An interview with PETA shows that the group is helping with the destruction of current technologies contributing to the suffering of animals worldwide while embracing emerging technologies that will help the fight for animal rights.
Kris Notaro: What hormones are being used, how are they administered, and what kind of effects do they have on animals?
PETA: Growth-promoting drugs are used in virtually every species of farmed animal, but hormones are a specific class of drugs that are given to sheep and cows raised for beef and milk, and they are typically administered by injection in the animal’s muscle tissue. Some of these drugs are known to contribute to foot injuries and lameness as well as painful udder infections in cows used for their milk.
KN: What other chemicals are used in factory farm conditions?
PETA: Another class of drugs—antibiotics—is fed to chickens and turkeys across the United States so that they will grow to massive proportions very quickly and can be slaughtered within weeks. Selective breeding, coupled with the wanton use of these drugs, causes these animals’ upper bodies to grow so large that many of them suffer from broken legs, painful arthritis, or heart attacks. In order to create as much meat, milk, and eggs as possible in a short amount of time, factory farm operators cram as many animals as possible into tiny spaces, which makes them a breeding ground for dangerous pathogens. As a result, antibiotics are also used to prevent and control disease outbreaks. This has been implicated in the development of “superbugs,” which pose a serious threat to human health. Eighty percent of the antibiotics sold in this country are given to animals raised for food, playing a major role in the deaths of the 70,000 Americans a year who are killed by drug-resistant infections.
KN: What corporations are mainly contributing the development of new technologies that play a role in scientific testing and suffering of animals?
PETA: Experiments on animals by chemical and drug companies, for example, are frequently performed to satisfy regulatory agencies’ requirements. Yet these tests do not reliably predict outcomes in humans. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) own figures state that 92 percent of drugs that are safe and effective in animal tests fail in humans because they are dangerous or don’t work. These tests also often cost companies huge amounts of money (a single animal test can be $500,000 to perform), and the public increasingly disapproves of animal testing. A 2011 Gallup poll found that 43 percent of the public is opposed to the practice.
Recognizing these limitations, a landmark 2007 National Academies of Science report, Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy, advocated for a chemical testing paradigm that relies exclusively on modern non-animal methods. This spurred a large project entitled “Tox21,” which has brought together a number of participants—including the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, and Environmental Protection Agency—to work toward the replacement of animal tests.
While some government agencies and companies are making significant efforts to develop modern methods that save animals, time, and money, others are complacent with the crude and cruel methods they currently use, and part of PETA’s work involves getting these organizations to the table—both publicly and privately—and urging them to modernize their testing methods.
PETA has also provided more than $1 million in donations to research laboratories to develop and validate more accurate, modern, and cost-effective alternatives to cruel animal-based testing methods. This funding rivals the contributions of many multibillion-dollar chemical and cosmetics companies that will benefit from these non-animal methods.
KN: Are there any new technologies that have been introduced that contribute to the suffering of these animals?
PETA: Genetic engineering is responsible for a skyrocketing increase in the numbers of animals used in laboratory experiments over the last 25 years. First, in developing a particular transgenic line, 90 to 99 percent of the animals are killed immediately because they do not incorporate the desired gene. Those who survive suffer from severe birth defects, degenerative joint disease, heart problems, liver and kidney diseases, pneumonia, and cancer. And yet animals can never be “humanized”—no matter how much genetic manipulation and wishful thinking is inflicted on them, a mouse cannot be turned into a tiny human being. There will always be thousands of important differences. The emergent field of nanotechnology provides both challenges and opportunities regarding animal use. Regulations specifically requiring animal testing do not yet exist for nanomaterials, and most scientists acknowledge that the animal tests used in the past do an even worse job predicting the safety of nanomaterials than they have done for traditional chemicals and pharmaceuticals. MatTek, which has been a pioneer in developing three-dimensional human-based tissue cultures (skin, mucosa, lung, etc.), has shown that these methods can be used for nanomaterials. PETA is taking the opportunity offered by the field of nanotechnology to push for a new testing paradigm that does not rely on animal-based tests.
KN: The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies has seen brain imaging and brain simulations on computers used more and more in the brain and biological sciences to gather info about the mind. What types of technologies have you seen used in neuroscience on animals? Is it getting better or worse because of the use of computer technology?
PETA: Unfortunately, with the brain sciences increasingly focusing on activity at the level of the neuron (and smaller), animals are often subjected to cruel experiments because they are readily available, are easy to handle, and can be used at experimenters’ convenience. Rats, cats, and monkeys have holes drilled into their skulls, their brains intentionally damaged, hardware screwed into their heads, and electrodes implanted inside their skulls in order to record brain activity. Instead of cutting into and damaging the brains of animals, progressive researchers who are interested in studying the human brain are using advanced human-based brain imaging and recording techniques such as MRI, fMRI, EEG, PET, and CT. These modern techniques allow the human brain to be safely studied even down to the level of a single neuron (as in the case of intracranial EEG), and researchers can even temporarily and reversibly induce brain disorders using transcranial magnetic stimulation. Not only do these techniques eliminate the use of animals and the obstacle of interspecies extrapolation, they also provide rich data about the human brain that could not be ascertained through the use of animals.
KN: What can people do to reduce the suffering of animals today and in the future?
PETA: The easiest and most effective way to help animals is to switch to a vegan diet. The way that animals are drugged and confined on factory farms and in laboratories is just the tip of the iceberg. In today’s industrialized meat and dairy industries, chickens and turkeys have their throats cut while they’re still conscious, piglets have their tails and testicles cut off without being given any painkillers, fish are suffocated or cut open while they’re still alive on the decks of fishing boats, and calves are taken away from their mothers within hours of birth. Anyone who’s interested in saving more than 100 animals every year and reducing their risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer should check out PETA’s vegan/vegetarian starter kit. Buying products that are not tested on animals is also an easy way to help stop animal suffering. You can see PETA’s list of companies that do and that don’t test on animals here
KN: What kind of food technologies are out there that can help low-income households maintain a vegetarian diet and receive the proper vitamins, minerals, and amino acids?
PETA: All the essential amino acids are available through a plant-based diet. The most important supplements for vegans to take are B12 and vegan DHA, both of which are available over the counter at very reasonable prices. Given the amount of money that many people spend on treating meat-associated diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, Americans can’t afford not to go vegan.
KN: Do you see a positive future where genetic engineering produces meat without brains?
PETA: Absolutely. In fact, it’s expected to happen in the next several years. But in the meantime, everyone can enjoy the many fabulous faux meats that have the taste without the cruelty. And vegan meats are free of artery-blocking cholesterol and have a fraction of the saturated fat, making them good for your heart in more ways than one!