Feb 9th, 2009 | By | Category: Science and Society

With Northwest Animal Rights Network (NARN) protesting Lark over Foie Gras, and the (expected) backlash, I feel like it’s time to have a pro-animal rights post. Not pro-NARN, mind you. I want to praise the animal rights activists who created, implemented and supported the research animal use regulations.

Rather than go after an outright ban on animal use in labs, these effective activists came up with a regulatory structure–a set of rules an overwhelming majority of people could agree with. Animals used in laboratory research have strict housing and care guidelines–requiring a vet checking over things, no overcrowding, fresh food and water and as disease-free of an environment as can be created. All animal research must be pre-approved by a panel–including vets, fellow scientists and citizens (i.e. animal rights activists.) Everyone working with animals must undergo extensive training–renewed at least once a year. And so on. Animals used in a lab are treated better than children in the care of most States.

It was an adult path to take–recognizing the ethical interest in both developing new cures or health knowledge through scientific study of animals and the preventing cruelty to animals. This path took much work–time spent talking to vets, scientists, reading and writing laws, lobbying politicians and building public support. It’s much less fun than meeting up with your buddies for a Friday night protest outside a small business.

It worked in almost every way possible. By forcing all labs to engage in the highest level of animal care practices, animal research became more expensive and onerous. As a result, the decision to start an animal study is a profoundly serious one in labs–with every alternative exhausted. Fewer animals are used, and those used are cared for in the best and kindest way possible. Labs that violate these rules are subject to the severest penalties–including a total loss of funding.

Imagine what the twenty or so NARN activists–currently wasting hours with childish comments on SLOG, or purposeless protests of a single restaurant serving a single dish–could do if they switched tactics. Most of us–omnivores and vegetarians (such as myself)–are totally and completely disgusted with the practices of industrial farms: the use of hormones and antibiotics, the use of disgusting industrially rendered and non-physiological feeds, the overpacking, the mutilation to allow overpacking into cages, the total lack of concern about disease and health. The details coming out about this month’s salmonella outbreak could be applied to outbreaks in hamburgers, berries, or a dozen of other abusively produced foods.

How about NARN–these same small handful of people–sitting down with vets and food safety experts and drafting up a set of realistic regulations for industrial farms: no clipping of beaks, no overcrowding of animals, no pro-acidic diets for ruminants, no autophagy–for example. Demand that any industrial farm directly or indirectly receiving federal subsidy follow these guidelines. Go after people’s hearts through their stomachs.

It would take work–long boring hours reading scientific documents, writing proposals, lobbying politicians, and educating the public. More importantly, it’ll take an adult recognition that while you might not want to eat meat, others will. If you are serious about the betterment of animals–instead of whining about silly bans–focus on small, broadly agreeable changes in how food animals are treated. By crafting regulations that both vegans and omnivores can agree upon, you’ll genuinely help animals and actually advance your cause in a meaningful way.

It worked for your fellow activists concerned about laboratory animals. You should learn from them, NARN.