Animal Rights

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Animal Rights

Protection of animals from cruelty through requirements of humane treatment. Laws protecting animal rights proscribe certain forms of brutal and merciless treatment of animals in medical and scientific research and in the handling of and slaughter of animals for human consumption.

By the end of the 1980s, membership in animal advocacy organizations had reached 10 million people in the United States and opposition to the use of animals in laboratory experiments was rapidly growing. By 1990, some 76 medical schools claimed that demonstrations and break-ins by animal rights advocates had cost them more than $4.5 million, according to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

As the conflict between animal rights activists and medical and scientific researchers has grown, federal and state regulation of activities involving animal research has also expanded. At the federal level, the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C.A. § 2131 et seq. [1994]) regulates the treatment of animals used in federally funded research. Under amendments added to the act in 1985, the secretary of agriculture was required to promulgate standards to govern the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of animals by dealers, research facilities, and exhibitors. These standards were to include minimum requirements for housing, feeding, watering, sanitation, ventilation, shelter from extremes of weather and temperature, adequate veterinary care, and separation by species where necessary; for exercise of dogs, as determined by an attending veterinarian; and for a physical environment adequate to promote the psychological well-being of primates. In addition, the standards were to include requirements for animal care, treatment, and practices in experimental procedures in research facilities.

In February 1991, the secretary of agriculture issued final regulations under the act (56 Fed. Reg. 6426; 9 C.F.R. § 3). Shortly thereafter, two animal rights organizations, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, along with several individuals, sued the u.s. department of agriculture (USDA), claiming that the final regulations were Arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) (5 U.S.C.A. § 551 et seq. [1994]). Under the APA, a court can compel agency action that is unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed and can set aside agency action that is arbitrary and capricious, an Abuse of Discretion, or otherwise in violation of the law.

The plaintiffs challenged the USDA on several grounds, including the lack of minimum requirements regarding exercise for dogs and the psychological well-being of primates; the amount of delay permitted under the regulations in complying with new cage requirements; and the loophole in the regulations' provision for special cage designs, which permitted facilities to evade the existing minimum requirements for cage sizes.

In February 1993, a federal district court found that the USDA's treatment of laboratory animals waiting to be used in biomedical experiments violated federal statutes providing for the humane treatment of such animals. In Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Secretary of Agriculture, 813 F. Supp. 882 (1993), the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the regulations enacted by the secretary of agriculture and the USDA failed to comply with the mandate of Congress to ensure the well-being and humane treatment of animals, notwithstanding the importance of research.The defendants appealed the district court's decision. In Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Espy, 29 F.3d 720 (1994), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the animal rights organizations and other plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the USDA. (Standing is a legal requirement that the plaintiff must have been injured or threatened with injury by the action complained of and focuses on the question of whether the plaintiff is the proper party to bring the lawsuit.) Because the plaintiffs lacked standing, the court ordered that the case be dismissed.

Whereas the Animal Welfare Act governs the general treatment of research animals, other federal statutes govern the testing procedures that may be used on animals in the course of scientific and commercial research and in product testing. The Toxic Substances Control Act (15 U.S.C.A. § 2601 et seq. [1994]) authorizes the use of two procedures that have been particularly controversial: the Draize test and the lethal dose 50 (LD50) test.

Welcome to the Monkey Lab: The Battle over Animal Research

In May 1981, Alex Pacheco, cofounder of an animal rights organization called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), went to work as a volunteer at the Institute for Behavioral Research, a private research center in Silver Spring, Maryland. Pacheco told the institute's chief research scientist, Edward Taub, that he was fascinated by animal research. Taub's research involved the surgical crippling of monkeys using a procedure called deaf-ferentation, in which the spinal cord is opened and various nerves leading to arms and legs are sliced away, causing numbness.

At the time Pacheco joined his lab, Taub had performed the procedure on 17 macaques, attempting to show that function could be restored to limbs by forcing new nerve growth. He had destroyed the nerves to only one arm on some of the monkeys, and then used straitjackets, binding up the good arms to force the animals to use their damaged arms, and had also applied electric shock to restrained monkeys if they did not move their numbed limbs. Taub planned to kill the monkeys after a year in order to determine whether this forced movement had stimulated nerve growth.

After receiving permission from Taub to work at night, Pacheco set to work documenting the filthy, cramped conditions of the lab, and the stressed behavior of the monkeys, many of which were chewing their numbed limbs open. With his PETA cofounder, Ingrid Newkirk, stationed outside with a walkie-talkie, Pacheco took photographs and brought in sympathetic veterinarians and scientists to provide affidavits about the lab conditions. Several months later, he took his documentation to the local police department, which seized the lab's monkeys and filed 17 charges of animal cruelty against Taub, under state law. The scientist was convicted on all the charges, but an appellate court decided that a federally-funded researcher was not required to comply with state laws. Eventually, Taub's lab lost its federal funding and discontinued animal research.

Many participants in the debate over animal rights view the 1981 seizure of the Silver Spring monkeys as a turning point for the animal rights movement in the United States, heading it in a more combative and less compromising direction.

Animal welfare has long been an issue in the United States. As early as the mid-1600s, the Puritans prohibited cruelty toward animals, and by the nineteenth century, groups such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Anti-Vivisection Society had been organized. Animal experimentation has been controversial not only between the animal rights movement and the scientific and medical research communities but also between the activist groups themselves.

Supporters of the use of animals in research are as adamant in their advocacy of the use of animals in research as animal rights activists are in their opposition to such use. Supporters of the use of animals in research point out that virtually every major advancement in medicine during the past century has been made possible by the use of animals in research. Researchers point out that, with the use of animals as subjects, scientists may be capable of curing or reducing the death and disability rates caused by such diseases as kidney and liver failure, birth defects, cancer, and AIDS. Former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders said, "The use of animals in biomedical research and testing has been, and will continue to be, absolutely critical to the progress against AIDS and a wide range of other applications in both humans and animals."

The biomedical research industry has responded vigorously to criticisms of animal research. A 1988 study by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, acknowledged the controversy over animal testing, stating that although animal research has saved human lives, it has caused suffering and death for the animals involved. Nevertheless, the study concluded that such experimentation has contributed significantly to the increase in human life expectancy since 1900 and that animals have been critical to research on most antibiotics and other drugs. Frankie Trull, executive director of the National Association for Biomedical Research, has argued that animal testing is necessary to sustain the human race.

Supporters of animal research frequently direct attack towards animal rights activists, often labeling animal rights groups as "extremists." Joseph Murray, who in 1990 won the Nobel Prize for medicine in recognition of his work on organ transplants, said, "None of this could have been done without animal experimentation. It's a tragedy and a waste of resources that scientists have to combat the anti-vivisectionists," referring to animal rights groups. Animal research supporters often argue that the tactics employed by animal rights groups impede the progress being made in the medical community through the use of animals in research.

The supporters of animal research and the animal rights activists have clashed in both the courts and in the legislatures. Concerned that animal rights activists would cause the dismantling of all animal research, the biomedical research community lobbied successfully for years against the passage of all legislation restricting such research. But in the early 1950s, Christine Stevens founded the Animal Welfare Institute and the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, which successfully worked against passage of state laws that would require pounds to turn their dogs and cats over to researchers. Stevens then began working for passage of federal legislation that would also protect laboratory animals. In 1966, Congress enacted the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C.A. § 2131 et seq.[1994]), which regulates the treatment of animals in federally funded research. Congress charged the u.s. department of agriculture (USDA) with overseeing the inspection of laboratories for compliance.

In 1985, after Stevens documented continuing inhumane laboratory conditions, the Animal Welfare Act was amended to strengthen standards for the humane handling, treatment, and transportation of animals by dealers, research facilities, and exhibitors. In 1991, the secretary of agriculture issued regulations implementing the amended act.

During this period, the animal protection movement continued to expand. By the early 1990s, PETA had grown to more than 400,000 members and had an annual budget of nearly $10 million. Over 400 animal rights groups had been organized in the United States, claiming a total membership of 10 million. Although each of these groups can be said to support the humane treatment of animals, their philosophies vary dramatically.

The most radical group is the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an underground organization formed in 1982 with an estimated worldwide membership of several hundred as of the mid-1990s. ALF opposes the use of all animals in medical and scientific research, including psychological and surgical experimentation on living animals; ALF also opposes using animals for testing new drugs and cosmetics, for instructional purposes in biology and medical school classes, and for food, clothing, sports, circuses, and pets. ALF claimed responsibility for more than 75 attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1995, including stealing animals from labs in Arizona, California, Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.; burning and vandalizing the University of Arizona's veterinary lab and a new $3 million veterinary diagnostic center for farm animals at the University of California, Davis; vandalizing offices of researchers and stealing their research animals in Michigan and Texas; and starting small fires in four of Chicago's largest department stores to protest the sale of furs. Although most of ALF's targets have been scientific research labs, the group claimed responsibility for bombing the cars of two research scientists in England in June 1990. ALF has also conducted raids in more than a dozen other countries.

By 1988, in response to raids by ALF and other groups, more than 20 states had enacted protective legislation prohibiting interference with animal research and agricultural facilities. In August 1992, citing the inability of state and local law enforcement agencies to conduct interstate or international investigations, Congress passed comparable federal legislation. The Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992 (18 U.S.C.A. § 43[1994]) prohibits the disruption of "animal enterprises" such as research facilities and zoos by intentionally stealing or damaging property including animals or records.

Many scientists believe that ALF is a thinly disguised division of PETA. PETA denies any connection between the two groups but has expressed its admiration for ALF's activities and often publicizes the group's raids. Both ALF and PETA share a common goal of ending all animal research, a philosophy that represents a fundamental split from other animal rights organizations such as Stevens's Animal Welfare Institute and the Humane Society of the United States, which accept animal experimentation but work for the humane treatment of animals in that and other contexts.

Supporters of animal research debunk many of the claims of animal rights activities as pure myths. For instance, animal rights activists often direct their attention towards the use of such animals as dogs, cats, and non-human primates in medical research, but scientists point out that the use of such animals accounts for less than 1 percent of the total number of animals used in research. The vast majority of animals used in research, according to these scientists, are rodents, including mice and rats bred specifically for the purpose of testing them. Similarly, these scientists refute animal rights advocates' claims that alternatives to animal research exist in the form of computer models and tissue cultures but that the scientific community refuses to accept them. Scientists claim that even the most sophisticated technological model cannot replicate the genetic and physiological systems of humans as those found in live animals. According to the Foundation for Biomedical Research, the limitations in the use of computer models and other alternatives may overcome the need for animals in research, but these alternative methods serve only as adjuncts to basic animal research.

In a nationwide survey conducted in December 1993 by the Los Angeles Times, respondents were asked whether they agreed with the following statement by PETA's Newkirk: "Animals are like us in all important things—they feel pain, act with altruism, they talk and suffer fear. They value their lives, even if we don't understand those lives." Of the 1,612 adults polled, 47 percent agreed with Newkirk's statement and 51 percent disagreed. The survey also found that 54 percent opposed hunting for sport and 50 percent opposed the wearing of fur. Forty-six percent said the laws protecting animals from inhumane treatment were satisfactory, whereas 30 percent said the laws did not go far enough, and 17 percent said the laws went too far. Animal rights leaders expressed surprise that so many Americans agreed with some of the principle tenets of the animal protection movement.

A new wrinkle in the Animal Rights movement has been the attempt to gain the recognition of legal rights for animals. Animal rights advocates in both PETA and ALF had spoken for years about the need for animals to have legal rights under U.S. law. But this theory remained abstract until the end of the twentieth century.

Then in 2000, Stephen Wise published an influential animal rights book. Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals took a legalistic approach in arguing that at least two human-like species, chimpanzees and bonobos, and perhaps other species that were similarly developed, should be considered "persons". The book was reviewed in such noted publications as the Yale Law Journal and the Harvard Law Review. Among those legal scholars discussing the book were richard posner, eminent professor at the University of Chicago law school and judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Lawrence Tribe, professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard University.

Tribe seemed especially taken with the book's arguments. "Broadening the circle of rights-holders, or even broadening the definition of persons, I submit, is largely a matter of acculturation," said Tribe in a speech in Boston in support of the book. "It is not a matter of breaking through something, like a conceptual sound barrier. With the aid of statutes like those creating corporate persons, our legal system could surely recognize the personhood of chimpanzees, bonobos, and maybe someday of computers that are capable not just of beating Gary Kasparov but feeling sorry for him when he loses."

In 2002, Wise published a book called Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights, in which he expanded his rights arguments to include other species. But the arguments remained very similar. "On what nonarbitrary ground," he asks, "could a judge find [that a] little girl has a common-law right to bodily integrity that forbids her use in terminal biomedical research but that Koko [a gorilla with an IQ equal to that of a 4- or 5-year-old child] shouldn't have that right, without violating basic notions of equality?" What influence this nascent movement for the legal rights of animals has on the general animal rights movement promised to be interesting to observe.

Many legal commentators have been supportive or, at least, sympathetic toward the views of Wise and writers with similar opinions. Other legal scholars, on the other hand, have pointed out that granting broad rights to animals conflicts with some of the basic assumptions of the U.S. legal system, as well as the legal system elsewhere. Even where laws provide heightened protection for animals against abuse, the animals are still treated as a special form of property. If the law were to extend recognition of animals as holders of certain legal rights, their status as something greater than property raises difficult questions. For instance, when would these rights conflict with recognized Human Rights, and could the right of an animal in a certain case be greater than a right enjoyed by a human? Likewise, how can society merge the recognition of animal rights with the traditional, and in some cases, fundamental uses of animals, including their functions as sources of food and as goods and services that may be bartered? Scholarship and debate by legal experts continues to grow regarding these questions.

Further readings

Carbone, Larry. 2004. What Animals Want: Expertise and Advocacy in Laboratory Animal Welfare Policy. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Monamay, Vaughn. 2000. Animal Experimentation: A Guide to the Issues. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

The Draize test measures the irritancy of a substance such as a cosmetic or pesticide by applying it to the eyes of live rabbits for twenty-four hours. The LD50 test is used to calculate the median lethal dose of a substance by feeding it to a defined population of animals until 50 percent of them die. Some product manufacturers, such as Avon Products, Revlon, Faberge, Amway Corporation, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and Noxell Corporation, have discontinued some or all animal testing as a result of continued protests over the use of these tests.

During the late 1980s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported more than fifty incidents of Vandalism annually at research facilities and attacks on researchers themselves. In response, the U.S. Congress and numerous state legislatures enacted protective legislation. In August 1992, Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (18 U.S.C.A. § 43[1994]), which provides, in part, that anyone who "intentionally causes physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise by intentionally stealing, damaging, or causing the loss of any property (including animals or records) used by the animal enterprise, and thereby causes economic damage exceeding $10,000 to that enterprise, or conspires to do so shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."

If serious bodily injury or death to another person occurs in the course of the prohibited activity, the statute provides for imprisonment up to a life term. The act defines an animal enterprise as "(A) a commercial or academic enterprise that uses animals for food or fiber production, agriculture, research, or testing; (B) a zoo, aquarium, circus, rodeo, or lawful competitive animal event; or (C) any fair or similar event intended to advance agricultural arts and sciences."

By 1995, more than 20 states had passed similar legislation, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Several states also regulate the use of animals kept in pounds for use in research. Maine prohibits the use of pound animals for any research (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 17, § 1025 [West 1994]). California requires that any pound or animal regulation department where animals are turned over to a research facility post a sign stating "Animals Turned in to This Shelter May Be Used for Research Purposes," in a clearly visible place (Cal. Civ. Code § 1834.7 [West 1994]). In Oklahoma, pounds are required to supply unclaimed animals to research institutions, unless the owner of an animal bringing it to the pound specifies it is not to be used in research (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 4, § 394 [West 1994]).

At least three states regulate the sale of animals to research facilities. Minnesota law prohibits the transfer of a dog or cat by a person other than the owner to a research animal dealer, the possession of a dog or cat by a dealer without the owner's permission, or the transfer of a dog or cat by a dealer to an institution without the owner's permission (Minn. Stat. Ann. §346.55 [West 1994]). California law provides that anyone who steals an animal for purposes of sale, medical research, or other commercial use, or who knowingly defrauds another person of any animal for purposes of medical research or slaughter, may be imprisoned for up to one year (Cal. Penal Code § 487g [West 1994]). New York law prohibits the selling or giving away of a dog to a research institution without the written permission of its owner (N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 366-a [McKinney 1994]).

On the federal level, the Animal Welfare Act was amended in 1990 to regulate the use of pound animals in research. A new section titled "Protection of pets" provides that dogs and cats acquired by a pound, humane society, or similar entity or research facility must be held for not less than five days before being sold to dealers, so as to allow their recovery by their owners or their adoption by other individuals (7 U.S.C.A. § 2158 [1994]).

The use of animals in scientific, medical, and commercial research is expected to remain controversial. In her book The Monkey Wars, Deborah Blum advocated that animal rights activists and researchers share their viewpoints together in education programs to achieve a realistic understanding of the issues. According to Blum, such an understanding could end the two sides' long and bitter standoff.

The largest and most active animal rights group is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), originally founded in 1980 in Norfolk, Virginia. Since its founding, PETA has claimed a certain level of success in curbing unethical treatment of animals. Its self-proclaimed successes include the closing of the largest horse slaughterhouse in the United States, the closing of a military laboratory where animals were shot, and the end of the use of cats and dogs in wound laboratories. PETA not only details its "victories" on its web site, it also provides "action alerts" that identify instances that the group believes constitute animal cruelty.

Although PETA has had a significant impact on the use of animals in medical and scientific research, as well as other uses, its tactics have created an equal level of controversy. For instance, according to PETA president Ingrid Newkirk, human beings should not drink milk produced by cows, eat turkey meat, or wear fur because of the practices involved in preparing these goods. PETA's protests have ranged from vandalizing fur coats sold at a Macy's outlet in Boston to advocating the bombing of a New Jersey laboratory that uses animals for research. PETA claims that it does not support Terrorism, but it has funded, for example, the legal defense of an arsonist that set fire to a Michigan research lab.

PETA has been active in the court system, with various levels of success. In one case, PETA sought entry into a public art event held in 2000 in New York City called "CowParade." One of PETA's entries showed a cow divided into sections that resembled a butcher's chart. On each of the sections was a statement or quotation "concerning the health and ethical problems associated with the killing of cows for food." The committee responsible for the parade rejected the entry as too harsh and inappropriate for the parade. PETA brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, but the trial court granted Summary Judgment in favor of the parade organizers, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the summary judgment. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. Giuliani, 18 Fed. App. 35 (2d Cir. 2001).

Further readings

Blum, Deborah. 1995. The Monkey Wars. Don Mills, ON, Canada: Oxford Univ. Press.

Congressional Record. 1990. 136 (July).

Kistler, John M. 2000. Animal Rights: A Subject Guide, Bibliography, and Internet Comparison. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood.

Sherry, Clifford J. 1994. Animal Rights: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO.

Singer, Peter. 1975. Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals. New York: Avon.

Cross-references

Agriculture Department; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.