Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Spanish parliament to extend rights to apes


Spanish parliament to extend rights to apes
Wed Jun 25, 2008

By Martin Roberts

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's parliament voiced its support on Wednesday for the rights of great apes to life and freedom in what will apparently be the first time any national legislature has called for such rights for non-humans.

Parliament's environmental committee approved resolutions urging Spain to comply with the Great Apes Project, devised by scientists and philosophers who say our closest genetic relatives deserve rights hitherto limited to humans.

"This is a historic day in the struggle for animal rights and in defense of our evolutionary comrades, which will doubtless go down in the history of humanity," said Pedro Pozas, Spanish director of the Great Apes Project.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Looking at Richard Davidson's Assertions

During WISC-TV’s Sunday, June 22, program, "For The Record," Dr. Richard Davidson made a series of assertions to justify the use of monkeys in his invasive brain experiments and his study of fear and anxiety.
Davidson: ... the judicious use of nonhuman primates to address illness models is absolutely crucial. The disease that we are primarily focused on is depression. Depression is the worldwide leading cause of disability for individuals age 5 and older.
The following table is from the National Council on Disability’s letter to the President of the United States, “Keeping Track: National Disability Status and Program Performance Indicators.” April 21, 2008.

In the U.S., at least in the adult population, it doesn’t appear that depression is the leading cause of disability. It isn’t clear what part of “Mental Disability” would include depression, but it’s certainly not all of it. See for instance: Defining mental illness: An interview with a Mayo Clinic specialist.
Davidson: There are almost 100 suicides per day in the United States every year, and those suicides are primarily committed by people with depression… and so it is very clear that the current understanding and current treatments for this devastating illness are thoroughly inadequate to address the magnitude of this problem.

I believe that the judicious use of nonhuman primates for this research has the potential of saving enormous numbers of lives...
This is a graph illustrating data from the 2008 New York Times Almanac (p 384.)

It seems reasonable that a health problem’s magnitude should be judged in relation to other health problems, in this case, causes of death. What Davidson and others are really saying in claims like his, is that any and every cause of human death is of sufficient magnitude to justify the use of nonhuman primates in harmful experimentation. In other words, the magnitude of the problem is inconsequential when deciding whether or not to hurt animals; otherwise, Davison would have to argue that the causes with lower magnitude than suicide aren’t important enough to justify the use of animals. Claims about “the magnitude of the problem” serve only to make his work look more important than it actually is. This is what all vivisectors say about their own work no matter what area or problem they are studying.
Me: [paraphrasing: “The oversight system has been shown to be a failure, but that’s beside the point.] The question that we’re more interested in is how similar to us does another species have to be? We’ve already begun to … ban research on apes around the world. Some countries have already banned research on chimpanzees. Austria has banned research on all apes; that includes all the way down to gibbons. [As if there is an up and down.]

So how similar to us do they have to be? What are the characteristics that an animal has to have before you would think it would just be wrong to hurt it?

I would never hurt you no matter what the benefits for me would be. But you’re saying that the benefits can be so good for you that it’s ok to hurt an animal. So there must be some clear qualitative characteristic that I have that they don’t have, and I just don’t understand what that is.
Davidson: If I can just respond to that. First of all let me clarify the issue of hurt.

In the work that we, I’ve collaborated on in nonhuman primates, I think the word hurt is very misleading. The protocols that we use do not involve pain to the animals. In fact, the research that we do in humans, I would say, we are permitted to inflict more pain, if the protocol requires it, than we can in nonhuman primates.

And so, I think it is deeply misleading to use the term hurt.
This is an astounding statement. If he is being honest, then he simply doesn’t recognize that the monkeys in his studies are being hurt. That’s a degree of numbness to animals’ experiences that seems psychotic or else, he was intentionally misleading.

First, we have to put the monkey labs in context.

Viktor Reinhard, former UW primate veterinarian, has asked: "Is it really so farfetched to compare this situation with that of human prisoners kept in concentration camps?"

In the wild, rhesus monkeys remain with their mothers in their natal groups for many years. Some will spend their entire life in the same group. In the labs, the babies are taken from their mothers early on, in the Harlow lab, where Davidson’s monkeys are bred and kept, they are taken from their mothers at three months of age according to lab director, Christopher Coe.

In the wild, rhesus monkeys live in environmentally complex habitats and interact with many other monkeys in complex social hierarchies. In the labs, they are housed in small barren cages.

The subset of moneys selected by Davidson and his colleagues for use in these studies on fear and anxiety were identified by them as being much more anxious than other monkeys. Thus, they are using the monkeys most likely to be frightened by threats and disruptions.

The monkeys are taken from their home cage to a lab where they are frightened. In various studies, they are confronted with larger unfamiliar monkeys, staring lab workers, and real and rubber snakes.

Afterwards, their scalp is sliced open, a hole drilled through their skull, acid is injected into their brain or parts of their brain is cauterized and sucked out, and then the wound is sewn up. Once they "recover," they are again confronted with the frightening objects, and changes in their behavior are noted. In some studies, the monkeys are killed and their brains examined.

Davidson says, “I think it is deeply misleading to use the term hurt.” Can you imagine doing these things to a child, getting caught, and then claiming that you hadn’t hurt them? Davidson is allowed to hurt human subjects more than this? Doing so would land him in jail. Davidson’s claims are grossly misleading.

Here are some excerpts from his published work:

“This study assessed the role of the primate OFC in mediating anxious temperament and its involvement in fear responses. METHODS: Twelve adolescent rhesus monkeys were studied (six lesion and six control monkeys). Lesions were targeted at regions of the OFC that are most interconnected with the amygdala. Behavior and physiological parameters were assessed before and after the lesions. RESULTS: The OFC lesions significantly decreased threat-induced freezing and marginally decreased fearful responses to a snake.”

“One microliter of ibotenic acid was infused … into 16-23 sites distributed over the entire volume of the amygdala on each side of the brain. During surgery, mannitol was administered over 30 min to control brain swelling. After the ibotenic acid injections were made, the midline incision was sutured, and the animal recovered from anesthesia. To ease postsurgical discomfort, buprenorphine and acetaminophen were administered.”

“In primates, during times of need, calling for help is a universal experience. Calling for help recruits social support and promotes survival. However, calling for help also can attract predators, and it is adaptive to inhibit calls for help when a potential threat is perceived. Based on this, we hypothesized that individual differences in calling for help would be related to the activity of brain systems that mediate goal-directed behavior and the detection of threat. By using high-resolution positron emission tomography in rhesus monkeys undergoing social separation, we demonstrate that increased [18F]-fluoro-2-deoxy-d-glucose uptake in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and decreased uptake in the amygdala independently predict individual differences in calling for help.”
Davidson: “I think that for the very reasons you are describing because some similarities in particular brain structures, in specific, the circuits that are important in regulating emotion, there is I think, a lot of reason to believe that the information that we can glean from nonhuman primates will be extremely important to us and much more important than research at the rodent level for certain key questions.

And I think that this work can be done on a limited number of animals. I think that we need to continuously ask ourselves whether the procedures that we are using are absolutely necessary [and whether] the number of animals is necessary. And I think that there is a lot we can do to keep it to a minimum.

But I think given the magnitude of the human suffering that we are attempting to address, I think that it is in fact irresponsible not to engage in research where there is a clear promise of a new direction that may be pursued to minimize suffering and to minimize mortality and morbidity on a massive scale.
I’ve already shown that the magnitude argument is spurious. But what of his “clear promise of a new direction” argument? Clear promise? A clear promise is about as alien to basic research as sunshine is to the bottom of the Mariana trench. Most basic science researchers admit that they don’t know how their work will be used or even whether it ever will be. They argue that basic research is simply the accumulation of knowledge that might someday be put to some good use. Clear promise? Davidson needs to do his homework. The Institute of Medicine at the National Academies of Science convened a Clinical Research Roundtable in 2000 to analyze the success of basic research. They reported in 2003 that there is a “disconnection between the promise of basic science and the delivery of better health.” See too: Rodriguez, WR. Can biomedical research in the United States be saved from collapse? 2004 MebMD, Veritas Medicine.

And finally: Is Davidson a liar?

He says that he doesn’t have any monkeys and that he doesn’t receive federal grants for experiments on them.

These are true statements, but they probably misled the viewers. The Principle Investigator, or PI, on the grants that paid for the experiments on monkeys that Davidson put his name on, was Ned Kalin, MD., chair of the UW department of psychiatry. But Kalin probably does little to the monkeys himself. Their third colleague, Steve Shelton is likely the actual hands-on vivisector. But so what? In a meeting between Davidson and a group of activists he said that he had access to about 30 monkeys, that he had been involved in some of the surgeries, and that he had seen their living conditions.

Why then, did he try to claim that he is very removed from primate experimentation even while his name is on more than a dozen papers documenting highly invasive experiments on monkeys’ brains? I suspect that the answer has something to do with his embarrassment and his opinion of people’s gullibility.

Monday, June 23, 2008

For The Record: Primate Research at UW Madison

For The Record: Primate Research

WISC-TV's Neil Heinen and his panel debate the ethics, politics, and
potential of primate research and the University of Wisconsin-Madison's significant role in these controversial studies.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A ditch in Kansas 25 miles long to bury carcasses

From The Associated Press

Report compares costs of animal disease outbreak

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government acknowledged that an outbreak of one of the most contagious animal diseases from any of five locations being considered for a new high-security laboratory — an event it considered highly unlikely — would be more devastating to the U.S. economy than an outbreak from the isolated island lab where such research is now conducted.

The 1,005-page Homeland Security Department study, released Friday, calculated that economic losses in an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease could surpass $4 billion if the lab were built near livestock herds in Kansas or Texas, two options the Bush administration is considering. That would be roughly $1 billion higher than the government's estimate of losses blamed on a hypothetical outbreak from its existing laboratory on Plum Island, N.Y.


A simulated outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease — part of an earlier U.S. government exercise called "Crimson Sky" — ended with fictional riots in the streets after the simulation's National Guardsmen were ordered to kill tens of millions of farm animals, so many that troops ran out of bullets. In the exercise, the government said it would have been forced to dig a ditch in Kansas 25 miles long to bury carcasses.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The writing on the wall

Law Commission tips surge in animal rights push

Wednesday, 18/06/2008

The body that researches legal issues for the Federal Government says animal rights will be the next big social justice movement to hit Australia.

The Australian Law Reform Commission's latest journal focuses on the rights of animals and how to legislate for better treatment.

President Professor David Weisbrot says it's the Commission's job to comment on emerging social issues.

"Just a few years ago, not a single Australian university taught a dedicated course on animal law, and now I think it's something like a dozen or more and four or five in New Zealand," he says.

"So it's really come out of nowhere.

"I liken it to when I was at law school about 25 or so years ago, when there were very few environmental law courses, and now it's of course a staple."
See: Australian Law Reform Commission Many essays.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"For the Record"

I’ve just come home from taping a segment for the Sunday morning program “For the Record” on Madison’s CBS affiliate WISC-TV 3. I was on a panel talking about animal experimentation with my colleague, Rick Marolt, and UW researchers Eric Sandgren and Richard Davidson. You should be able to see the segment on line after it airs on June 22, 2008.

The most interesting insight was the result of off-camera discussion. Davidson seemed more than baffled by the primary point: that monkeys are so like us that any rational explanation for why we shouldn’t experiment on non-consenting humans would logically extend to them.

He could only repeat his position that if experiments on monkeys lead to improvements in human health care, then he’s for it. Period. He got a little huffy about it. When asked what characteristics monkeys have or are lacking that make it ok to use them, he would only say that if it helps humans, it’s ok. It’s like he couldn’t get his mind around the question.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Pain of Animal Experimentation

[From SAEN!]

by Michael Budkie

Animal experimentation is a huge issue. It’s so big that we really have no adequate idea of how many animals are victimized in labs every year. About 1100 labs in the U.S. perform animal experiments. Tens of thousands of animal die every day – one at a time.

It is impossible to make sense of this issue. Duplication, (non) regulation, experimentation, brutalization. Protocols, inspection reports, animal use reports, grant applications, journal articles – this issue is comprised of a sea of paper. Too much to read. When you spend your days and nights looking at all of this you become an expert, whether you really want to or not, an expert in pain and suffering.

In the roughly 20 years that I’ve been an animal activist I have worked almost exclusively on the animal experimentation issue. I’ve read tens of thousands of pages of inspection reports, research protocols, and health care records for dogs, cats, goats, and primates. After awhile you start to look at things not in terms of the pain and suffering, or the insanity of the experimentation, but for the quality of the information. Dealing with all of this suffering, greed, and death tends to rob you of your emotions. You start to keep a distance, speaking in terms of press coverage, and reaching people with the truth. You separate yourself from the pain – the pain of the animals – and your own. You start to function almost like the staff of animal laboratories. If you think in terms of the individual lives lost it will be far too painful.

Then it happens. Something grabs you and won’t let go. It might be a picture, it might be a specific animal, or it might even be a phrase.

Marilyn Carroll performs drug addiction experiments on primates at the University of Minnesota. This is nothing new. In fact, this project has been funded for 28 years. Carroll is actually funded through 4 separate grants, totaling roughly $1.1 million annually. Three of these grants have portions of unknown size that are devoted to salary. The fourth grant is nothing but salary, and it is funded in the amount of $138,988 per year. It would not be surprising if Marilyn Carroll received something in the vicinity of $200,000 per year as salary. The motivation for animal experimentation should be clear – it is very profitable, both for the institution and the individuals. This situation is not unique. Marilyn Carroll is only one of many researchers at the University of Minnesota, and this is only one of many labs. These numbers are repeated numerous times across the United States. The only things that change are the names of the individuals and the labs that they are located in.

Possibly the most common result of experimentation and confinement in the laboratory, at least for primates, is insanity. The laboratory environment is so artificial, so utterly contradictory to virtually every aspect of what is normal behavior for a primate, that insanity is almost unavoidable. It is a normal reaction to an extremely abnormal situation.

The abnormality of the situation of primates within the University of Minnesota is revealed very clearly by the medical records which the lab maintains for the primates used in this experimentation. On 8/9/05 primate 05GP20 is listed as “Temp was up due to primate jumping back and forth wildly.” On both 7/26/05 and 7/28/05 primate #312A is described “Still overdosing on current drug dosage, ataxic, hypersalivating, disoriented.” On 4/2/07 the same primate is listed with generalized alopecia and “On current drug dosage ataxic, hypersalivating, disoriented.” On 8/23/05 primate #312E shows evidence of self-mutilation: “did bite knee after observation.” Primate #45C on 3/21/06 is listed as “extremely thin, body condition is poor, severe alopecia . . . bruising on top of left ankle.” Monkey #45D on 11/15/05 is described: “ . . . ripping hair from the armpit area and chewing on the fur, each time he would grab a tuft of fur he would vocalize” Records for primate #78B dated 9/7/05 disclose “extreme alopecia” and #78B still has severe alopecia on 9/11/06. #25A lost part of his tongue on 3/22/05. Primate #25b was overdosed on 9/14/04 and was observed 11/15/05 “ . . . ripping hair from the armpit area and chewing on the fur, each time he would grab a tuft of hair he would vocalize.” Two separate primates are described this way. How many more are behaving like this without being noticed?

These terms describe lives of suffering, days of agony. The primates have little to look forward to other than the addictive drugs that at least temporarily remove them from reality.

Sometimes, when you least expect it something reaches out and grabs you. It’s not what you wanted to happen, and there may not be anything particularly different about the information, but it touches you – and you just can’t let go.

“NHP was observed by LACT ripping hair from the armpit area and chewing on the fur, each time he would grab a tuft of hair he would vocalize.”

The picture that this sentence creates in my mind is so clear that it is inescapable. The psychic agony of this monkey is so abject, so pure, so utter that it can drown your soul. I have been swamped by this image for days.

I did not choose this existence. Looking for suffering as though I was some ghoulish spectator at dismemberment is not the goal of my life.

But freedom is.

The only rational reason that any human being could have for immersion in this world of cruelty is to end it. When I read about puppies that have drowned in floor drains (Michigan State University), primates that are dissected while still alive (Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research) or a female sheep that dies with two rotting lambs inside her womb (North Dakota State University), these things are at the same time both tragedies and truths. They are ghastly and they are reality.

Each one of the thousands of pieces of paper that describe the horror of animal experimentation also describes some aspect of the life of an individual animal. The existence of these victims is sketched out one page at a time. Inspection report, daily care log, surgical record, necropsy (post-mortem) report. The deaths of infants and the decades-long lives of intelligent animals like rhesus monkeys whose reality is utterly unreal to them, all of these things are captured one page at a time. They are not just statistics to be added and subtracted; they are individuals whose lives matter.

It is up to us to try to give their lives some collective meaning. It is our duty to make sure that their deaths were not in vain, that they do not go unnoticed. They must be honored, and remembered.

We have a very simple choice to make. We can either sit on the sidelines and let these images overwhelm us with grief or we can use this pain, the pain that we share with these animals because they are so much like us, as our motivation for action.

I choose to act. I choose to try to give these countless lives and deaths some meaning. And I have made that choice anew virtually every day since 1986.

This is the world of animal experimentation. Welcome to it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

AAALAC is just propaganda

AAALAC International is a private, nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science through voluntary accreditation and assessment programs. AAALAC stands for the "Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care."

AAALAC's purpose is to provide an open, fair and impartial peer-evaluation that results in valuable suggestions and information organizations will use to improve their programs and achieve new levels of excellence.
Christian E. Newcomer, V.M.D., Dip ACLAM

Dr. Chris Newcomer recently became the Executive Director of AAALAC International on June 1, 2008 culminating his 24 years of participation in AAALAC International site visit activities as an ad hoc consultant and a member of the Council on Accreditation. Dr. Newcomer recently held a position on the faculty and in the administration of Johns Hopkins University as Associate Provost for Animal Research and Resources. He is a current member of the NABR Board of Trustees. An International Forum for Animal Research Policy [Requires registration. Many pages password protected.]
But NABR is anything but impartial.
The National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR) is the only national, nonprofit organization dedicated solely to advocating sound public policy that recognizes the vital role of humane animal use in biomedical research, higher education and product safety testing.
Impartial my ass.

Protests at UC animal-lab workers' homes

Protests at UC animal-lab workers' homes
Phillip Matier,Andrew Ross

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Officials have been trying to keep it quiet, but 24 UC Berkeley researchers and seven staffers have been harassed by animal rights activists in recent months, in some cases having their homes or cars vandalized.

"What they all have in common is that they all work in animal research," UC Berkeley spokesman Robert Sanders said of the targeted employees...

Even a researcher who studies bird singing has been harassed and had his house vandalized.

"To study bird songs, you need to get them into the lab," Sanders said. "You want to record them and see how they raise their young."

It's not exactly the animal torture chamber one usually associates with the most negative depictions of animal research. But "apparently, these activists don't believe in any kind of animal research," Sanders said....
The researcher studying bird song is, apparently, Frederic Theunissen. UC Berkeley spokesman Robert Sanders should either do his homework or quit lying. Here are a couple excerpts from Theunissen's published papers:
To measure the overall maturation of the lower auditory system, we obtained audiograms from auditory brain stem responses. All animal procedures were approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee at University of California Berkeley and University of California San Francisco (UCSF). [I'm reassured.]... For the experiment, the bird was placed on a bird sling inside a double-chambered sound-proof box. The bird's head was carefully taped onto the sling to prevent any movement. Free-field sounds were played from a speaker placed directly in front of the bird at 15 cm. Before each experiment, the sound delivery system was calibrated using a Ban dK microphone. Three adult males and one female (n = 4) were used for the adult data; three 20-day-old females (n = 3), two 10-day-old males, and two 10-day-old females (n = 4) were used for the juvenile data. The threshold levels for males and female birds were statistically indistinguishable in the adult or when the adult and 20-day-old data were combined...

The evoked potentials were recorded using low-impedance pin electrodes. A recording electrode was placed into the cerebellum just above the auditory brain stem. A second, differential electrode was placed in the forebrain.... (Amin N, Doupe A, Theunissen FE. Development of selectivity for natural sounds in the songbird auditory forebrain. J Neurophysiol. 2007.)
"It's not exactly the animal torture chamber..."
SUBJECTS. Two female rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) were used in these experiments. Both monkeys were trained on the task described in this study. They weighed between 8.0 and 9.0 kg. All surgical, recording, and training sessions were in accordance with the National Institutes of Health's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals and were approved by the Dartmouth Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Neither monkey had been operantly trained to make behavioral responses to auditory stimuli.

SURGICAL PROCEDURES. Surgical procedures were conducted under aseptic, sterile conditions, using general anesthesia (isoflurane). These procedures were performed in a dedicated surgical suite operated by the Animal Resource Center at Dartmouth College.

In the first procedure, titanium bone screws were implanted in the skull and a methylmethacrylate implant was constructed. A Teflon-insulated, 50-gauge stainless steel wire coil was also implanted between the conjunctiva and the sclera; the wire coil allowed us to monitor the monkey's eye position (Judge et al. 1980). Finally, a head-positioning cylinder (FHC-S2; Crist Instruments, Hagerstown, MD) was embedded in the implant. This cylinder connected to a primate chair and stabilized the monkey's head during behavioral-training and recording sessions.

After the monkeys learned the passive-listening task ... a craniotomy was performed and a recording cylinder (ICO-J20, Crist Instruments) was implanted. This surgical procedure provided chronic access to the vPFC for neurophysiological recordings. (Cohen YE, Theunissen F, Russ BE, Gill P. Acoustic features of rhesus vocalizations and their representation in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. J Neurophysiol. 2007.)
"[A]apparently, these activists don't believe in any kind of animal research."
Female choice plays a critical role in the evolution of male acoustic displays. Yet there is limited information on the neurophysiological basis of female songbirds' auditory recognition systems. To understand the neural mechanisms of how non-singing female songbirds perceive behaviorally relevant vocalizations, we recorded responses of single neurons to acoustic stimuli in two auditory forebrain regions, the caudal lateral mesopallium (CLM) and Field L, in anesthetized adult female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Using various metrics of response selectivity, we found consistently higher response strengths for unfamiliar conspecific songs compared to tone pips and white noise in Field L but not in CLM. We also found that neurons in the left auditory forebrain had lower response strengths to synthetics sounds, leading to overall higher neural selectivity for song in neurons of the left hemisphere. This laterality effect is consistent with previously published behavioral data in zebra finches. Overall, our results from Field L are in parallel and from CLM are in contrast with the patterns of response selectivity reported for conspecific songs over synthetic sounds in male zebra finches, suggesting some degree of sexual dimorphism of auditory perception mechanisms in songbirds. (Hauber ME, Cassey P, Woolley SM, Theunissen FE. Neurophysiological response selectivity for conspecific songs over synthetic sounds in the auditory forebrain of non-singing female songbirds. Department of Psychology and Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley, USA. J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2007.)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Letter from Martin Balluch

Vienna 4th June 2008

12 days ago in the night, in my own home, I was attacked and robbed by a group of armed, masked men. This is an unending nightmare. To this day I am still sitting in a tiny cell and stare all day long at the same desolate wall, and cannot take a single step in privacy, nor can I read the newspaper or see my friends and family.

This is the 13th day of my hunger strike. Having been attacked and locked away without even the smallest reasonable suspicion of having committed a crime, I found myself forced to use the last of my autonomy to make a protest: I refuse to eat. 13 days without food is very painful. The sensations of hunger drill down into all levels of my consciousness. My body is visibly deteriorating. I have already lost 18 kilos. Every movement is awful and exhausting, and I have frequent severe muscle and stomach cramps.

I read in the mile-high file on my case that the police have been listening in on my life without interruption for more than a year now, listening in on every private and intimate conversation that I have. And even so they have not found even one single bit of proof that would show I had broken the law. The only “proof” against me that is mentioned are my convictions, convictions that are evidenced in private conversations and in interviews with and reports about me in the media. Yes, animal protection is terribly important to me and I have dedicated my life to it. Yes, I believe that the horrific treatment of animals in laboratories and animal factories is not irrelevant in general or to my life, but is instead comparable to the torture and abuse of people. But this does not make me a criminal. For 25 years now I have been active for animal protection and not once have I ever been convicted of a crime. In this country we have the freedom to express our opinions and the freedom to think as our conscience leads us to. At least that is what I used to believe until very recently. The civil and human rights guaranteed by the Austrian Constitution forbid persecuting, abusing and locking away someone for their beliefs. But indeed, exactly that is what is happening to me.

In the two-and-a-half decades in which I have been active for animal protection, I had great successes especially in recent years. I was able to personally contribute significantly to the prohibition of fur farms, wild animals in circuses and above all to the end of battery chicken farms, so that in Austria today we have the best animal protection in the world. But it's exactly that – especially the end of the battery chicken farms – that seems to have soured some of the powerful. Since 2004 there has been increasing harassment from the authorities, culminating in false testimony about the Association Against Animal Factories being made by the then Minister of the Interior before the Austrian Parliament. A suit filed for revocation of his remarks met with no success because of his parliamentary immunity, but he was forced to admit to the federal Ombudsman Board (Volksanwaltschaft) that he had “been wrong.” He did not even react then to newspaper ads in which the Association against Animal Factories stated that he was a liar.

But, as it says in my file, a Special Commission against animal protection was instituted and it has eavesdropped on me and many other animal protection activists and associations since approximately April 2007. However, since obviously no real suspicion could be founded despite spying on all of these many conversations and emails, something had to happen. The Special Commission couldn't be dissolved without any results. So it was decided to undertake a major raid and house searches in a dramatic way, in the hopes of digging up some kind of circumstantial evidence.

According to my file there were 23 searches made on 21 May, targeting animal protectionists' private spaces, including five offices of animal protection associations (also the Association against Animal Factories offices in Vienna and Graz) as well as the VGT materials storage area. 24 animal protectionists were arrested by the police and questioned, including 8 VGT activists.

As cause for the action, since there were no specific suspicions, the vaguest and most unspecific accusation had to be found. It was decided to choose Section 278a of the Criminal Code, dealing with the establishment of a very large criminal organization. Since it had been planned from the beginning to put 10 people into investigative custody, Section 278a with its significantly worse punishment for large criminal associations was chosen instead of the “smaller” Section 278. Despite the fact that, as the police file itself says, I had personal contact of any kind ever with only 6 of the other 9 detainees.

In order to justify this brutal police action against animal protection to the public, the elite 'WEGA' force was sent to carry out the raids with weapons drawn, and then rumours regarding suspected arson and gas attacks were spread. There's nothing about this in the file, though. Never has there been a gas attack in Austria having anything to do with animal protection, and the last case of animal-protection related arson lies six years back. The fact of the matter is that damage to property in the name of animal protection is extraordinarily rare in Austria compared to other countries. This is certainly due to the great animal protection successes of recent years in Austria. We were able to bring about change in Austria. Accordingly, the frustration level is low in Austria, frustration levels being the main trigger for such actions where they are high.

Why then am I not set free now? It's quite simple. The entire action was politically motivated and probably directed from the top. If I were set free now, then the public would see it as an admission that the whole action and all the work of the Special Commission had not resulted in any useful results whatsoever. So I have to remain in this cell and slowly starve, so that the Minister of the Interior can save face. It wouldn't surprise me if it were being planned to set us free during the decisive EuroCup games in the hopes of avoiding press coverage.

This scandal cannot be tolerated. I ask everyone who cares about animal protection and human rights to take action now to prevent this crime. This kind of police arbitrariness against NPOs is something we might recognize in dictatorships, but not in a democracy. Please stand up strong; stand against this outrageous injustice. My life depends on it.

Dr Martin Balluch
Chairman of the Association against Animal Factories
Zelle B3/15
Justizanstalt Wien-Josefstadt

Martin Balluch – The Interview

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Pressure Cooker

I am occasionally criticized and challenged for my lack of condemnation of the more extreme tactics used by some activists in light of my claim that I care about humans and other animals equally. Because I don’t condemn the vandalism of Edythe London’s home, I must not care about her and thus, I am a hypocrite. In other words, it is claimed that I don’t think we should harm animals, but I think harming her is ok.

But it’s not that I don’t have concern and respect for Edythe. If she came to my door begging for food, I’d feed her; if she were thirsty, I’d give her water. I would defend her in certain circumstances, even with my life. If she were living her life without intentionally hurting others, anti-cruelty activists would never have noticed her.

We have a responsibility to speak out and even intervene in situations where people are seriously harming others for personal gain, be it economic, political, or any other reason. I think we had a responsibility to intervene in Rwanda that we shirked; I don’t think it is wrong to use violence in some cases when other means have failed or even without trying other means in especially dire circumstances.

In the case of the animals, I hope we can invent new means to address the problem since everything tried to date has pretty much failed to stem the terror and carnage.

When other means have failed, and we can find no new means to try, in some cases, especially in cases where much harm is occurring even as we stand by and wonder what else we can do, violence might be the only choice. Sometimes there isn’t a choice.

Choiceless choices

Animal rights activists, not surprisingly, are frequently big fans of ahimsa. As a group, they are quick to condemn occasional property-damaging direct action such as the flooding and subsequent fire at the home of Edythe London. Such action evokes criticism and condemnation. This is understandable and would be a laudable normal response in a sane world.

But this isn’t a sane world.

If you can, put yourself in the place of a Jewish woman in 1942 with her child and ten or so other people hiding in a boat’s false bulkhead and trying to make it to safety. A Nazi cruiser comes alongside and soldiers board the boat looking for stowaways. Your baby starts to whimper. If they hear her everyone will be discovered.

The horrific fact is that during the course of the Holocaust similar scenarios forced people to do things that under any normal situation would be completely unimaginable. Parents suffocated their children to keep them silent.

Lawrence L. Langer coined the term “choiceless choices” as a name for the impossible decisions made by Jews and others in Nazi Germany that under normal circumstances would have been absolutely unthinkable. Choiceless choices are options between one form of abnormal response and another, both imposed by a situation that is not in one’s control or of one’s making.

There are circumstances when violence might be the most reasonable abnormal response available.

Right now, millions of animals are suffering and being killed because we like the way they taste, like their skin, fur, or enjoy seeing them killed, or believe that hurting and killing them will help us somehow. Millions. Right now.

This isn’t rhetoric. According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2007 there were 9,031,035,000 chickens slaughtered in the U.S. That’s almost twenty-five million a day, a million an hour. And that’s just the chickens.
Commercial cattle slaughter during 2007 totaled 34.3 million head, up 2 percent from 2006.

Commercial calf slaughter totaled 758,100 head, 7 percent higher than a year ago.

Commercial hog slaughter totaled 109.2 million head, 4 percent higher than 2006.

Commercial sheep and lamb slaughter, at 2.69 million head, was down slightly from the previous year.

262,791,000 turkeys were slaughtered in 2007.
It is estimated that 30 million animals are killed in research labs every year and that fails to account for the large number of mice produced during the production of exotic mutants.

In 2007, there were 8 billion pounds of fish landed by the US commercial fish industry and 667,443,000 pounds of crustaceans. No one takes the time to count the individual animals.

And then there is recreational hunting and fishing, the zoos, the puppy mills, the circuses, the rodeos, the cock fights…

To those who believe that animals’ lives and experiences matter to them and should matter to us, these numbers mean something much different than they might to an agricultural economist. When you consider what these incomprehensibly large raw numbers represent, when you consider the cows too sick to stand who are drug to slaughter behind a tractor, and the monkeys strapped into chairs while chemicals are pumped into and sucked out of their brains, the situation is accurately understood to be bleak and overwhelming. When you listen to the industry’s excuses and propaganda, see the public sleepwalking through life, oblivious to the cries and moans, you could come to believe that the human species is insane.

What choices should a sane caring person make in such an impossible situation?

If one believes that at least some of the billions of animals we frighten, hurt, and kill every year might be suffering in ways not unlike the ways we might suffer in similar circumstances, what we might call an abnormal response begins to look reasonable and understandable.

Silence seems abnormal. Repeating the same behavior over and over again does too, and it can be a symptom of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Mental illness seems a not altogether unlikely response to an understanding of the widespread evil. Letters, lobbying, petitions, protests, bumper stickers, donations, tabling, and all the other non-violent means are understandable reactions to the reality of our role in the animals’ suffering, but the problem remains unsolved. Yet another letter must seem futile or unreasonable to a growing number of people. Some of them must be questioning whether peaceful means will ever slow the growth of this massive global horror.

What should a sane and reasonable person do? In the face of suffering on such an incomprehensible scale, it doesn’t seem abnormal or wrong to me to decide to stick a hose in someone’s window. I understand why some people might feel like they don’t have a choice. People who publicly criticize this sort of behavior should suggest a rational alternative.

The current situation, growing worse by the day, is a sort of pressure cooker. Society must find a way to relieve the pressure. In the past, some pressure has been vented through regulatory means. Bans on animal fighting, laws governing animal slaughter, experimentation, hunting regulations, etc., have been occasional pressure-relieving events. But the fire under the pot has never been turned down, and once the effect of regulation was widely understood to have led to no fundamental change in our grotesque relationship with other animals, the pressure began increasing once again.

The response from those who control the flame has been to reinforce the pot. They have done this by passing laws that make public protest more difficult. They have established new penalties for formerly legal forms of protest. They have made secrecy easier for labs and other animal enterprises to maintain and defend. And all the while, the heat is increasing.

Reducing the pressure is a responsibility we all share.

Monday, June 2, 2008


"I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life." We cannot support any act of killing; no killing can be justified. But not to kill is not enough. We must also learn ways to prevent others from killing. We cannot say, "I am not responsible. They did it. My hands are clean." If you were in Germany during the time of the Nazis, you could not say, "They did it. I did not." If, during the Gulf War, you did not say or do anything to try to stop the killing, you were not practicing this precept. Even if what you said or did failed to stop the war, what is important is that you tried, using your insight and compassion.[emphasis in the original.]
Thich Nhat Hanh

Compare this to: Vivisectors freed from Samsara