Comment: Vivisecting the
by Jon Entine
Social investors and
animal rights activists should accept that some scientific research
involving animals really is necessary, argues Jon Entine
circus no doubt warmed the hearts of some ethical business
supporters but should have turned the soul of anyone interested in human
rights. Fresh-faced young girls and boys, protesting outside of a public
meeting debating the fate of a proposed international neuroscience research
centre near Cambridge (Britain), brandished posters of monkeys with
heads smeared with blood-like red paint.
No primate research, one sign shouted. Cries of dont
torture monkeys, rang out. Despite their best efforts, these suburban-scrubbed
protesters could not hide the ugly scowl of intimidation that shadows
animal rights activists.
So why is this an issue of corporate social responsibility?
The anti-science protests are the work of the British Union for the
Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), and part of a worldwide web of animal
rights extremists that include Americas own PETA, People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals. If these activists should prevail, they
will scuttle what could be one of the most advanced, and animal-welfare
sensitive, biological research centres in the world. But more disturbing,
animal rights fundamentalists and those who enable them in the
corporate responsibility community are fanning distrust of medical
research by the public already softened by pandering by government officials
and so-called ethical consumer groups.
Perhaps its time to vivisect the anti-vivisectionists.
Animal rights has a noble history, beginning in 19th century England,
when angry protests curtailed the casual exploitation of animals. The
Achilles heal of animal research has always been the beauty business,
which had casually and often irresponsibly piggybacked on far more consequential
disease and drug studies. A turning point in the US came in 1980 when
a New York teacher named Henry Spira ran full-age ads in The New York
Times asking "How Many Rabbits Does Revlon Blind for Beautys
Sake?" By the end of that year, Revlon had capitulated, pledging
money to research alternatives at Johns Hopkins University to the dreaded
Draize eye test on rabbits.
Even cosmetic industry apologists now admit that corporations were then
doing far more tests than necessary to meet safety concerns. By the
late-1980s, Food and Drug Administration documents indicate that the
industry had reduced animal testing by 96%, all-but eliminated it on
finished products, and virtually phased out the two most controversial
tests, Draize eye and LD-50.
Thats the good news. The integrity factor of animal rights extremists
goes sharply downhill from there. Over the past decade, the movement
has slid from highlighting abuse in cosmetics to stirring hysteria about
legitimate and necessary medical research to alleviate human suffering.
Fundamentalists such as PETA like to portray themselves as mere monitors
trying to ensure that animals are not abused. Thats a disingenuous
cover. PETAs stated agenda is no less than to convert society
to vinyl shoe-wearing soy-based pseudo-cheese lovers. All animal testing
would be banned, even on life-saving drugs. The BUAV, while less confrontational,
is committed to ending animal experimentation outright,
in the words of former director Mike Baker.
Screening or marketing?
Some ethical investing leaders are enthusiastic supporters of such extremist
positions. Co-Op America, a leading green consumer information
group, actively promotes PETA boycotts, including against medical research.
Animal screens remain a central tenet of social investing, particularly
in Britain and Australia. For example, EIRIS the Ethical Investment
Research Service boasts that it can screen 2500 companies worldwide
for their animal rights position. Janice Carpenter, co-president of
Australias Ethical Investment Association and principal of a socially
focused financial planning firm, actively promotes her animal rights
According to a 1995 Social Investment Forum survey, 24 percent of US
social portfolios screened for animal rights more than for employee
rights including workplace treatment of women and minorities. Animal
screens began to fade in the late 90s but roared back to prominence
recently, inspired by protests like the worldwide campaign against Cambridge-based
Huntingdon Life Sciences. (In December, Britains Department of
Trade and Industry agreed to insure the company in the wake of death
threats by an animal activist group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty).
According to the latest SIF survey, between 30-49 percent of social
portfolios focus on animal testing higher than for executive
compensation or international labour standards.
For many social investors, animal screens reflect uncompromising absolutism,
not a nuanced ethical or scientific stance. I dont care
if [a company] is about to cure cancer or not, says Robert Loest,
head of the IPS Millennium Fund, one of numerous funds with animal rights
as a central negative screen. If they test on animals and are
intransigent about it, Im adamant about not investing in them.
The IPS Millennium Fund ranks in the bottom 1 percentile for performance
over the past three years.
Even social funds that in practice play down animal screens for
example, influential Trillium Asset Management of Boston demagogue
the issue for marketing gain. From fast food restaurants to product
testing laboratories, Trillium writes on its website, corporations
are deeply engaged in the abuse of animals. Huh? What world do
they live in, if not a cynical one that assumes that the very existence
of companies is the root of all evil.
This blathering might be acceptable as mere marketing froth if its consequences
were not so deeply felt. Some of the most dramatic breakthroughs in
medicine, from the latest AIDS protease inhibitor drugs to menopausal
treatments for women, have resulted from the responsible use of primate
tests. The contention that primate testing is not necessary to find
cures for inscrutable brain disorders such as schizophrenia, Alzheimers
and Parkinsons does not wash. How do individual neurons influence
behaviour? Which clumps of DNA are wired to which others? Scans, petri
dishes and computer modelling are too crude. As distressing as it may
seem, if you want answers and cures, you have to examine brain function.
Animal rights extremists are eager to tar scientists as heartless monsters.
Thats far from the truth. Even electrode implantation, which can
look gruesome, causes little pain; humans with Parkinsons readily
accept such treatments. But in the world of activist hysteria, dirt
sticks. Vigilante terror campaign of animal rights lunatics has cowed
the voice of reason.
It is discouraging that not one ethical investment leader has publicly
rejected this deeply reactionary activism to support critically necessary
scientific animal research. Yes, that might entail alienating some of
its hardcore base. But thats the price of leadership and ethics.
Instead, many are commercialising the issue under the guise of good
intentions. Thats cowardly and opportunistic and very revealing
about social investings moral compass.
Jon Entine is scholar-in-residence
at Miami University (Ohio) and adjunct fellow with the American Enterprise
Institute in Washington, DC. Jon is also an award-winning freelance