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June/July 2005
The Ins and Outs of Combating Vivisection
The Satya Interview with Dr. Theodora Capaldo

 

Paul Shapiro
Theo with Shima.
Photo courtesy of Theo Capaldo

The “Latest” Body Count


The USDA’s mandate to enforce the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requires all facilities that conduct research on covered animals to submit annual reports, providing an inventory of the number and species of animals used, whether they are given pain or distress relief and, if not, a description of the procedures involved and an explanation of why relief was withheld. In addition, USDA performs inspections and prepares reports addressing veterinary care, husbandry, record keeping and research activities and noting non-compliant items.

The latest information available on the number and species used in research is from 2002. According to those records, 1,137,718 animals covered under the AWA were used in research, consisting of:

• 68,253 dogs
• 24,222 cats
• 52,279 primates
• 245,576 guinea pigs
• 180,000 hamsters
• 243,838 rabbits
• 143,062 farm animals
• 180,488 other animals covered under the AWA

These numbers do not include mice, rats or birds—the majority of the animals used in research—who are not covered under the AWA. —S.I.

Demanding our Right to Know

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), passed in 1966, enables the public to access virtually all records possessed by federal agencies, unless the documents fall within nine specific exemptions. The Electronic Freedom of Information Act, passed in 1996, requires federal agencies to make documents most commonly requested from the public available electronically.

Over the past few years, it has been difficult for the public and many animal advocacy organizations to gain prompt access to animal research reporting documents. In Early 2002, the USDA removed its inspection reports of research facilities and the annual reports submitted by research facilities from the Animal Care Division website as a result of pressure from pro-animal research organizations that cited domestic terrorism reasons in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It is still possible to make requests for these documents through the USDA FOIA office, but these requests can take years to fulfill.

In January 2005, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed a lawsuit against the USDA for failing to provide numerous documents that they have been requesting since 2001 under FOIA. The suit also seeks to compel the USDA to make animal research facility annual reports available online. In response, the agency agreed to resume web posting as of May 10, 2005 of registered research facilities’ annual reports, as required by FOIA. The decision to post these reports does not, however, settle the HSUS’s lawsuit against the USDA. There are still unresolved issues, notably the large number of redacted pages in the annual reports provided so far. HSUS is also working to support legislation aimed at strengthening FOIA. [Source: HSUS]

Countless millions of animals are unnecessarily sacrificed each year nationwide in the name of science. Located in one of the nation’s biggest hubs of vivisection, the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) has been working for over a century to expose and replace the use of animals in laboratories and classrooms with ethically and scientifically responsible modern research methods.

It was through a NEAVS publication that Theodora Capaldo was first exposed to the issue of vivisection, when she was in the sixth grade. Now, as a licensed psychologist with over 25 years of experience, Dr. Capaldo is the President and Executive Director of NEAVS and its educational affiliate, the Ethical Science and Education Coalition. She has also served on the boards of several national animal advocacy organizations, including Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

In addition to her animal advocacy work, Dr. Capaldo is also the proud and loving guardian of rescued felines Ming, Sophia, Bodhi, Tika and Cougar, and she manages to find time to volunteer with local clean up initiatives on the Parker River.

Before flying out to Norway for the InterNiche Conference on Alternatives in the Mainstream, Theo Capaldo spoke with Sangamithra Iyer about the state of vivisection and her vision to keep compassionate students in science and the NEAVS campaign to get chimpanzees out of research.

I understand NEAVS is strategically based in Boston, could you tell us about the vivisection industry in that area?

Even though NEAVS is located in Boston and its name is New England, it is still a national organization. The significance of the name and location comes from the fact that one of the first formalized labs using animals in the country was at Harvard in Cambridge, MA. NEAVS was actually founded not too long after that in 1895. That is historically why one of the first national anti-vivisection organizations took root in Boston. That aside, Massachusetts is currently one of the three highest recipients of National Institutes of Health (NIH) research dollars in the country, along with New York and California. Senator Ted Kennedy noted that Massachusetts is home to more biotech companies than 48 other states in total. So Massachusetts is really one of the biomedical research hubs of the country. It goes back over a hundred years and continues today. While we often focus on issues of national significance, the importance of having a strong anti-vivisection organization in their backyard is critical.

Could give us a snapshot of vivisection today in this country? How many animals are used and what kinds?
The USDA’s mandate is to enforce the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) through its inspections and annual reports. This is how we find out about licensed facilities, the numbers of animals they house, and the kinds of non-compliant items the USDA may have found upon inspection.
But, 90 to 95 percent of the species used—rats, birds and mice—are not covered by AWA. To actually get an accurate count is virtually impossible because there are really countless numbers of those species used. One estimate puts it close to 100 million rats and mice specifically.

It has become increasingly difficult to get the kind of information the public deserves and is entitled to, since in fact our taxpayer dollars pay for this research. We have requested inspection reports from the USDA that are well over a year and half old. The latest available information on the number of animals comes from 2002 (see Sidebar). Mice and rats are not included in these statistics.

Many public opinion polls show that the public is not supportive of animal research and that when they do support it, they do so with reluctance, believing it is the only way. Certain species are not considered acceptable to the public, and we are seeing the vivisection world trying to appease them. So you will see a definite trend away from the ‘popular species’—dogs, cats, and chimpanzees. You’ll typically hear researchers say, “Well I only do research on rats and mice.” As if that makes it okay. And sadly, in some of the public’s mind, it does.

There are two laboratories in the New England area—Charles River Laboratory with corporate headquarters in Massachusetts and Jackson Labs up in Maine. Both are in the business of breeding and supplying animals for national and international research. From our perspective, animal research is not a health driven industry. It is an economic driven industry. When you look at the kind of money that is spent on animal research versus other areas of research, which are far less dangerous to human health and far more useful in understanding disease, it doesn’t make sense. But the illogic of it disappears when you look at the companies who are profiting from it. Charles River Laboratory, for example, has a total capitalization of $2.1 billion. Their profits come from providing “research tools,” living animals: rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, guinea pigs, and primates to drug and medical companies. In 2004, their net income was expected to top $100 million. In 2000, Jackson Labs was reported to have sold 1.7 million mice, with revenues of $59 million in 1999. Demand for Jackson’s “mutant mice” alone is expected to grow 20 percent a year.

When we look at the statistics on the number of animals used, we have to factor in the increase in the number of mice. Specifically, transgenic mice are huge money makers. There is no financial index that doesn’t project a very secure financial future for companies like Jackson Labs and Charles River. In fact, when we want to get information, we’ll typically go to resources like the Boston Business Journal and Fortune 500 Magazine. There you can get a sense of what is going on with the animals, who, because of their species, are not accounted for by the AWA. There is no other way to really get a handle on how many are being used every year.

Could you comment on the protection provided for the animals who are covered by the AWA?
The AWA, one of the few laws that apply to animal research, is extremely limited. Its name is somewhat deceiving in that it does not affect what can or cannot be done to an animal in a research protocol. Research institutions have what is called an IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee), composed mainly of animal researchers themselves with an obvious bias. Once a committee approves a protocol, the USDA has no say over what is being done. So there could be an exemption to the minimal laws that protect research animals under the AWA—withholding analgesics and anesthesia, for example—because the committee decided it was in the best interest of the science. That concerns us deeply.

Basically, the lobbyists for animal research use the AWA to assure people that all is well in laboratories. But in fact, they’re all aware that researchers basically have a carte blanc to do whatever they want if they can get their IACUC to approve it.

Could you give us a breakdown of the various areas of vivisection and what the different categories of animal research are?
There is biomedical research, which includes disease models, “basic” research and also medical product testing. We could include pharmaceutical under that but I like to keep it in a separate category because that industry eats up hundreds of millions of animals a year easily. And we have agricultural research, cosmetic research, product testing and military research.

Military research is almost impossible to get information on because the Department of Defense doesn’t have to tell us anything.

Agricultural research is often underrepresented in the animal community because a lot of it is privately funded—by companies who are in the business of selling animals for meat, milk and other products—and virtually impossible to find out about. We found out about one study, however, when a researcher finally left the study because he had a “moral twinge,” seeing baby chicks not able to get up because they had cut their wings off to see if they could get a better breast meat product to market faster.

How is the vivisection industry also linked to other industries that abuse animals, like factory farms and entertainment?
You know the old expression “all roads leads to Rome”? Well, sadly all areas of animal abuse probably have some road leading to vivisection. Farmed animals are a major area of horrible agricultural research. Industries like greyhound racing—historically when greyhounds didn’t win they were sent to dissection or research labs. Chimpanzees in the entertainment industry are another example. Historically, many chimps who were purchased as ‘pets’ or used in entertainment ended up being sent into biomedical research when they were no longer manageable. Now since there are too many in the labs, the opposite can happen. Like little Arthur and Phoenix, who we rescued from a roadside zoo in New Hampshire. They were sold from the former Coulston Foundation to a private person, through an animal trainer dealer.

In the anti-vivisection movement, what do you feel have been some of the more notable recent achievements?
One of the areas that has had a great deal of success is in cosmetic testing. The public has a greater awareness of the cruelty and suffering animals endure for product testing, and has drawn a clear line saying that we don’t want you to test on animals. The problem now is with companies claiming to be cruelty-free to meet this public demand when in fact by strict definition they are not. The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics was formed to address this.

An area that has gone in the opposite direction is pharmaceutical testing. Pharmaceutical companies’ main goal is to get the drug to market as soon as possible. So more animals are being used because they try to get their results out and push the drugs forward based on the animal trials. People want quick-fix drugs. The industry is looking to make a whole lot of money on these people. It becomes an urgent cycle and millions of animals a year get caught in it.

It seems this rapid approach in getting the drug to market has sort of backfired on pharmaceutical companies with all the recent recalls of drugs like Vioxx and Celebrex. What does this mean for animals and for the anti-vivisection movement?
Pharmaceutical companies use the data both ways. If people develop liver or kidney failure as a result of a drug or some other side-effect, they will say that there was no indication of this from any of the animal studies. So they use it as their defense against legal challenges with the negative side-effects in human beings.

With all of the highly visible cases, from Fen Phen, the miracle drug for obesity that caused heart disease, to Vioxx to some of the more recent drugs, it certainly has backfired. The industry is losing the faith of the public who used to believe the industry was intent on making a drug safe before it got to market. I think their rush to profit has been a great disservice to them and a great service to us because it has exposed the process of testing as the fallible profit driven one that it is. Animal tests which don’t have any real predictive validity have been used as the basis and people are seeing the consequences of it.

The public’s sympathy for animals in laboratories, which has always been there, is now being boosted by a sophisticated understanding from first-hand experience about how limited and dangerous animal testing is to their health. So the ethical arguments are starting to be reinforced by the scientific arguments—that it is not good science. And the public is starting to get it and say, ‘Wow, they tested that on animals and it still killed people!’

The visibility of all these failures is tragic in terms of human and animal lives, but it is a necessary step in the evolution of the ethical foundation against animal research being buoyed up by the scientific reality that it is neither the best way nor the only way, but in fact it is a limited and dangerous way to understand human health and disease.

In addition to the public’s change in perception regarding the validity of animal tests, do you also see pharmaceutical companies looking to develop more reliable testing models that do not use animals?
James Foster, who is the son of the founder of Charles River Laboratory and the current CEO, was quoted in Fortune Magazine as promising his shareholders greater profit by going into the development of alternative testing in an effort to bring drugs to market quicker.

As an anti-vivisectionist since the sixth grade, that was some of the sweetest music I’ve ever heard. As a society and a culture based on capitalism, a big impetus for change will come when companies like Charles River begin to realize that they can be just as rich not hurting and killing animals.

What do you think are some of the larger challenges ahead?
In addition to continuing to maintain an economic pressure on the industry, there has to be moral pressure on the institution of vivisection. There are individuals right now who continue to do animal research because they truly believe it is the best way, but who have “moral twinges” about what they are doing. They would rather not be doing it, yet they have become conditioned to a way and method of doing science. Those are the people within the industry we are going to need to affect the most.

Can you tell us about your campaign to get chimpanzees out of research?

Our campaign to get chimpanzees out of labs, to have the U.S. join other countries who won’t experiment on this species, would create a new moral standard of allowing a species other than humans the protection from science and all of its brutal and unethical harm. They are too smart, too social, and too like us. To change the ethical face of science, we have to find a moral platform upon which to do that. We’ve got to break the species barrier, and the only way we know how to do it is to get the chimps out.

When NEAVS was founded 110 years ago, our mission statement read, “to expose and end harmful and secretive experiments upon paupers, criminals, imbeciles, and animals.” Back then, the founders could only imagine those categories of human beings protected from the horrors of this newfound science of experimentation. Think back to the Tuskegee experiments on African American men that had been going on for decades. We allowed human beings because of their race to die of a disease that we could have treated for the sake of science. It only ended in the early 1970s—in recent history. Science has been slow to move away from its own narcissistic fantasy that anything and everything should be sacrificed to the noble goal of scientific truth.

What needs to be done to get this ban on chimpanzee research in this country?
We have to help people understand the history of chimpanzees in research, what they have suffered, and how as a model they have failed science again and again in understanding human health and disease. The biggest and best example of that, although there are many, was their use in AIDS research. They could be infected with HIV, but that had little bearing on whether they proved a good model for human HIV and AIDS. As a result, we ended up with surplus chimps—chimpanzees are languishing in laboratories and aren’t being used for any particular protocol. Thus the creation of the Chimpanzee Health Improvement Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act which was an attempt to deal with the financial and logistical burden of having so many unused “resources.”

Our campaign focuses on a few areas of legislation. In addition to calling for a ban on chimpanzee research, we are also going to take a very practical approach and call for a reversal of the Bliley amendment to the CHIMP Act, so that chimpanzees who have been retired through the federal system remain in sanctuary. We have to provide them with permanent protection from future research. Only then can the federal government truly and honestly use the word sanctuary.

The good news is that there are only about 1,300 chimpanzees left in laboratories. The bad news is facilities like Southwest and New Iberia are receiving grant money to continue breeding chimps and actively promote chimp research.

Animal advocacy is hard work with many battlefronts. What is your strategy and vision for NEAVS for combating vivisection?
I think all animal protectionists are in a state of crisis. We see atrocity day in and day out. We see the numbers of horrible things happening to animals increasing. We see our efforts often failing. Within that kind of system, it is hard to sit back and think about a strategic plan. Mostly, we are busy trying to put out major fires all the time. In a sense we end up chasing our tails. The immediate problem is not one that we can always change, and we must ask how can we get behind a strategy to get us from point A to point B?

I think one of the most important campaigns for any organization to be running right now is for student choice at all levels of education. We have to allow students unwilling to hurt, harm, and kill animals as part of their science education to remain in science. From that high school biology class where students are forced to use a dead animal or kill an animal, we are creating a system of future vivisectors. Individuals unwilling to be vivisectors are leaving science and going into other fields. We have to keep them in science. If we don’t, we are not planting the future growth of a generation of anti-vivisection scientists who will do science well and without harming or killing anyone. I think that has to be looked at as an extremely important arm of any anti-vivisection campaign.

Where we put our first foot forward is getting compassionate students in science, getting chimps out of science and then mandating that in all areas of science, humane and scientifically better alternatives be used. That is the three–pronged “in and out” strategy that NEAVS is focused on.

Most animal activists are sensitive to vivisection issues, buy cruelty-free products, and donate to humane charities. What are some blind spots we may be missing? What else can we do to help?
There are many things you can do. Certainly support students, or if you are a student, find a way to pay attention to what is happening at your school regarding the use of animals in classes and research. Get as much information as you can, legally, and make that available to anti-vivisection and animal protection organizations that may be able to help you see what can be done. Chances are that students can find out things that organizations like mine are never going to find out about. At the very least, the atrocity will be exposed, and exposure really is an important weapon in this war.

In addition to cosmetic products, there are other products you want to be careful about. With any product, find out whether they are using animals in safety testing. Support and thank car companies that do not use animals in crash tests.

Become an organ donor.

When your doctor tries to give you new medication, talk to them. I, for example, always ask how long the drug has been on the market. My own particular standard is that if it hasn’t been on the market for 20-25 years, don’t prescribe it to me. Once we have the longitudinal data about the drugs in humans, then I’ll trust the drug. Otherwise don’t talk to me about it because it is unsafe, unproven and it has cruelly been brought to the market. It’s an opportunity to raise the issue with your physician and take care of your own health.

Activists can also join our campaign to get chimpanzees out of laboratories. Focus on one chimp—find out who they are and where they are and commit to getting one person out of the lab. Consult our website and find a lab near you that is still conducting chimp research. Write to your local paper against this research. Write to NIH. Contact your legislators. Show our CD-Rom on chimpanzee research to schools and community groups. FOIA the USDA for inspection reports on the lab. Focus everyone’s attention on the plight of chimpanzees held in research labs. Remind people that the U.S. is, shamefully, the single largest exploiter of chimpanzees in the world. Let everyone know this must and will end.

For more information about NEAVS and ESEC visit www.neavs.org. To learn more about how you can get involved in the Chimp Campaign, see www.releasechimps.org.

 

 


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