EDITORIAL: Peace talk

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  May 1996:

One of our cover stories this month deals with the ongoing process of strategic disengagement
, on both sides, from the 200-year-old battle over animal use in laboratory research ­­not as a matter of either side abandoning goals, but as a matter of recognizing that common goals may be achieved more readily if the conflict is less intense.

ANIMAL PEOPLE over the past year has advanced 10 suggestions for strategic disengagement in a manner which would simultaneously meet the major practical demands of the animal rights community and the major needs of biomedical research. They are based largely on inclinations already evident among both activists and researchers.

ANIMAL PEOPLE does not pretend that these suggestions can resolve the inescapable conflict over the rightness or wrongness of animal use per se. But they might form a mutually acceptable protocol for progress.

1) Reject fear tactics. This is requisite for building the mutual trust upon which all other progress depends. Tediously and ironically, just as major progress through disengagement seems imminent, a small sociopathic element within the animal rights cause has markedly escalated the use of violence. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 313 violent animal rights-related incidents within the U.S. between 1977 and June 1993­­but since then there have been almost 150 more, about half of them this year. Self-professed animal rights activists in the U.S. and Canada have claimed responsibility for more than 100 firebombings and mailings of razor-blade-filled packages in the U.S. and Canada over the past 20 years, two-thirds of them this year. The Animal Liberation Front has claimed most of the arsons, both over the years and recently, while the razor blade attacks are claimed by a splinter group calling itself “The Justice Department.”

It is not popular within animal protection circles to denounce the ALF et al, because 10 to 15 years ago, some early ALF actions did take animals out of bad situations, and did bring out evidence that helped end a few shockingly cruel projects. At that time, the ALF vicariously vented the frustrations of many activists as they confronted a seemingly intransigent, inflexible, and unrepentant biomedical research establishment. But the Robin Hood image of the ALF is belied by the reality that violent tactics demonstrate disrespect for civil process that in the long run can only erode progress toward a less violent society.

Yet the violence must be put into perspective. More than half the 450-odd incidents over the past 20 years were petty vandalism, and 11 of the 16 most destructive acts came between Christmas 1983 and July 1, 1989. Even with the recent attacks, the cumulative record of the ALF and like groups, in the U.S. and Canada, is comparable to the record of Halloween in any big city.

Further, the violent acts are at least partially the creation of a fear-based anti-animal rights strategy outlined in the 1986 paper Defense of the Fur Trade, prepared for the Canadian government by the public relations firm Thomas Grey Inc., and the 1989 American Medical Association Animal Research Action Plan. Both documents argued that the animal rights movement could be defeated by publicizing violence, to link the cause in the public mind with fanaticism. The strategy backfired. There is survey evidence that the public does identify animal rights activism with fanaticism­­but it is offset by evidence that animal rights goals have mainstream support and momentum. Polls sponsored by the AMA and Associated Press, respectively, show that between 1989 and 1996, unqualified support for the use of animals in research actually fell from 36% to 8%. Qualified acceptance of the use of animals in research increased from 28% to 62%­­which means that three fourths of the people who expressed no qualms about animal use in 1989 now have some qualms.

The percentage opposing animal use in biomedical research held steady at 29%.

While the data indicates that the deeds of the ALF et al are irrelevant to the evolution of public attitudes about animals, the sociopaths may never be convinced, especially when many researchers give sociopathy more attention than goes to the 99,999 activists out of every 100,000-plus who do not engage in vandalism or mayhem.

Animal protection leaders including the leadership of some of the most uncompromising animal rights groups have meanwhile denounced arson, property damage, and attacks against people­­but in part because of lingering sentiment for the ALF as Robin Hood, and in part because these leaders tend to be preoccupied with achieving illusory “movement unity,” such denunciations have been qualified with sympathy for anyone “trying to do something for animals.” Researchers then hear only the qualifications, and failing to recognize the underlying lack of support for violent acts against them, wrongly presume that sociopathy rather than genuine opposition to violence underlies the animal rights cause.

The potential deal is simple: if the animal rights community will forthrightly and unequivocally denounce violent actions, including all arsons, break-ins, and vandalism, the biomedical research community will cease efforts to link animal rights with terrorism.

Who speaks first? Anyone with the courage to lead. The more who stand up and offer to shake hands on the deal, on either side, the more will stand up­­and then progress can come through honoring the bargain struck.

2) Open all Institutional Animal Care and Research committee meetings and records to the public
, with full disclosure of research protocols. In exchange for open access to information, responsible animal rights leadership must agree that meetings are not to be disrupted and individual participants are not to be harassed. It may be that Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees might have to adopt an observer accreditation procedure, to admit activists and media who behave appropriately, while excluding yahoos. Refusals of admission must be based on actual violations of attendance rules, not on expressions of disagreement with the approval of projects.

3) Hold well-publicized regular open houses at all laboratories, as is already done at several institutions, keeping off limits only those parts of research sites that have to be off limits to prevent the spread of contagious disease or protect legitimate trade secrets. Observer accreditation might also be used as a security measure.

If anything revealed by following the above two recommendations does prove unacceptable to the public, it would have to be halted and redesigned, if done at all. ANIMAL PEOPLE hopes most biomedical researchers have the confidence in what they are doing to take that risk. We believe the longterm gains for all researchers to be had by demystifying their work would offset the short-term losses of a relative handful.

Activists, meanwhile, could gain not only by having more access to information, but also by demystifying themselves. IACUC meetings and open houses could be opportunities to impress upon researchers that some of their critics are serious, well-informed, ethical citizens, who deserve positive response to sincere concerns.

In exchange for open access to current information, activist groups must refrain from using old photographs and old descriptions of protocols that in some campaign literature we’ve seen go back to the 1950s and early 1960s, and involve procedures never performed by either the institutions or the individuals targeted by protest.

4) Biomedical researchers must not leave exposure, denunciation, and termination of cruel procedures or holding conditions up to the most militant activists. If a profession is to operate with a high degree of autonomy, it also must visibly demonstrate the will and the ability to discipline practitioners.

If and when the biomedical research community demonstrates real willingness to self-police in a meaningful public manner, the animal rights community owes the research community the respect of taking concerns about suspected abuses to the heads of the institutions in question first, before going to the media or straight to the public, and giving the institutions adequate opportunity to rectify bad situations before making a public stink.

5) Report biomedical use of rats, mice, and birds to the USDA­­ or publish independent tallies­­ whether or not the Animal Welfare Act so requires. Nothing builds suspicion of the biomedical community more than its ongoing adamant refusal to account for the animals who are purportedly more than 90% of all of those used–especially when the numbers used are apparently going down. The biomedical community should be able to provide the necessary data, already available on shipping invoices from suppliers, with much less trouble and expense than is involved in continuing to argue about it.

Once complete data is available, the animal rights community must cease and desist from using old and often ridiculously inflated estimates.

6) Biomedical researchers must not form alliances with wise-use wiseguys. Having anti-science “friends” who want to trash the National Biological Service, gut the Endangered Species Act, and deplete natural resources cannot help researcher credibility.

Conversely, the animal rights movement must not align itself with anti-science “friends” either. The object of stopping vivisection is not to be confused with such projects as terminating all public funding of research.

7) Biomedical researchers must be aware of the need for those humane organizations which are willing to work with them to show gains. The animal rights community meanwhile must be aware of the need of researchers to show their colleagues that they gain stature, not lose it, when they respond even partially to animal rights concerns.

Each community must be aware of the intense competition for funding among the other, and must understand the need to give a cooperative counterpart some statement, award, or tangible achievement which may be used in a direct mail appeal or a grant application. Empowering loyal opposition, whichever side of the fence one is on, is empowering oneself as well, because it increases one’s effective influence.

8) Halt classroom dissection at all levels below upper division university level courses for people majoring or minoring in biomedical subjects.
Public revulsion at laboratory use of animals grows directly from the near-universal memory of having been compelled to dissect a frog or whatever, or to watch such a dissection, as nothing more than a rite of passage in a mandatory course somewhere, from which the average student remembers little else with comparable vividness. Whatever scientists may say or do to express concern and respect for the animal lives they take is offset by the memory of lab instructors and fellow students trying to offset their misgivings with dark witicisms.

If the research and teaching communities can bring themselves to give up classroom dissection requirements for non-majors and minors, the animal rights cause will both gain a long-sought victory and lose the most effective means it has of recruiting support for antivivisection work. The trade should help both teams­­and save the lives of up to 15 million invertebrates, 3.2 million frogs, 1.5 million mammals, and a million fish per year­­about as many animals as are used in actual research and professional training.

9) Quit buying animals from random source dealers. Vendors of random-source dogs and cats are now the least important source of animals used in labs, in terms of numbers used, yet cause the most complaints about unethical procurement, including outright theft, and inhumane holding conditions. Every cent that biomedical researchers save in obtaining random source dogs and cats is offset by a dollar’s worth of suspicion.

Cease using random source animals, and the animal rights movement will be obliged to quit claiming that biomedical researchers are responsible for families losing pets.

10) Advertise your positions to one another, respectfully acknowledging critics;
recognize that while certain disagreements rooted in values and conscience may never be resolved, activists and researchers do share some common concerns; and explain what either side has done to meet those concerns.

ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that if opponents are addressed as one group of conscientious people speaking to another, then as primates, first cousins to both the violent chimpanzees and the peaceable bonobos, researchers and activists can come to respect each other as honorable opposition.

This, we further believe, is the approach most likely to reduce scientific use of animals the fastest.

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