On April 21, the F.B.I. released a wanted poster on our first domestic terrorist. Daniel Andreas San Diego, an animal rights extremist, is being sought for alleged arson attacks on biotechnology companies in California. The FBI is offering a bounty of up to $250,000 for information leading to his arrest.
Kansas is not California, a statement most Kansans are proud to assert. Membership in extreme animal rights organizations in Kansas is very low. Most Kansans are at most only two or three relatives away from someone who works in an animal industry, from ranchers to meat processing to rodeo to pharmaceutical testing near Kansas City. Our county fairs remain a highlight of Kansas rural life, and raising rabbits, pigs, a bucket calf—are all part of rural Kansas life. For the most part, we still know where our hamburgers come from.
That is why our few animal rights protestors are often from out-of-state. But times are changing. Kansas has shifted from a rural to non-rural majority. My high school biology teacher colleagues tell me that more of our youngsters are being enticed to join the animal rights ranks. Students’ field experiences with animals are shrinking. Schools cannot make this up with field trips.
This also reveals a paradox about science. When we make progress in science, we often eliminate the experience base that gave us the drive to make that progress. When we suffered from contaminated water, we supported chlorine and ozone water treatment. The new generation has always had reliably clean water, and some want to end water treatment. Our children had dental cavities so we fluoridated the water and dramatically reduced tooth decay; many in our new generation without cavities now see no reason to fluoridate the water. Teachers can teach such abstract facts—just as you can read these abstractions here—but these classroom methods do not rise to the importance of widespread water-borne illness or rampant cavities and false teeth.
Ask an older Kansas rancher about “screwworm.” This was a gruesome and costly infection of cattle by a fly. It cost the Kansas beef industry millions annually, and caused much animal suffering. The screwworm fly laid eggs in open wounds, from barb wire cuts to the umbilical cord on new calves, as well as on wild animals. Because the fly maggots grew in wounds on deer as well as cattle, wound treatment and dips for just farm animals were unable to control the infection.
The most successful insect control ever conducted was the eradication of the screwworm fly from North America. Scientists raised huge numbers of the flies, sterilized them, and released them into the wild in a gradual sweep across America, from Florida across to Texas. This “sterile release” system, unlike pesticides, drove the pest to local extinction by constantly bombarding both farm and wilderness areas with sterile flies to the point where a fertile fly could no longer find a fertile mate. The key to the process was knowing when there were no more fertile flies laying eggs. Only then could they move the battlefront forward. And this fly only came to open living wounds, not to dead meat. Therefore it was necessary to use “sentinel” sheep with open wounds in order to detect if there were any wild flies left. No other system would work.
North America and Mexico have now been free from this pest for two farming generations.
Today, there is still no replacement for animal testing that can mimic the complexity of real living systems. The scientific committee advising the European Commission confirmed on April 26 that there are no valid scientific reasons to support a discontinuation of primates or other animals in the development and testing of new drugs.
We know that we have to suffer the small pain of a vaccination in order to avoid the much larger suffering of serious infectious diseases. In the same manner, a small number of sentinel sheep endured surface wounds in order to wipe out the screwworm fly. As a direct result, they saved massive suffering and deaths in both domestic cattle and wild deer in the 40 years since.
What animal rights extremists “just don’t get” is that the biggest benefactors of agricultural and biomedical research with animals, are the animals themselves.