"Did you know," my friend whispered, "that the Humane Society funds terrorists?"
I was stunned. What? That's crazy! I've adopted pets from there. No way! How could those be the same people??
My friend and I were suffering from "brand confusion." In business, this happens when different companies use similar names for their products in order to confuse the marketplace. In the animal rights movement, brand confusion is used to misdirect the funds that would otherwise help groups who do genuine humanitarian work.
As I learned in "The Animal Research War" by P. Micheal Conn and James Parker [published by Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN-13:978-0-230-60014-0], there is an animal rights group that goes by the name of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). But this is not the group that runs animal shelters. The HSUS takes the money that well-meaning people think they're giving to shelters and uses it to fund propaganda campaigns. Unlike the other humane societies, this group is aligned with those who find it acceptable to firebomb homes.
Conn and Parker provide an interesting field guide to the various groups involved in the animal rights movement. They present gripping tales of what it's like to be a target for extremists and the price that society pays when scientists are driven away from biomedical work. They describe the philosophies and strategies used by different groups and the results. One of the most poignant parts of the book is where they discuss the casualties - the scientists who gave up their work and the students and doctors who've been scared away from working on human disease.
An important take home lesson from the book is the discussion of the philosophy that guides the use of animals in research and the rules designed to protect those animals. As Conn and Parker describe, there is a law called the Animal Welfare Act, passed in 1966 that regulates animal research. Another set of regulations comes from the U.S. Public Health Service Act which requires that all institutions receiving NIH, FDA, or CDC funds must adhere to the Guide for Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (National Research Council 1996). Institutions must have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to oversee all studies that involve animal research. IACUCs are able to stop any study that they think is being carried out improperly and the ensure that studies follow the three R's - that is to replace, reduce, and refine.
1. To replace means to use alternatives wherever possible. These include computer models, cells or organs grown in culture, or non-mammals like insects and fish. No one likes getting bitten by a rat or mouse or developing allergies to their dander. Most of the researchers I know are not heartless fiends, when there are valid alternatives to rats, mice, or other animals, they use them.
2. To reduce: researchers are required to use as few animals as possible.
3. To refine: researchers are required to minimize pain, and use noninvasive techniques wherever possible.
The Animal Welfare Act isn't the only law that regulates the use of animals. Conn and Parker discuss the other groups that regulate animal research, too, and describe what they do and their powers of enforcement. I think this information is important to students to know, especially biotechnology students, since they will be following the regulations.
"The Animal Research War" would be a good book to add to college and high school libraries and to accompany a bioethics course. It's reasonably priced and provides information that would be helpful for students to know. Many biotechnology programs include courses in bioethics, and since many biotechnology graduates are likely to face animal rights extremists sometime during their careers, it would be good for biotech students to be prepared and to know the facts.
Fellow ScienceBlogger, Nick Anthis, has reviewed this as well.