Congratulations to PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk on the new release of her radicalizing book Free the Animals.
For those of you who didn't read the book when it first came out 20 years ago, Free the Animals is written like a novel you might take to the beach or on a plane, but it's meaty and juicy inside. It tells the riveting, real-life story of the people who put on disguises, use fake IDs or jimmy their way into laboratories in order to carry out the daring rescues of animals used in experiments and of the insiders, the whistleblowers, who risk their jobs to help them. One of those rescues involved Britches, an infant macaque monkey who had his eyes stitched closed and some kind of electrical box put on his head in a really lame and truly bizarre experiment. When PETA released photographs of Britches with his eyelids sewn shut, it was a PR nightmare for his tormentors, who switched to doing more benign things -- not as benign as, say, knitting, but at least they stopped using baby monkeys.
Which brings us to something else that's changed since the book was first released: the widespread awareness that writing letters to your member of Congress isn't enough and that bold action is needed to get animals out of laboratories, where dogs and rabbits are treated as though they were pieces of lab equipment. That's something that the surprisingly normal members of the Animal Liberation Front discovered and is discussed in Free the Animals.
One of those labs, SEMA, was the site of a 1987 nighttime raid that blew the lid off the abysmal conditions for chimpanzees in laboratories. Video footage taken inside the facility revealed that baby chimpanzees were locked alone inside steel boxes so restrictive that these social animals banged their heads against the solid walls over and over again.
Much has changed, yet much remains the same in a world as large as ours. In one recent experiment at BIOQUAL, a biomedical research laboratory, six chimpanzees -- as young as 2 years old -- were taken from their mothers, caged, and exposed to norovirus, which causes diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. What followed were months of painful biopsies in which bits of their organs were cut out. Don't tell me there's no other way, because there are lots of other ways to test cosmetics, floor cleaner and new drugs, to develop medicines and to show our military medics how to fix up injured soldiers on the battlefield. We just have to change our old habits and switch to new, modern ones.
Some people may still think it's OK to burn, shock, poison, starve, drown, and inflict brain damage on animals in laboratories, but polls show that the majority of us don't. We've evolved. We don't think it's acceptable to keep monkeys constantly thirsty to make them cooperate in exchange for a sip of juice or to force mice to swim to the point of exhaustion and drowning in order to simulate human depression. Thanks to video footage taken inside laboratories by PETA during undercover investigations, the entire public perception of animal experimentation has changed, and we want a better, more humane bang for our buck.
What the ALF was demanding and what even people who think it adventurous to send a postcard to L'Oreal asking the company not to test on animals are demanding is a switch to sophisticated non-animal research that typically takes less time to complete, is more applicable to humans, and costs only a fraction of the amount needed to feed a lab full of baboons and hire people to clean up their poop.
In the two decades since Free the Animals was first published, PETA has gotten animal experimenters prosecuted, persuaded hundreds of companies to stop testing products on animals, convinced government agencies to change testing requirements, convinced many facilities to use computerized manikins instead of animals for medical training exercises, funded the development of non-animal research methods for toxicity testing, convinced multiple airlines to stop shipping animals to labs, and much more.
Even scientists are catching on to the fact that torturing animals to try to fix human problems doesn't make sense. Last year, the Institute of Medicine released a landmark report concluding that "most current biomedical research use of chimpanzees is not necessary," and the National Nurses Association switched from cat intubation to human simulators. None of this would have been possible -- or even imaginable -- 20 years ago.
It's wrong to condemn dogs, mice, monkeys, and rabbits to a living death and constant fear by putting them in cold metal cages in a lab somewhere and treating them as if they don't matter. If you agree, and I hope you do, read Free the Animals -- it's an easy and absolutely thrilling read -- and then visit PETA.org to learn what's changed in the last 20 years, what still needs to be done, and how you can help.
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