Liberals love to slur conservatives as "anti-science." But when it comes to damaging life-saving scientific research, no one can top the ultra-liberal People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
PETA bills itself as "the largest animal rights organization in the world," and claims to be backed by more than 3 million "members and supporters." The organization raised more than $30 million in contributions in 2011. Sadly, PETA is using this war chest in part to fund a dangerous campaign against medical research.
Scientists have long relied on animal testing in their work, especially studies involving non-human primates. In 2011, over 18,000 monkeys were shipped into the United States for research purposes, most of them from China.
But last year China Southern Airlines canceled a shipment of macaques bound for Los Angeles after suffering a withering public pressure campaign from PETA, according to a report from the prestigious journal Nature. "This was part of our larger campaign to disrupt the flow of primates to U.S. labs," boasts Justin Goodman, associate director of the laboratory investigations for PETA. PETA says that imports are not as necessary as they used to be because Western labs already have large, breeding primate populations.
But as Nature reports: "Breeding the animals in the United States instead would be problematic: infrastructure and labour costs are much higher than they are in Asia, and colonies are much more likely to become the targets of animal activists."
Needless to say, PETA's effort to shut down primate importation has sent chills through the biomedical research community. "It's unfortunate that some airlines have chosen to capitulate to a small number of individuals with an agenda who aren't truly representative of the general public," says Matthew Bailey, vice-president of the National Association for Biomedical Research.
The sad thing is that, even if successful, PETA's campaign may backfire and actually hurt the monkeys whose welfare they claim to champion. "Let's say [the activists] get their wish and no animal comes into the United States," argues Michael Hsu, president of animal-breeding company Shared Enterprises in Richlandtown, Pennsylvania. "Merck is not going to say: 'Okay, fine.' They are going to go to other countries where animal care might not be as good, and start doing research there," says Hsu.
Tipu Aziz, professor of neurosurgery at Oxford University in the UK, agrees. Aziz, who has used macaques in his research on Parkinson's disease, says, "I have no qualms about going abroad to do my work. There are quite a few countries that have good facilities: there are centres in India, Singapore, Malaysia, China."
So let's do the tally. PETA's push to cripple primate importation will: 1) hurt sick people, who may be denied medical advances made possible by primate research, 2) hurt the economy by forcing biomedical companies -- and the jobs and tax revenues they provide -- to relocate overseas, and 3) hurt the monkeys themselves, who will still be experimented on, but now in countries where their treatment will be far below what is standard in Western facilities.
That's some hat trick.
PETA's commitment to animal safety has also been called into question by James McWilliams of the Atlantic, who recently reported that in 2011, the "animal rights" organization actually euthanized the majority of animals that came into its care: "Out of 760 dogs impounded, they killed 713 ... As for cats, they impounded 1,211, euthanized 1,198 ... and found homes for a grand total of five." This works out to an abysmal adoption rate of 2.5 percent for dogs and 0.4 for cats. This from the cute critters' self-proclaimed advocates?
In PETA's warped ideology, one primate -- a research monkey -- has greater inherent value than another primate -- a person who may benefit from that research. The folks at PETA claim to love animals, but someone should clue them in -- people are animals, too
Matt Patterson is the Warren T. Brookes Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and senior editor at the Capital Research Center. Mpatterson.firstname.lastname@example.org