Commentary: A rat by any other name

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Here is a story that is ironic, arrogant and self-serving—all at the same time.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing—which pretty much tells you all you need to know about its mission—announced that proposals are being solicited for what has been renamed the 2014 Science-Based Refinement Awards.

The program used to be called the Animal Welfare Enhancement Awards, which was a little more on point, to be honest, because this “scientific” program is anything but.

According to a news release, the program “is designed to elicit scientific evidence that supports the enhancement of housing, handling, and/or experimental situations for laboratory animals.”

The poster boy for these awards is a cute little white rat. Basically, somebody’s pet rodent. The use of this kind of warm, fuzzy visual is identical to how almost every animal activist group plasters photos of sad-eyed puppies and fluffy kittens all over their fund-raising materials designed to raise the money they use to attack animal agriculture.

But egregious “photographic license” is the least of the problems here. This project, while sounding so noble and above-board, is less about science and more about “making a statement.” The statement being: We’re opposed to using animals for medical or scientific research.

The bluster about “scientific evidence” “enhancing” the lives of lab rats is totally self-serving: The PR people preparing the center’s publicity package are pretending that nobody notices the obvious agenda being pursued here.

For example: Check out how carefully the proposal is worded to suggest high-flyin’ science. Then read between the lines for the underlying message:

“Studies may, for example, examine how physiological and behavioral stress responses to common husbandry and traditional treatment procedures can be reduced or eliminated; whether animals caged at different tier levels show different physiological and behavioral stress responses when being approached by personnel, and how those responses can be minimized or avoided; whether the presence of a compatible companion buffers physiological and behavioral stress responses to experimental situations, such as enforced restraint; and whether animals kept in legally minimum-sized cages benefit from a moderate increase in space that is empty, versus structured in species-appropriate ways.”

Let me condense that for you: We want evidence to confirm that “traditional animal husbandry” can be eliminated.

Think that traditional animal husbandry excludes livestock? Hardly.

Billions in gifts; pennies for rats

These awards, which are aimed at veterinarians and lab and animal technicians, don’t come without some serious strings attached. Here’s a quote from the RFP:

“The proposal should include a detailed description of the objectives of the study and the anticipated outcomes. It should provide sufficient detail so reviewers can understand what is being proposed, how it will be achieved, and how the data will be evaluated. The proposal should contain detailed information about procedures involving animals [and] a breakdown of the proposed budget. Review criteria include the innovation of proposal; the impact on animal welfare; the likelihood of obtaining publishable data; its widespread applicability; the contribution to knowledge about animal behavior/welfare; and the quality of the study design.”

And that’s just the application!

Here’s the arrogant part: The Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, which, by the way, is part of an institution that was the beneficiary in January of a $350 million gift from New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg—part of His Honor’s total contribution to the university of more than $1.1 billion—plans on granting awards of up to $6,000 per project.

Seriously? Six grand? How much “enhancement of housing, handling, and experimental situations for laboratory animals” gets done on six thousand dollars?

Answer: Barely enough to provide food pellets for the rats the center used on its publicity posters.

And here’s the irony: The attorneys who stand ready, willing and able to file multi-million dollar class-action suits against companies whose cosmetics, health and beauty or hair-care products cause untoward reactions or trigger allergies (which can only be determined beforehand with animal testing) are members of the same profession in which their colleagues are pursuing an aggressive strategy to secure legal standing for animals that they hope will one day fatten their wallets by turning millions of producers, feeders and packers into civil and criminal defendants.

If you have problems with this project, and the rationale behind its unwarranted publicity, contact the director to let her know that the real animal care experts out there on the farms, ranches and feedlots across the country aren’t happy about Johns Hopkins University getting in bed with activists who oppose livestock production and condemn scientific research done with lab animals.

Here’s the contact information:

Joanne Zurlo, Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins University
Environmental Sciences Department

(410) 955-5194

Be assured: Your calls and emails will have more impact than any of the center’s six-thousand dollar “research.”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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kansas  |  August, 28, 2013 at 01:44 PM

Good job Mr. Murphy and thanks! You are becoming quite accomplished in discovering, precisely identifying and properly bursting these devious psuedo-scientist's bubble of self-righteousness. Though I should be getting used to it, I'm still amazed at the sheer number of these Ag-Attack projects developing. More so with where and what formerly respectable, high profile organizations are being drawn into the cult of "animal activism". Johns Hopkins? That's really sad. Thanks again and you might want to look into an Obama BF, Cass Sunstein, and his ivy league activities regarding animal rights. When you have nearly psychotic (in my opinion) suggestions about making animals equal under the law to humanity, from top level advisors to a US President, it opens the gates to all flavors of bizarre assaulting farming and companion animal businesses & cultures. It's not just funny or weird anymore - these freaks are serious, have serious funding and "friends" in very high places.

Dan Murphy    
Everett, Wash.  |  August, 28, 2013 at 02:11 PM

Thanks for sharing those sentiments. Be sure to forward them to Dr. Sirloin!

Howard T. Lewis III    
Kamuela, Hawaii  |  August, 31, 2013 at 01:50 AM

I would figure that after 700 years of rodents and insects celebrating the bubonic plague and contaminating food and living space, one's priorities in life would exclude rats until WAY down the list. I know some people vote for two legged rats and try to make excuses for it later. This behavioural disorder could be remedied by abstention from excessive satanic 'animal husbandry'. Sooner or later they all get caught at it.

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