Saturday, August 26, 2006

Primate researcher quits after colleague is target of firebomb

After years of being targeted by animal rights activists, Dario Ringach announced he was planning to quit primate research. The targeting included phone harassment, demonstrations at his home, pamphlet distribution to his neighbors and a firebomb openly intended for a colleague (the group accidentally left it on an elderly neighbor's porch; it did not detonate). He asked that the animal rights organizations no longer target him and his family. The Primate Freedom project said they will not stop targeting him until he makes a video tape of himself "apologizing for the nonhuman pain and suffering he has caused."

Dr. Rinhach is an associate neurobiology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has done research on human physiology and will presumably continue.

Details are here (free) and here (subscription only, text here)

I support restrictions to limit the use of animals in research as much as possible, to maximize the quality of life of the animals and to minimize stress and suffering. I have worked at numerous organizations involved in helping animals in various ways.

Nevertheless, I think that the attack on research using animals is misguided. If one's concerns are for the welfare of animals, there any many better targets.

Consider euthanasia of companion animals. Dogs are the animals closest to my heart. In 2000, there were 95,000 cats and dogs used in research (1). More than thirty times that many are euthanized in shelters per year (2). Euthanasia of stray dogs and cats is entirely preventable (through spay/neuter programs, etc.) and benefits no one.

Or consider the slaughter of the 10 billion food animals that are killed in the US each year (3). While many people enjoy eating meat, the food animal industry is a lot more disposable than the contributions of animal research to health care - a vegetarian diet would improve the health of the majority of Americans and free up a lot of resources (grains and vegetables require much less fuel to produce per calorie compared to meat (4)); trying to get by without medicines and techniques developed by animal research (vaccines, coronary bypass surgery, organ and bone marrow transplant, joint replacement) would radically decrease the health of many and the quality of life of all.

Even if the US, or the world, ended animal research right now, the losses would be huge. We might get to keep some recent high profile recent medical advances like deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's (5) and the ability of people who are paralyzed to communicate via computer or control a robotic arm (6). But we would never progress on spinal cord injury repair, a cure for diabetes, or stem cells and their myriad potentials. We need a vaccine against AIDS, new antibiotics to replace the ones that bacteria become resistant to, treatment for Alzheimer's, and better cancer prevention.

While people in the United States are empathetically concerned when they see pictures of apes with surgically implanted electrodes, they are not prepared to end the food industry, to lose the freedom to have pets as they please or to wave goodbye to the level of health care they currently have. Animal research will not be ended or restricted through legitimate means.

(1) USDA Animal Care Report, 2000.
(2) Humane society on euthanasia statistics
(3) Organic Consumers Association on Food Animals
(4) Michael Bluejay's Bicycle Universe on fuel required for food production
(5) NIH on deep brain stimulation
(6) Nature article on control of computers by electrodes in brains

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