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Animal Rights

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Protection of animals from cruelty through requirements of humane treatment. Laws protecting animal rights proscribe certain forms of brutal and merciless treatment of animals in medical and scientific research and in the handling of and slaughter of animals for human consumption.

By the end of the 1980s, membership in animal advocacy organizations had reached 10 million people in the United States and opposition to the use of animals in laboratory experiments was rapidly growing. By 1990, some 76 medical schools claimed that demonstrations and break-ins by animal rights advocates had cost them more than $4.5 million, according to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

As the conflict between animal rights activists and medical and scientific researchers has grown, federal and state regulation of activities involving animal research has also expanded. At the federal level, the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C.A. § 2131 et seq. [1994]) regulates the treatment of animals used in federally funded research. Under amendments added to the act in 1985, the secretary of agriculture was required to promulgate standards to govern the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of animals by dealers, research facilities, and exhibitors. These standards were to include minimum requirements for housing, feeding, watering, sanitation, ventilation, shelter from extremes of weather and temperature, adequate veterinary care, and separation by species where necessary; for exercise of dogs, as determined by an attending veterinarian; and for a physical environment adequate to promote the psychological well-being of primates. In addition, the standards were to include requirements for animal care, treatment, and practices in experimental procedures in research facilities.

In February 1991, the secretary of agriculture issued final regulations under the act (56 Fed. Reg. 6426; 9 C.F.R. § 3). Shortly thereafter, two animal rights organizations, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, along with several individuals, sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), claiming that the final regulations were arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) (5 U.S.C.A. § 551 et seq. [1994]). Under the APA, a court can compel agency action that is unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed and can set aside agency action that is arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise in violation of the law.

The plaintiffs challenged the USDA on several grounds, including the lack of minimum requirements regarding exercise for dogs and the psychological well-being of primates; the amount of delay permitted under the regulations in complying with new cage requirements; and the loophole in the regulations' provision for special cage designs, which permitted facilities to evade the existing minimum requirements for cage sizes.

In February 1993, a federal district court found that the USDA's treatment of laboratory animals waiting to be used in biomedical experiments violated federal statutes providing for the humane treatment of such animals. In Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Secretary of Agriculture, 813 F. Supp. 882 (1993), the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the regulations enacted by the secretary of agriculture and the USDA failed to comply with the mandate of Congress to ensure the well-being and humane treatment of animals, notwithstanding the importance of research.

The defendants appealed the district court's decision. In Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Espy, 29 F.3d 720 (1994), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the animal rights organizations and other plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the USDA. (Standing is a legal requirement that the plaintiff must have been injured or threatened with injury by the action complained of and focuses on the question of whether the plaintiff is the proper party to bring the lawsuit.) Because the plaintiffs lacked standing, the court ordered that the case be dismissed.

Whereas the Animal Welfare Act governs the general treatment of research animals, other federal statutes govern the testing procedures that may be used on animals in the course of scientific and commercial research and in product testing. The Toxic Substances Control Act (15 U.S.C.A. § 2601 et seq. [1994]) authorizes the use of two procedures that have been particularly controversial: the Draize test and the lethal dose 50 (LD50) test.

The Draize test measures the irritancy of a substance such as a cosmetic or pesticide by applying it to the eyes of live rabbits for twenty-four hours. The LD50 test is used to calculate the median lethal dose of a substance by feeding it to a defined population of animals until 50 percent of them die. Some product manufacturers, such as Avon Products, Revlon, Faberge, Amway Corporation, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and Noxell Corporation, have discontinued some or all animal testing as a result of continued protests over the use of these tests.

During the late 1980s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported more than fifty incidents of vandalism annually at research facilities and attacks on researchers themselves. In response, the U.S. Congress and numerous state legislatures enacted protective legislation. In August 1992, Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (18 U.S.C.A. § 43[1994]), which provides, in part, that anyone who "intentionally causes physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise by intentionally stealing, damaging, or causing the loss of any property (including animals or records) used by the animal enterprise, and thereby causes economic damage exceeding $10,000 to that enterprise, or conspires to do so shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."

If serious bodily injury or death to another person occurs in the course of the prohibited activity, the statute provides for imprisonment up to a life term. The act defines an animal enterprise as "(A) a commercial or academic enterprise that uses animals for food or fiber production, agriculture, research, or testing; (B) a zoo, aquarium, circus, rodeo, or lawful competitive animal event; or (C) any fair or similar event intended to advance agricultural arts and sciences."

By 1995, more than 20 states had passed similar legislation, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Several states also regulate the use of animals kept in pounds for use in research. Maine prohibits the use of pound animals for any research (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 17, § 1025 [West 1994]). California requires that any pound or animal regulation department where animals are turned over to a research facility post a sign stating "Animals Turned in to This Shelter May Be Used for Research Purposes," in a clearly visible place (Cal. Civ. Code § 1834.7 [West 1994]). In Oklahoma, pounds are required to supply unclaimed animals to research institutions, unless the owner of an animal bringing it to the pound specifies it is not to be used in research (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 4, § 394 [West 1994]).

At least three states regulate the sale of animals to research facilities. Minnesota law prohibits the transfer of a dog or cat by a person other than the owner to a research animal dealer, the possession of a dog or cat by a dealer without the owner's permission, or the transfer of a dog or cat by a dealer to an institution without the owner's permission (Minn. Stat. Ann. §346.55 [West 1994]). California law provides that anyone who steals an animal for purposes of sale, medical research, or other commercial use, or who knowingly defrauds another person of any animal for purposes of medical research or slaughter, may be imprisoned for up to one year (Cal. Penal Code § 487g [West 1994]). New York law prohibits the selling or giving away of a dog to a research institution without the written permission of its owner (N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 366-a [McKinney 1994]).

On the federal level, the Animal Welfare Act was amended in 1990 to regulate the use of pound animals in research. A new section titled "Protection of pets" provides that dogs and cats acquired by a pound, humane society, or similar entity or research facility must be held for not less than five days before being sold to dealers, so as to allow their recovery by their owners or their adoption by other individuals (7 U.S.C.A. § 2158 [1994]).

The use of animals in scientific, medical, and commercial research is expected to remain controversial. In her book The Monkey Wars, Deborah Blum advocated that animal rights activists and researchers share their viewpoints together in education programs to achieve a realistic understanding of the issues. According to Blum, such an understanding could end the two sides' long and bitter standoff.

The largest and most active animal rights group is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), originally founded in 1980 in Norfolk, Virginia. Since its founding, PETA has claimed a certain level of success in curbing unethical treatment of animals. Its self-proclaimed successes include the closing of the largest horse slaughterhouse in the United States, the closing of a military laboratory where animals were shot, and the end of the use of cats and dogs in wound laboratories. PETA not only details its "victories" on its web site, it also provides "action alerts" that identify instances that the group believes constitute animal cruelty.

Although PETA has had a significant impact on the use of animals in medical and scientific research, as well as other uses, its tactics have created an equal level of controversy. For instance, according to PETA president Ingrid Newkirk, human beings should not drink milk produced by cows, eat turkey meat, or wear fur because of the practices involved in preparing these goods. PETA's protests have ranged from vandalizing fur coats sold at a Macy's outlet in Boston to advocating the bombing of a New Jersey laboratory that uses animals for research. PETA claims that it does not support terrorism, but it has funded, for example, the legal defense of an arsonist that set fire to a Michigan research lab.

PETA has been active in the court system, with various levels of success. In one case, PETA sought entry into a public art event held in 2000 in New York City called "CowParade." One of PETA's entries showed a cow divided into sections that resembled a butcher's chart. On each of the sections was a statement or quotation "concerning the health and ethical problems associated with the killing of cows for food." The committee responsible for the parade rejected the entry as too harsh and inappropriate for the parade. PETA brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, but the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the parade organizers, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the summary judgment. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. Giuliani, 18 Fed. App. 35 (2d Cir. 2001).

Further Readings

Blum, Deborah. 1995. The Monkey Wars. Don Mills, ON, Canada: Oxford Univ. Press.

Congressional Record. 1990. 136 (July).

Kistler, John M. 2000. Animal Rights: A Subject Guide, Bibliography, and Internet Comparison. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood.

Sherry, Clifford J. 1994. Animal Rights: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO.

Singer, Peter. 1975. Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals. New York: Avon.

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