Like many of us, German artist Felix Jaensch began building with Lego when he was just a tot – in his case three years old. Unlike him, at some point most of us stopped. But he never did. Now 30, and with 27 solid years of practice with those finickety little blocks behind him, he’s surely earned the title of Lego Master Extraordinaire.
For the last 5 years his focus has been the animal kingdom. He tells us, “I was always fascinated by nature and biodiversity and I like to build organic forms with these angular bricks.”
If you wanted to create art, you would think hard, unyielding Lego in all its angular and geometric shapes is an unpromising material. But Felix sees it as “a great medium for 3-D art”, and his work speaks for itself. To capture the essence of the living creature using nothing but plastic Lego bricks as he has done, seems to me an impossibly difficult achievement little short of magic.
This may be my personal favourite.
Or is it this one? This pooch is so alive, I practically expect to hear her bark. See which of these awesome sculptures grabs you most.
(By the way, if you’re imagining it must take an age to build one of these, you would be right. “Small animals may be finished in just some hours, big projects can take months. But I never counted the hours or bricks which I spend on one sculpture. I often modify some details even months after I finished an animal”, says Felix.)
So, what could possibly be the sting in the tail of Felix’s amazing body of work?
Whatever merits Lego has, and it undoubtedly has many, it is still plastic – a dirty word in 2018.
I haven’t been able to discover Felix’s thoughts on the disastrous effect plastic is having in the world, but the Lego company itself does have thoughts. Earlier this year, the huge corporation, producer of plastic, more plastic, and nothing but plastic, sought to mitigate any criticism it might attract for having a business model intrinsically inimical to the environment, by announcing that it planned to make its tiny green Lego trees and plants out of real plants! Sugar cane to be precise, in place of the oil from which plastic is most often made. Good news? Or just cynically jumping on the environmental bandwagon, ‘green-washing’, nothing more than a bit of opportunistic window dressing? These are the facts:
All plastic is made from ethanol, whether extracted from oil or plants. The new Lego parts will be indistinguishable from the other bricks – that’s because they are identical
Lego trees and plants make up only a tiny tiny fraction of Lego’s output, and the rest of the bricks remain firmly oil-based
It’s true that Brazilian sugar cane has a somewhat smaller carbon footprint than oil, but in reality it is only by the slightest of margins more sustainable. Farming it on a large scale wipes out precious habitat (think Amazonian rainforest), uses up valuable resources, pollutes with herbicides and pesticides, and displaces local farmers
Either way, plant-based plastic is no more biodegradable than plastic from oil, and when broken down in small pieces will pollute the environment like any other plastic
Looking on the brighter side, Lego is, as we all know, kid-proof and virtually indestructible. When one child has outgrown it – unlike Felix who looks like he never will, and more power to him – those bricks can be passed on to others, used and re-used. Lego plastic is decidedly not – Collin’s Dictionary Word of the Year – ‘single-use’.
Meanwhile, let’s not go away thinking Felix excludes the human animal from his magnificent menagerie. Below: what is said to be an anatomically-correct human skull in Lego.
But whereas all Felix’s other animals are so intensely bright and alert they almost seem to have the breath of life in them, we humans are represented by a death’s head. Make of that what you will!
If you haven’t seen your favourite animal here, check out Felix’s Flickr account.
All designs, photos and video copyrighted to Felix Jaensch
Some of his creations can be purchased from Mochub
“Scientists are experimenting with artificial intelligence in order to decode and interpret animal vocalizations such as barks, growls or howls into a language which humans can understand.”*
“So many people would dearly love to talk to their dog or cat or at least find out what they are trying to communicate. A lot of people talk to their dogs and share their innermost secrets. With cats I’m not sure what they’d have to say. A lot of times it might just be “you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone”
Professor Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University speaking to The Guardian.
Rapunzel the Conversational Cat
My brother has proper conversations with his cat Rapunzel. Not unusual among those of us who have companion animals, you might think. When I say ‘conversations’ though, I mean proper two-way, back and forth discussions on matters of serious import, along the lines of “What do you think of Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, Punzel?”
Punzel: “The woman doesn’t know what she’s doing. Please don’t talk to me about Brexit. I’m depressed enough as it is by the state of the world.” And so on.
Of course Rapunzel doesn’t actually say that. She’s a real cat, not one in a fairytale, in spite of her name. My brother helpfully speaks her lines for her. He thinks she’s a socialist, but maybe he’s got her all wrong. When she does meow for herself, what is she saying? It could well be, “you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone.” She may even be a closet Tory. Without the key to unlock cat-speak, no-one will know.
Dr Dolittle & Zoolingua
For those of us who couldn’t live without animals somewhere in our lives, the tale of animal-loving Dr Dolittle is particularly captivating. The story goes that Dr Dolittle’s parrot Polynesia teaches him the language of the animals. The good doctor opens his home to an ever-growing menagerie of animals whose speech only he can understand, until – the final straw for his long-suffering sister who keeps house for him – the arrival of a crocodile. A creature too far. She gives her brother an ultimatum – me or the animals. I love it that he chooses the animals!
Don’t we all want to be Dr Dolittle? What if we really could understand every word our cats, dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits utter? Well now maybe we will be able to do just that, thanks to something called Zoolingua, a project born from Professor Siobodchikoff’s work with other furry little creatures.
Meet the Prof & the ‘Villagers’
It’s true to say Con Siobodchikoff is the world expert on North American prairie dogs, having studied them closely for 30 years. Prairie dogs are not dogs at all of course. They are rodents, but every bit as fascinating as the canines in our homes. What Prof Con discovered over three decades is that the animals use “a sophisticated communication system that has all the aspects of language”.
These engaging little creatures live in ‘villages’ of underground burrows, and take it in turns to stand guard, watching out for predators. With hundreds of hours of recordings of prairie dog chatter, the Prof and his team discovered that whoever is on lookout uses particular calls for different predators, and the other ‘villagers’ respond according to the type of call.
Deciphering Prairie Dog-ese with AI
Using advanced artificial intelligence to analyse the recordings, they found that the little rodents have specific ‘words’ for ‘human’, ‘hawk’, and ‘coyote’, and their language is sophisticated enough to distinguish between coyotes and domestic dogs.
Professor Con noticed that there were interesting individual variations in calls about specific dangers. So although there was a distinct call for ‘coyote’, for instance, there were also varying elements around the call. He began to wonder if the calls might be doing more than specifying the threat as a coyote. Could they actually be describing the coyote?
The Prof had four human volunteers walk through the prairie dog village in identical clothing except for the colour of their shirts: one wore blue, the next yellow, then green, and finally grey. Analysis of the rodents’ calls revealed they were indeed describing each individual human, and not just in terms of shirt colour:
“Essentially they were saying, ‘Here comes the tall human in the blue,’ versus, ‘Here comes the short human in the yellow,’”says Slobodchikoff.
The prairie dogs’ linguistic ability turns out to be astonishing. When the team placed a picture of a large black oval near the village, the animals created an entirely new alarm call for it. The team took the picture away, and later brought it back. The little rodents all voiced exactly the same alarm call in response to it. It appears the components of the new call are describing the size, shape and colour of the oval in ‘words’ already part of their rich vocabulary. If that is not language, I’d like to know what is.
Prairie dog villages in different locations have their own dialects. The Professor says that the animals he has studied for so long in Gunnison AZ are unlikely to understand Mexican prairie dogs, and vice versa. But then, it’s pretty unlikely they will ever need to!
Prairie Dogs Love to Chat
Most fascinating of all, it seems they love a good gossip. “Prairie dogs also have what I call social chatters, where one prairie dog will produce a string of vocalizations, and another prairie dog across the colony will respond with a different string of vocalizations.
“If animals seemingly as simple as rodents have a language replete with nouns, adjectives, syntax and dialects, think what higher-order animals might be saying”
But thankfully we are now beginning to grasp that, in the words of evolutionary biologist Seeder El-Showk:
“Like every other kind of life on Earth, we may be unique but we are not special”
– even when it comes to language. All nonhuman animals that live in social groups exhibit complex behaviours. And complex behaviours require complex communication. Thankfully we are starting to take, can I say, a more respectful approach, attempting to unlock the secrets of the nonhumans’ own languages, their conversations with each other. And, being fascinated, and humbled, by what we are finding out about their complexity and sophistication, thanks to the work of dedicated zoologists like Prof Siobodchikoff.
Not Quite There Yet
“We know a lot more than we knew a few decades ago, but we’re still a long way from two-way communication,” says Stan Kuczaj, director of the Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory in Mississippi.
So best not get too excited just yet at the prospect of understanding your enigmatic feline as well as he/she gets you. Perhaps a read of Professor Slobodchikoff’s book, “Chasing Dr Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals” can give us a few pointers. As yet we don’t have access to the kind of sophisticated AI that is helping him unravel the secrets of the prairie dog. Wait till the Prof has succeeded in converting his system into a handy pocket-size translator of dog-, cat-, or guinea pig-ese. Won’t that be a wonderful thing – a bestseller for sure.
It has to be said though, his Zoolingua is still very much a work in progress. Even the Prof thinks it might take 10 years. But watch this space!
“A key reason animals are still used so widely is money. Vivisection is very big business. The pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable industry in the world and its interests are strongly protected by governments. Animal experiments are in the industry’s interests because they can be used to market their products more quickly and – most importantly – they provide a legal defence for the company when people are injured or killed by ADRs [adverse drug reactions]. They will argue that, having carried out the animal tests, no blame can be laid at their door.”– Animal Aid
Animal advocates – up against “the most profitable industry in the world”– that is some formidable foe. Faunalytics Fundamentals aims to arm us for the fight with the best and latest data from the USA on what people think about the issue of animal research; and on the millions of animals that suffer distress, harm and death in labs every year, and the millions more lined up to replace them. (It’s safe to read on – there are no graphic images or descriptions here. They are important, but I leave that to others.)
MEET THE ANIMALS
With their complex thoughts and intricate social structures, primates are the nonhuman animals most like humans. Good reasons not to use them in labs one would think, but unfortunately the very reasons they are used
Docile, friendly, cooperative, eager to please. Makes them ‘perfect’ lab subjects
Easily handled gentle animals that ‘purr’ when they are happy
Mice and Rats
Empathetic and altruistic – they’ve been seen to risk themselves to save cage-mates in captivity
While these are the most commonly used in labs, cats, birds, fish, frogs, rabbits, pigs, horses, cows, sheep, goats are unhappy lab residents too.
“Animals live rich and complex lives” and the animals used in labs are each “unique, sentient, and deserving of their rights to life and freedom.”
Over time (between 2008 – 2016) there has been a welcome decline in the US in the percentage of people agreeing to the statement, “Animal research is necessary for medical advancement” – a drop from 55% to 45%.
In general, people don’t want to see animal testing for cosmetics and personal care products, but many are still ready to believe it is necessary if it is said to be for the purpose of improving or saving human lives. There’s clearly much room here for raising awareness.
Changing public perceptions is vital – just think, for example of good-hearted people donating to medical charities that fund animal research, completely unaware of what is happening in the labs.
BREEDING & TRANSPORT
This is where the tragic story begins. Most are born in large breeding facilities and then shipped to the labs. While some ‘suppliers’ are relatively well-regulated, many are not. The graphic below shows the picture in Southeast Asia. Macaques and humans share 93% of their genes. Substitute ‘humans’ in the infographic below for ‘macaques’ to sense the true horror of what is happening.
IN THE LABORATORY
While it is impossible to know exact numbers of animals bred for the labs and used in experiments, best estimates put it at 115 – 127 million worldwide.
As the rats and mice, fishes, birds, insects and invertebrates are not covered by the US’s Animal Welfare Act, not only are researchers not required to keep statistics for them, there are also next to no protections for them, or official controls, or oversight governing their use. There are no witnesses to their suffering but the perpetrators themselves.
The HSUS has put together an interactive map of testing facilities in the US – you will be shocked to see how many there are. And these are ONLY those covered by the Animal Welfare Act, so there are many many more not identified. You will not readily happen across one when you’re out and about. They are invariably well-concealed. (The same here in the UK. There used to be one only a mile from my home. I never knew it was there until after it ceased to function. It was literally underground – entirely invisible to passers-by.)
IN THE CLASSROOM
Dissection in schools may not have a direct connection with the powerful pharmaceutical industry, but it’s certainly a channel for insidious conditioning to the supposed necessity of using animals in research. So in that sense, schools are doing the pharmaceuticals’ dirty work for them.
Luckily many students, rightly revolted at being made to cut up animals, are demanding alternatives. Some schools have responded by creating “student choice policies” which allow students to opt out of dissection for ethical reasons. So far 18 states and the District of Columbia have such policies in place – a small minority. Unfortunately, even where the option is in place, 53% of teachers aren’t aware of it, neither are 38% of students. Interesting that students are more clued up than their teachers – clearly a great opportunity here too for advocacy and raising awareness.
As if ethical arguments were not enough, there is an overwhelming practical argument against testing on animals – and that is, its ineffectiveness.
Of about 100 vaccines that worked against HIV-like animal viruses – NONE prevented HIV in humans
Of approx, 1000 drugs effective for neuroprotection in animals – NONE worked in humans
9 OUT OF 10 DRUGS FAIL because they cannot predict how they will affect humans
ONLY between 0% and 5% of drugs tested on animals are considered fit for human use
A meta-study found the researchers OVERESTIMATE BY 30% the probability that treatments work, because negative results are often not published
“Animal studies are done for legal reasons and not for scientific reasons. The predictive value of such studies for man is often meaningless.” – Dr James Gallagher, Director of Medical Research Lederle Laboratories
Even if you were one of those people who believed testing on nonhuman animals was justified for human benefit, would you not grieve for all those millions of animals that suffered and died for NOTHING?
There are many alternatives to animal research, and many more being developed.
The infographic shows just a few. FRAME, INTERNICHE, and Animalearn are some of the organisations pioneering and promoting alternatives in research and education.
WHAT WE CAN DRAW FROM THIS TO BETTER ADVOCATE FOR ANIMALS
It has to be about raising awareness – arming ourselves with the facts and getting them out there. As we’ve seen from AnimalTest Info and the Lab Animal Tour, those invested in testing on animals are expert at presenting the public with a highly-sanitised picture of their work. They also have no conscience about employing emotional blackmail – “What if it was your son/daughter with leukaemia/cerebral palsy/kidney disease?” Neatly sidestepping all other objections to research conducted on animals such as its ineffectiveness and the availability of better alternatives.
WHERE WE CAN LOOK FOR MORE INFORMATION & SUPPORT
In the UK
Animal Aid comprehensively covers abuse of animals in the name of science. We can find out everything we need to know here. We can order an End Animal Experiments action pack here
In the US
NEAVS has a brilliant page of FAQs. We can arm ourselves with all the answers we need in our advocacy for the millions of animals suffering in labs. There is also a useful list of other practical ways we can help end vivisection.
Sign petition to tell Congress to Reintroduce The Humane Cosmetics Act 2017
and petition to stop US Fish & Wildlife Service from Making Another Mistake
and petition to stop Air France Transporting Monkeys to Their Deaths
Support SAEN, (Stop Animal Exploitation Now) founded to “force an end to animal abuse in laboratories”
It seems like things are about to get a whole lot worse for the millions of unfortunate animals being tested on in US labs. The Trump administration has a passion for deregulation, unaware (if we’re feeling generous) or not caring (if we’re brutally honest) that regulations were put in place to begin with to provide important legal protections – protections for the environment, for drinking water, for clean air, for safe food, for national parks, for indigenous sacred places etc. And for animals.
The 21st Century Cures Act
To say the first year of the new presidency has kept the newsmen and women busy is an understatement. Trump and the GOP have attempted, and sometimes succeeded, in getting through Congress some very controversial and retrograde bills. But the 21st Century Cures Act Congress passed last month appears to have attracted little press attention.
The Act “is designed to help accelerate medical product development and bring new innovations and advances to patients who need them faster and more efficiently.” So far so good. What’s not to like? But the devil is in the detail. One provision of the Act calls on the USDA, the NIH and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to work together to reduce the “administrative burden” on the researchers and institutions that use animals. Under those two innocuous words lie a worrying threat to lab animals in the USA.
The mishmash that is the current US animal-testing legislation
Admitted, the rules around animal testing are at present quite the mishmash. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees tests on rabbits and larger mammals (800,000 animals in 2016). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) oversees testing on rats, mice and birds – these animals are considered so unimportant that no statistics about them are required to be recorded. Then there are privately-funded animal studies, already pretty much under the regulation-radar.
What’s bugging the scientists
Animal-testing scientists and their universities have grumbled for years about what they see as tedious and time-wasting red tape, the paperwork they are required to complete, and the regulations they are required to adhere to. Now the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and three other groups have joined forces in a new report to demand –
“Moving all oversight to a single agency, conducting less frequent lab inspections, and giving researchers greater say in crafting new rules”
Can you hear the alarm bells ringing? Well, you are not alone. Kathleen Conlee of the Humane Society (HSUS) says, “It’s clear this would negatively impact animal welfare.”
These are the present legal requirements scientists find so irksome:-
Animal facilities must be inspected by university committees every 6 months
Test protocols must be reviewed by the universities every year
Researchers must submit their protocols long before they get grants, and need to complete and resubmit more paperwork if the protocols change
Worst of all as far as the scientists are concerned, they are required to check the literature for “less invasive alternatives” before opting to test on animals
What the scientists want
So this is what the scientists are calling for:-
Animal facility inspections once a year instead of every 6 months
Protocol reviews reduced to every 3 years
Doing away with annual site inspections by government officials. Instead focusing only on facilities with a poor track record
Exempting certain types of experiments from full review by the university committees
“The goal”, says Sally Thompson-Iritani, overseer of animal research at the University of Washington, “is getting scientists back to the bench doing their research, and animal care specialists getting back to their animals.” (It’s unclear what she means by “animal care specialists.” Animal care and animal testing are two concepts troublesome to reconcile.)
And there’s worse
I haven’t yet mentioned the two most disquieting of the animal-testing scientists’ proposals:-
Abolishing the requirement to trawl the literature for alternatives to animal testing
Calling on the White House “to create a new advisory panel made up of animal researchers”
Less than a year ago, the company Emulate was proud to announce its new partnership with the FDA to test its organ-chips, a great breakthrough. These organs-on-a-chip have the potential to “eliminate the need to test drugs or cosmetics on animals.” Empty the labs, in other words. How perfect would that be. Apparently the FDA is still committed to this venture. On its website: “FDA has research and development efforts underway to reduce the need for animal testing and to work toward replacement of animal testing.”
How this endeavour will fare going forward if the end-users, the researchers, get their way, who knows. Proposal No.1 is as perverse as it is retrograde and horrifying.
And as for No.2, who will there be to speak for the animals?
Until December 2018
The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare has received the animal-testers’ proposals, and has until the December 2018 deadline to present recommendations that comply with Congress’s call to cut the red tape.
Which means we who care about the plight of those millions suffering in US labs have until then to support every possible campaign that is speaking up for the animals.
Update from PETA
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering a move that would let the agency shirk its responsibility to ensure that laboratories are complying with the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). If this happens, laboratories and other animal-abusing industries—including puppy mills, circuses, and roadside zoos—could be allowed to use private, industry-friendly groups to inspect their facilities, leading to even more suffering for animals imprisoned in them and even less transparency.”
If you are a US citizen, have your say in the USDA’s consultation process about the lowering of inspection standards for animals in labs here You have until March 21st to speak up for animals.
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 onlyget to view these roomsempty,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.
“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.
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.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a brand new emoji app for animal champions everywhere. Senior Advocacy Strategist Michelle Feinberg invites us to download the peta2 sticker app available now from both the App Store and the iMessage-specific App Store. All the stickers are 100% vegan and cruelty-free!
To give you a flavour –
Let’s get downloading. This app is going to clock up some serious mileage! Fun with an important – themost important – message…
ANIMALS ARE NOT OURS
TO EAT, WEAR, EXPERIMENT ON, USE FOR ENTERTAINMENT, OR ABUSE IN ANY OTHER WAY
We’ve done our best to trash the planet. We’ve plundered the earth of precious stones, covered it in concrete to sell people things they don’t need, contaminated it with deadly radiation, declared a piece of it a DMZ to keep apart the heavily armed guards of two nations that hate each other, covered it in land mines, built factories on it for poison gas and chemical weapons so we can better kill each other, and even managed to dry out the 4th largest lake in the world by exploiting its water for our own questionable ends.
For me, two telling themes emerge from the wildlife stories below: the ruthless devil-take-the-hindmost greed of the capitalist system we humans have created; and our unbridled propensity for violence and war.
Yet even out of the trail of destruction we leave behind, Nature – which is so much bigger than the human race – takes over, nurturing life.
Given less than half a chance, just look what Nature does.
Abandoned in 1954, Kolmanskop, Namibia was once a flourishing diamond mining town until the mines were eventually exhausted of their riches. The human inhabitants of the town moved on and left what had been their homes, schools and shops to be taken back by the desert and the rare Namib Horse.
Their origin is unknown as these horses are not indigenous to the region but by limiting human intervention, only offering water support during extreme drought, these horses have been able to adapt incredibly well to the unforgiving terrain and grow in numbers over the years in the ruins of this forgotten town.
Abercrombie and Fish?
Arson and safety issues plagued the New World Shopping Mall in Bangkok, Thailand until it was shuttered in 1997. The roofless structure sat empty, collecting rainwater in it’s basement until a 1600 square foot pond formed. Mosquitos began to take up residence, annoying locals around the forgotten structure so much that they introduced some koi and catfish into the pond to combat the problem.
Left to breed uninhibited, the fish flourished in their new environment and turned the mall into their own private aquarium. The future of the fish is unclear as there are questions about the stability of the building, but for now locals visit the fish to throw them food.
While walking around the woods surrounding his summer home in Salo, Finland, photographer Kai Fagerström came upon a derelict house. Not one to miss a chance to snap some unique shots, Fagerström ventured inside to see that the house may have been derelict but it was far from empty.
The house was teeming with animal tenants like badgers, mice, foxes and birds to name just a few. In fact, 12 different species of animals were all living together in harmony under the same roof, becoming the subjects to his photo book The House in the Woods.
Life finds a way in the shadow of disaster
In 1986 the residents of Pripyat, Ukraine were forced to abandon their homes as the nearby Chernobyl Power Complex experienced what is considered the worst nuclear meltdown in history. The area has been deemed uninhabitable for the next 20,000 years as radiation levels in the area continue to measure off of the charts, but that hasn’t stopped a large variety of wildlife and insect species from moving in.
In fact, the native animal populations like wild boar, dogs and horses have thrived in the exclusion zone, making the area around Chernobyl a natural refuge in the absence of human occupants. Scientists have only recently been allowed access to study the area and its inhabitants, with the results providing an unsure glimpse at how the thriving populations will be effected by the radiation for generations to come. Only time will tell, but for now the city of Pripyat is populated with a diverse selection of life.
Wildlife can’t read the ‘Keep Out’ signs
In place since the Korean War Armistice in 1953, a 250 km long and 4 km wide swath of land known as the Demilitarized Zone separates North and South Korea from coast to coast. With people only being allowed to enter through special permit over the last 60 years, the area has become the perfect place for a large variety of indigenous and critically endangered wildlife to live undisturbed.
After the dust settled in the Falkland Islands War in 1982, the waters surrounding the area became so overfished that local penguin populations began to decrease dramatically. Ironically, it was this very overfishing and the ravages of the war that preceded it that ended up creating a unique natural habitat for the penguins to start rebuilding their numbers and living freely.
As a deterrent to the British, the Argentinian army laid 20,000 land mines along the coast and pasture lands surrounding the capital that remain to this day. Too light to set them off, the penguin population lives happily and totally undisturbed in this unlikely sanctuary.
This subway car is going nowhere
Since 2001 the Mass Transit Authority of New York has been participating in a program that retires old subway cars and dumps them along the eastern seaboard to create artificial reefs. Known as Redbird Reef, the cars are stripped of floating materials and then cleaned before they’re dropped into the ocean from barges.
By 2010 the program had placed over 2500 cars into the water in the hopes of giving marine life in the area a home to breed and thrive, including black sea bass, flounder, turtles and barnacles.
Don’t forget to take your carrots!
The tiny island known as Okunoshima Island in Takehara, Japan is also colloquially known as Usagi Jima, or “Rabbit Island.” Abandoned after World War II, the island had been home to a poison gas facility.
How the rabbits came to be on the island is a source of debate but with larger animals like cats and dogs being banned from its shores, the bunnies of Usagi Jima are free to roam wild and multiply while taking the occasional carrot from an adoring tourist.
This island gets an (elephant) seal of approval
Formerly a Coast Guard light station until it was abandoned in 1948, Año Nuevo Island in California is teeming with wildlife. Now part of a nature preserve operated by the California State Parks, the island boasts one of the largest northern elephant seal mainland breeding colonies in the world.
It also plays host to cormorants, terns, otters, California sea lions as well as the rare and endangered San Francisco Garter Snake.
What was once the fourth largest lake in the world at 26,300 sq mi – that’s bigger than all the Great Lakes of North America with the exception of Lake Superior, the Aral Sea in Central Asia is now on the verge of being completely dry due to rivers and dams diverting its water elsewhere. The effects of this were devastating and the area is being monitored so environmental improvements can be made. Leaving behind a sandy desert and stranded fishing boats, the dry lake bed now sees local camels roaming freely amongst wasted hulls to take a rest from the sun.
Revitalization efforts are underway and showing real promise for the area and the wildlife that has moved in, including not only camels but asiatic foxes, wolves and boars.
A place dedicated to taking life becomes a place that preserves it
Once a chemical munitions plant, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Commerce City, Colorado last saw production in 1982. Clean up and decontamination of the site kept humans from entering the area, which left a perfect opening for animals to move in and create an involuntary refuge.
In 1986, much to the surprise of the U.S. Wildlife and Fish Service, it was discovered that not only was there a communal roost of bald eagles taking up residence but also 330 additional species of wildlife had moved in. Today the site is a National Wildlife Refuge and boasts deer, bison, coyotes and owls.
These good news wildlife stories leave a bitter aftertaste – in most cases (thankfully not all) the animals are making their lives in spite of the wreckage wrought by human hand.
The DMZ seems an apt metaphor for the present state of the planet: hostile peoples pointing killing machines at each other, and in the little space left between, Nature.
Nature generating and nurturing transformative life – in abundance.
Imagine yourself in a focus group, being asked to blurt out the first words that come into your head when L’Oréal is mentioned. Would they be ‘beauty’, ‘skincare’, ‘make up’?
Or would they be ‘cruelty’, ‘suffering’, ‘inhumanity’? Because underneath the company’s flawless façade of glamour lies an underbelly of ugliness – brutal testing on animals.
In the EU, not only is testing on animals for cosmetics banned, but as from 2013 there’s also a blanket ban on the sale of any cosmetics and/or their ingredients tested on animals outside the EU. Similar measures have also been enacted in India, Israel, Norway, and Switzerland. More than 1.8 billion people can now only buy cosmetics that will never be tested on animals again. American cosmetic companies must already comply with these laws in order to sell their products internationally. Guatemala, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey and four states in Brazil have also passed laws to end or limit cosmetic animal testing.¹
There is, as yet, no such ban though within the USA itself where untold millions of animals undergo extreme pain and distress in research for cosmetics, as well as drugs and household products. ‘Untold’ because the most commonly-used animals are rats and mice, which the USDA does not define as animals for the purpose of animal experiments. So they slip conveniently under the radar.
L’Oréal and their ilk are rubbing chemicals into animals’ shaved skin, dripping them into their eyes, and even force-feeding the chemicals with a tube down their throats directly into their stomachs, for months at a time, to test for signs of ‘adverse effects’ like cancer or birth defects. All up till now sanctioned by US law.
What is EpiSkin? “EpiSkin is an in vitro, reconstructed human skin (just the epidermis) cultured on a collagen matrix at the air-liquid interface.”
L’Oréal are pumping some of their lovely big profits into the EpiSkin project. Not because they’ve seen the error of their ways, or out of the kindness of their heart, you can be sure, but because EpiSkin gives a “much better simulation of human skin than animals.” Which means beauty products tailor-made for the end user, rather than best-guessed. Which means increased profits. And as a spin-off, no more torture for the animals, we sincerely hope.
And there is more good news
L’Oréal is making this research open to all:
“EpiSkin models are also available to the global scientific community to support academic and corporate research and development activities across industries,” Charbel Bouez, vice president of advanced research at L’Oréal’s America Zone and president of EpiSkin, told CNBC.
EpiSkin is not the only cultured human skin under research. It has a twin – EpiDerm launched by MatTek in 1993. MatTek does the ultimate in recycling: they use surgical waste skin from cosmetic surgery to grow its two adult humans worth of skin per week.
And still more
EpiSkin“already works so well that it’s outperforming animal testing in most scenarios.“
Its applications could reach far beyond the beauty industry, hopefully into medical research. These two competitors, plus other research labs around the world, are looking to expand the technique to make cells for human organs, organs other than skin. This could make even today’s cutting edge technology of organs-on-a-chip obsolete.
For companies and institutions engaged in research, testing on cells in petri dishes is a huge financial saving on keeping those millions and millions of unfortunate animals in labs. Plus the benefits in terms of accurate results are off the scale.
And yet more
The United States itself is close to finally saying “no” to cruel cosmetics.The Humane Cosmetics Act is being reintroduced in Congress with bi-partisan support. This week is the week! The Act would bring US legislation in line with that of many other countries, as well as the EU. It would prohibit the use of animals to test cosmetic products and ingredients, and phase out the sale of cosmetics tested on animals overseas.
Hopefully the time is not too far off when we will look back at animal testing and will not believe how we could have been complicit in the barbaric torture of others, just because we could. That we were drawn into parting with our cash on products of cruelty that promised to magically transform us into an Eva Longoria, a Jennifer Aniston.
But meanwhile, for everyone, everywhere:
Sign the Humane Society’s petition to Support Legislation to End Inhumane Cosmetics Testing on Animals here
Check out Cruelty Free International’s campaign page with 8 petitions to sign
Get ‘The Little Book of Cruelty Free’ handy pocket guide here
Or search here for Leaping Bunny certified cruelty free products
“In addition to our household cat, I had numerous pets – frogs, lizards, rats, turtles, fish, a rabbit and a family of adorable ducks. My childhood was replete with books about animals, animal toys and images of cute and cuddly animals… There I was, like most children, growing up believing I loved animals yet I was consuming animals daily. Whilst my love of animals was fostered, my taste for animal products was simultaneously cultivated.”
New Zealand-born prizewinning vegan artist Claude Jones describes her childhood – conditioned like every typical child into sustaining two completely contradictory ideas about animals at the same time in one brain. What we now, of course, call cognitive dissonance.
“My work seeks to expose such obvious contradictions in the face of widespread, culturally ingrained acceptance of this schism.”
Her work which appears quite simple, has a lot going on under the surface. She employs a deceptively innocent fairytale style, delicately drawn and in soft colours, as if for kids’ storybooks. The animals she depicts are anthropomorphised just as they so often are in children’s books. But our minds struggle to make sense of what our eyes are telling us – the shocking incongruity of the actions they are engaged in. Rabbits, universally viewed as timid and gentle, are seen wielding knives against other animals. A dog is bullfighting, or acting as circus ringmaster to a performing elephant, or experimenting on a hapless rabbit. Any given animal can appear as either perpetrator or victim. And yet all of them portraying ‘normal’ human activities that are not only legal but culturally acceptable, and accepted.
But let Claude continue her story: “For some time [as a child] I could only assume that we ate animals when they had died of old age. … we attempt to compensate for the murder of our fellow sentient beings in bucolic images in stories and animated films of happy, healthy farm animals grazing and sunbathing in lush fields, joyously bounding about, scratching, sniffing the earth, cuddling their human companions, and so on. I soon came to understand the brutal truth and simply could not reconcile my love of animals with harming them, let alone killing them. With plenty of other food options to choose from, at age 16, I decided to become a vegetarian.”
“Much later, in 2010, I finally made the connection between all animal products and animal suffering and decided it was time to shift from vegetarianism to veganism.”
“I find myself simultaneously fascinated and frustrated by our contradictory treatment of animals. Our human-centric perspective of the animal world positions rabbits, for example, as both cuddly companion animals but also as, laboratory specimens, meat and fur “products”. We support an industry that raises millions of pets that are accepted members of families yet trap, cage, torture and kill billions of animals annually for food, fur, leather. My work seeks to expose such obvious contradictions in the face of widespread, culturally ingrained acceptance of this schism.”
Much of Claude’s work reveals her concern about modern science’s meddling with nonhumans. In an earlier post I wrote about the science of gene-editing, CRISPR. Using CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) humans can now edit the genes of both animals and plants to ‘custom-build’ them in any way considered desirable and/or profitable. So already you can for example, if you have the money, order yourself a designer dog with black and yellow stripes – or brown with red spots – yes really. Maybe the creature Claude depicts here isn’t so very fanciful.
Take a look at some of the other bizarre creatures of Claude’s imagination in her Gallery collection, ‘Hybrid”. At one and the same time amusing and nightmarish, I think you’ll agree. But too close to present day scientific reality for comfort.
Fantastical hybrids appear in many world mythologies. The ancient Greeks, for instance, told of the dread Chimaera, a flame-belching monster made of body parts from three different animals. Nowadays the all-too-real ‘chimaeras’ don’t breath fire, but are every bit as monstrous – gene-edited pigs made to grow up with human hearts, ‘harvested’ at the right time to remedy the shortage of human-donated organs for human transplants.
“Jones questions the domination of humankind over all animal life, and our assumed right to meddle with the natural order of other species.”
– Simon Gregg, Art Curator
For me Claude’s powerful art epitomises the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. It speaks volumes about Man’s rationally untenable, schizoid relationship with his fellow creatures.
Visit Claude’s website to learn more, and browse through her gallery of disturbing and thought-provoking pictures. There’s a good chance you will feel the need to fix a conflicted mind (and soul, and life), the inevitable result of attempting the impossible: making sense of schizoid presumptions about our fellow animals that are, unhappily, conventional wisdom today.
If that resonates with you, you could do much worse than trying vegan. It’s not hard and the rewards are great. As great as bringing your life into sweeter harmony with Life. I guarantee it.