latest kind of Chimaera hybrid has more in common with the one of Greek myth – it’s a nightmarish combination of human and pig.

So what would you say to Organ Farms?

A while ago I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel ‘Never Let Me Go’. (Spoiler alert if you haven’t yet read it)  As you turn the pages you start to realise the horrible truth, that the young people we are getting to know as they grow up, are in fact clones. Then an even more disturbing truth is revealed – the characters have been created solely for their organs and will undergo a cycle of ‘donations’ until their bodies and their lives are consumed.

Well, reality is catching up with fiction once again. Only, as is always the case in the real world, it’s the infinitely useful nonhuman animal that humans deploy for the task. The unfortunate ‘donors’ will not be human but porcine. Pigs have drawn the short straw because their organs are about the size and weight of human organs. Not that they will be using the animals’ own organs though, because pig organs would be rejected by the human body. So what’s needed for the sick people on the long waiting list for transplants are proper healthy human organs.

No cloning here though – just CRISPR and the new Chimaera. This is what you do. You get a brand new pig embryo in your lab. You delete the genes responsible for the formation of, say, the pancreas. You introduce the appropriate human genes. You implant the genetically-engineered embryo into a female pig on your Organ Farm, and hey presto, there will be a lovely human pancreas ready to transplant into a human recipient in need. Farms of pigs incubating clean healthy human organs, and on demand.


Well, it’s not quite as simple as that, but that is where the research is heading. And it will happen. As the title of last night’s Panorama proclaimed, “Medicine’s Big Breakthrough”. The scientists are excited by CRISPR’s potential. So are the medical professionals. And who can blame those once considered incurably ill for holding on to such promise of a complete cure.

But what about the animals? And what about the planet? The waves in the wake of this technology could sink us before climate change gets a chance to.Just a final note to send you to bed with nightmares: there’s a guy in San Francisco selling Do-It-Yourself CRISPR kits online out of his garage, so everyone can do their own gene-editing at home. He calls it the democratisation of science. Sweet dreams.
Time now for an update

Above piece posted June 7th 2016, but there have been developments.

Gene-edited organs are on their way. Just last week (on the 26th January 2017) scientists in California were excited to announce a world first – Chimaera lives. They have indeed succeeded in making embryos containing both pig and human cells.

These so-called human-pig chimeras (which contained only a small number of human cells) were allowed to develop for several weeks in female pigs before the pregnancies were terminated, according to a new study.

“The ultimate goal is to grow functional and transplantable tissue or organs, but we are far away from that,” study researcher Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies’ Gene Expression Laboratory in La Jolla, California, said in a statement. “This is an important first step.” LiveScience

I don’t know about you but I find this deeply disturbing, and their triumphant announcement poses more ethical questions for me than it answers:

  • How exactly were the pregnancies terminated?
  • Did the sows give their consent? Silly question
  • What happened to the sows post-abortion?
  • Do we know the physical and emotional effect on the sows?

Scientists would dismiss such questions as irrelevant but that is exactly where the problem lies. Not only do they feel entirely justified in their research, but any thought that something could be horribly wrong here would never even come near to entering their heads.

How did the Nazis square their conscience over the barbaric experimentation they conducted on gypsies, Poles, Russian POWs, Jews, and even Germans if they were unlucky enough to be disabled? They were brainwashed by propaganda that created in their minds a ‘them and us’. Their victims were ‘other’, of a different and lesser order. They de-personalised them, designated them vermin. And of course, as we all know, nonhumans only exist for human use, human benefit, and ‘vermin’ are at the very bottom of the heap. For ‘vermin’, anything goes.

Last week the BBC news highlighted the terrible shortage of donor organs in the UK. Patients in need of transplants are going to Pakistan where they can buy an organ from the poorest, people in dire need of the money. And even worse, criminals are cashing in, lining their pockets trafficking people to harvest their organs by force.

The scientists at La Jolla are looking to forcibly harvest organs from the pigs. True, they’re not exploiting living beings for illegal personal gain like the traffickers. They would say they are doing it for science, for medicine, and indeed out of humanity. It is sanctioned by society. But only because society has also been indoctrinated into arbitrarily dividing animals into ‘them and us’, making the nonhuman animals other and lesser than the human animal, declaring, “We are not animals.” But we are. Bestowing on ourselves like gods the power over life and death. Holding the fate of those ‘others’ in the palm of our hands.

But cruelty, coercion and exploitation are always cruelty, coercion and exploitation. The end does not justify the means.

You might say to me, what if it was your son’s, your daughter’s life in the balance waiting for a transplant? A hard question to answer. But two things I can say:

  • There should be far better ways to increase the supply of donor organs. For instance, Wales now has an ‘opt-out’ system. If you don’t register as not wanting to donate your organs, you will automatically be considered as having no objection. Isn’t that preferable to harvesting organs for humans by violating pigs?
  • And secondly, are the sow’s powerful maternal feelings worth less consideration than ours? And isn’t hijacking her reproductive cycle in this way, as with dairy cows, as with laying hens, both sexist and speciesist?

Are we to accept any horror perpetrated on nonhuman animals if it is in human’s interests? Surely it is more than time to acknowledge that

“We are one species among many who share a common ancestry with all other species in the animal kingdom. The false dichotomy between us and them pits humans against the rest of the animal kingdom and reinforces the myth that humans are so superior from the other animals that it’s practically blasphemous to even suggest that other animals possess lives that matter to them in the way our human lives matter to us.” Robert Grillo


Postscript This is a huge topic with more ramifications than it is possible to imagine. I don’t pretend to any expertise and my descriptions of the science are just my way of getting my head around it a little bit. This is just skimming the surface of a technology of infinite significance that is surely ushering in the next Age of Life on Earth.



23rd February 2017 – CRISPR promises a better way to stop mosquitoes spreading malaria, and without the need to render the insect extinct. Tony James from the University of California is “using the CRISPR-Cas9 technology to create a ‘gene drive’ system that spreads an anti-malaria gene inside the mosquito population. The gene basically destroys malaria, and then spreads on to the next generations.”

It sounds like a very promising approach, but it’s early days and the strategy would not be without its problems. Find out more from ZME Science.

10th August 2017 – pig to human organ transplants using CRISPR just got one step closer. “Using the genetic cut-and-paste tool CRISPR, scientists have removed DNA-based viruses that usually infect pig organs, raising the chances that these animal organs could be safely transplanted into human patients one day, a process known as xenotransplantation.” – LiveScience


Quote & pic Free from Harm

Let’s Not Buy Into Genetically Modified Fur – Care2 Causes

Medicine’s Big Breakthrough – Editing Your Genes – Panorama

Human/Nonhuman Chimera – Do We Really Want to Go There? – The Kimmela Centre

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Should We Wipe Mosquitoes off the Face of the Earth

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

I’ve Seen You In The Meat Aisle

I’ve seen you in the meat aisle,
Seen you choosing who to eat,
Eyeing up their body parts
In rows all nice and neat.



I’ve seen you grabbing bottled milk
That wasn’t made for you
And I know you never think about
The suffering they knew.



I’ve watched you fill your trolley up
With misery and pain,
Eggs and cheese, a leg, a wing,
My heart just broke again.



You say I should respect your choice,
That it’s your right to choose,
Well, legally perhaps you win
But morally you lose.

I don’t know how you do it
But you close your ears and eyes
To the slaughterhouse, the blood and screams,
Their fear, despair and cries.



It doesn’t even cross your mind,
You bite and drink and chew,
And you keep yourself from knowing
That they died because of you.

So no, I don’t respect your choice,
There’s no respect from me.
You are putting in your stomach
Someone you refuse to see.



The animals, they have no voice,
Convenient for you,
But have a heart and look at those
Who lost their lives for you.


Emma Murphy

Choose Compassion – Go Vegan here
Or here
Or here



A friend posted this on Facebook. In the light of the message, I feel pretty confident that Emma (whom I do not know, but would like to) would be happy for me to share it with you.

I added the photos to her powerful words.