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Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
S. A. E. N.
"Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation"

Articles and Reports

Editorial: Animals in experiments: old debate, new issues - 27 May 2008


Law must balance valid safety concerns, opponents' right to public information
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Story appeared in METRO section, Page B6

Debates over animal use in research and teaching have come full circle from the 19th century and they're here to stay.

The onus remains on researchers to explain why animals should be used and to assure the public they have taken steps to minimize suffering. To that end, they must be committed to public disclosure of their research and treatment of animals.

The onus remains on those who would ban the use of animals to acknowledge that, while technology has provided some alternatives (such as virtual dissection of frogs or cell-based testing of chemicals), for actual discovery of new medical devices and treatments the choice largely remains using humans or animals.

The onus remains on opponents of animal use, too, to dissociate themselves loudly and publicly from those who would use violence to achieve their aims.

The debate has been renewed as the University of California has noted a new tactic among extremists: posting researchers' names and home addresses on the Internet. Extremists have vandalized homes and made physical threats by phone and e-mail.

A UC-sponsored bill making its way through the California Legislature (AB 2296) would give universities and researchers the ability to pursue injunctions and damages from those who make such postings with the intent to incite violence (like existing laws protecting abortion doctors). An amended version of the bill passed the Assembly 76-0 on May 19.

But in the original version, the university attempted to go way too far in withholding information from the public. Fortunately, legislators took out vague, sweeping language that would allow the university to refuse disclosure about animal research if disclosure might result in harassment.

This unacceptable language could be resurrected in the Senate. Those who believe in public accountability and transparency will have to keep watch on the bill. This language comes as University of California campuses have been refusing to disclose basic information such as numbers of monkeys and current research projects indicating an utterly inappropriate disdain for anyone seeking to review their practices.

It's useful to recall that disputes over animal research are long-standing. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, founded in 1824 in Great Britain and granted royal status by Queen Victoria in 1840, won limits on the use of animals in research. In the United States, groups in the early 1900s sought to ban the use of animals in medical research. The debates in the Congressional Record look much like the debates of today.

At the same time, most of the medical advances of the 20th century such as vaccines for polio, measles, smallpox and tetanus were developed through animal research.

Then came a spate of extremist violence in the 1980s. Sacramentans, for example, might recall the 1987 burning of the animal diagnostic lab at UC Davis, then under construction.

In the 21st century, to win public support, researchers must be open about their practices and tell the story of the role of animal studies in medical advancements. And groups concerned about animal welfare must insist on access to public records, and continue the debate over animal use through peaceful means. This issue isn't going away. 

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