From the President’s Desk ... September 1998

From the President’s Desk ... September 1998

The Muddled Middle


By:  Date: 09/1/1998 Category: | From the Offices of NAIA |

When the modern animal-rights movement burst on the scene around 1980 following publication of Peter Singer's Animal Liberation, most (the general populace and the media)saw it as an expression of great concern for the welfare of animals. Sometimes that concern found expression in rather extreme actions to be sure; but, nevertheless, the concern was real--or so thought most. Unless one had had direct experience with the movement, such as those of us involved in the case of Dr. Edward Taub of Silver Spring MD, he or she did not easily recognize that this phenomenon was more anti-human than pro-animal. Even if it were the latter, with the radical (and naive) goal of eliminating all animal use, it did not appear as a serious threat to most, probably because that goal is essentially a crazy idea.

A blatantly anti-human position appears in the statements of the political leaders of the movement, and no one provides a richer source of quotations than the national director of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk. Her most famous statement: "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy" pales in comparison with her most infamous: "Six million Jews died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses." Lesser lights have proffered some real beauties, such as this from a John McCardle, then working for the Humane Society of the United States, who recommended substituting brain-dead humans for animals in surgical research:"It may take people awhile to get used to the idea, but once they do, the savings in animal lives will be substantial." The point here is that much evidence existed that should have instructed people that the animal-rights movement does not equate with the animal-welfare movement. Why did many, including those in government, not recognize this?

The simple reason is that the animal-rights movement spoke even louder about how atrociously we were treating animals, thereby playing upon what I have come to realize are very strong feelings about animals. In the case of biomedical research, they claimed that not only are animals treated cruelly in laboratories, they are not even needed. Either out of incredible ignorance or equally incredible dishonesty various spokesmen argue that the study of human patients or the use of modern techniques, such as the study of cells in tissue culture or computer modeling, can render animal use obsolete. These notions, coupled with ugly descriptions of laboratory conditions, stimulated an incredible outpouring of funds from impassioned but naive people, allowing the movement to expand its efforts in many directions.

As we who use animals in various ways finally realized the necessity to organize and to defend ourselves, a remarkable thing happened: The clear, black-and-white distinction between animal welfare and animal rights blurred with the appearance of new phraseology. Those opposing animal use and those questioning the quality of animal use (traditional animal welfarists) blended into a new grouping, the animal protection community. And with that came the call to seek a common ground, to abandon polemics for the sake of the animals. And so was created (conveniently) a muddled middle, inhabited by those who do not see that a middle ground between use and non-use of animals is a logical impossibility.

I argue that the traditional animal-welfarists who slipped in to using this terminology, i.e., animal protection, impede dialogue because we who insist that animals can and must be used by society know that extremists range within this new group as wolves in sheep's clothing. They cannot engage in our discussions for their goal differs drastically from those of us who seek humane treatment of animals.

Although the safe course for me as a research scientist would be to focus solely on attacks on life-saving biomedical research, (like others speaking for research), I think I have a special obligation to range more widely. With my rural and veterinary background, I feel compelled to refute false claims made against other animal use. The muddled middle does not have a clear understanding of how a variety of uses fit into a coherent whole: the necessary participation of humans, and most especially modern humans, in the intricacies of Nature. At the same time, we who choose to use animals for pleasure and those who do so out of necessity must do so responsibly. We in NAIA do.

Adrian R. Morrison, DVM PhD
President, NAIA




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