Today we have sad news about the passing of three individuals who have been leading public figures in the world of animal testing. Thankfully, the sad news comes with a heartening New York Times article on the wealth of alternatives being developed.
Alex the parrot, Felix the monkey, and Anita Roddick the Body Shop founder who pioneered the mass marketing of animal friendly cosmetics, have died.
The Wednesday, September 12, Los Angeles Times article on Alex, by Denise Gellene, is headed, "Alex, a parrot with the gift of gab, dies." (Pg A17)
"Alex, the African grey parrot who knew more than 100 words, could count to six, and recognized shapes and colors, has died. The bird was 31 and appeared to have died of natural causes, said Irene Pepperberg, the scientist who trained and studied him for three decades.
"Alex's feats, which Pepperberg documented in dozens of scientific journals, challenged the notion that only apes and dolphins were smart enough to understand human language. Alex did not merely mimic words but showed that he grasped their meaning.
We read of him:
"When he finished eating, he said 'Cork,' asking for the cork that was used to clean his bill. When he got tired of sitting on a researcher's shoulder, he squawked 'Wanna go to the gym,' meaning he wanted to retreat to his exercise stand.
"His word for apple was 'banerry,' a combination of banana, which has a similar taste, and cherry, a fruit he knew."
And we read, "Alex would correct the other African grey parrots Pepperberg worked with in her lab, telling them to 'talk better.'"
You'll find the full article on line at http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-sci-alex12sep12,1,7051719.story and can send a letter to the Los Angeles Times at firstname.lastname@example.org
It is odd for me to be writing of an animal who was held captive for research, with anything other than distress about his fate. Indeed, it is sad to think of Alex living in a cage, rather than soaring through the skies in a flock with dozens of other parrots. But Alex's life was not comparable to that of the overwhelming majority of animals used in research -- even behavioral research. We learn that somebody worked with him 10-12 hours every day of his life, and that the last words he heard were from Irene Pepperberg: She told him, as part of their nightly routine, that she loved him and would see him the next day. We also learn that news of his death was kept quiet for a few days in order for those who worked with him to get over the shock before having to face the media, and that Pepperberg has been too distraught to decide what to do with Alex's remains. Hardly a typical end for an animal used in research. In fact, learning about Alex's mind and personality brings home th
e horror of federal animal welfare laws that have excluded rats, mice and birds from the definition of "animals" that are protected under laboratory welfare acts. Birds have no federal protection -- anything can be done to them.
The Wednesday, September 12, New York Times includes a thoughtful column by Verlyn Klinkenborg, headed simply "Alex the Parrot."
"A truly dispassionate observer might argue that most Grey parrots could probably learn what Alex had learned, but only a microscopic minority of humans could have learned what Alex had to teach. Most humans are not truly dispassionate observers. Were too invested in the idea of our superiority to understand what an inferior quality it really is. I always wonder how the experiments would go if they were reversed if, instead of us trying to teach Alex how to use the English language, Alex were to try teaching us to understand the world as it appears to parrots."
Klinkenborg ends with:
"Scientifically speaking, the value of this research lies in its specific details about patterns of learning and cognition. Ethically speaking, the value lies in our surprise, our renewed awareness of how little we allow ourselves to expect from the animals around us."
The whole piece is on line at:
It, and all stories on Alex in our local papers offer opportunities for letters discussing the way human society generally treats birds.
The New York Times takes letters at email@example.com
Don't hesitate to ask me for help if you have trouble finding the correct email address for a letter to your local paper.
Sadder yet, is the passing of Felix, who did not die of natural causes. His death has not made the papers. I learned of it from the SPEAK website, at http://www.speakcampaigns.org/felix/rip.php, where I read:
"Today it is with much regret that we must inform everyone of the death of Felix. The information we have been given is that he has been killed by those that tormented and tortured him for almost a year....He lived in a cage and he ultimately suffered in a cage before being put to death alone in a cage."
You'll find heartbreaking photos of Felix in his cage at the URL cited above. That page also tells us about the experiment in which he was used:
"We can now disclose that Felix had the top of his skull sliced off, a procedure that has been documented through human and non human primate research as extremely painful. Electrodes were forced into his brain and then he was fitted with a cranial chamber (a box like contraption that sits on top of the skull)."
I first learned about Felix from a terrific article, written by filmmaker Adam Wishart, and published in the Evening Standard, November 25, 2006, headed, "What Felix the monkey taught me about animal research." In much the same vein as one of my favorite books, "The Monkey Wars" by Pulitzer Prize winner Deborah Blum, Wishart's article is even-handed and does not come down against primate research. But it presents the arguments for and against it thoughtfully, and provides information that will leave many readers unable to support it.
You'll find it on line at: http://tinyurl.com/yj8tno
Since reading it in 2006 I have learned more about researcher Tipu Aziz, who experimented on Felix -- about his support of cosmetic testing and the questionable value of his other work, which intensifies my sadness on hearing of Felix's death.
We have also lost a human individual this week, who was a pioneer in the field of animal, eco and world friendly cosmetics. I remember reading about Body Shop founder Anita Roddick when I was very young, and feeling inspired. I had not even heard of animal testing until I learned that her company shunned it. The New York Times obituary opens:
"Anita Roddick, the crusading entrepreneur who used the Body Shop chain of cosmetics stores she founded to promote causes like ending animal testing and supporting the environment, died in Chichester, England, on Monday. She was 64. The cause was a brain hemorrhage, her family said.
"A woman of fierce passions, boundless energy, unconventional idealism and sometimes diva-like temperament, Ms. Roddick was one of Britain's most visible business executives, and not just because of the ubiquitous and instantly recognizable Body Shop franchises. Working on behalf of numerous causes -- the rain forest, debt relief for developing countries, indigenous farmers in impoverished nations, whales, voting rights, anti-sexism and anti-ageism, to name a few -- Ms. Roddick believed that businesses could be run ethically, with what she called 'moral leadership,' and still turn a profit."
"Ms. Roddick took out a modest loan and in 1976 opened the Body Shop, her first, in Brighton.... Within 15 years, Body Shop stores had blanketed Britain and moved beyond, eventually numbering more than 2,000 in about 50 countries."
We read about the recent controversy around the company: "The Body Shop went public in the mid-1990s, and the company was sold to the French cosmetics giant L'Oreal for about $1.14 billion last year. Although the Roddick's had stepped down from managing the company in 2002, they remained on as nonexecutive directors and reportedly made about $237 million from their 18 percent stake.
The sale drew criticism from environmentalists who said that, among other things, L'Oreal had yet to ban animal testing. But Ms. Roddick said she hoped that the Body Shop would spur L'Oreal to behave more ethically."
(Indeed, in the article I will share below we read about L'Oreal's innovations and non-profit position in the field of non-animal testing.)
You'll find the obituary on line at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/12/world/europe/12roddick.html
Now, in honor of those names above, I get to share today's New York Times article, "Saving the Animals: New Ways to Test Products" by (By Barnaby J Feder, pg H5.)
"Human skin, eyes, the lining of the throat -- snippets of these and other tissues are now routinely grown in test tubes from donated human cells. The goal is not to patch up ailing people but to use the human tissues in place of mice, dogs or other lab animals for testing new drugs, cosmetics and other products.
"The methods for engineering tissue samples are among the most complex of an expanding portfolio of technologies intended to eliminate or reduce animal testing. In other cases, testing is being conducted virtually, using computers and simulation software. And for some tests, people have replaced animals: volunteers get microdoses of potential drugs that can be analyzed but cause no ill effects.
"The development of such alternatives is a tale of creeping technical innovation, exemplifying what happens when slowly accumulating pressure for change encounters a major scientific challenge."
The articles tells us:
"By conservative estimates, tens of millions of animals are killed or maimed each year in research on the safety and effectiveness of new drugs, agricultural chemicals and consumer products. For companies, animal testing can be a public relations nightmare, involving confrontations with animal-rights activists, or less intense but still negative reactions from consumers.
"The high costs and concerns about reliability, however, have been the biggest forces behind the shift away from tests on animals. Industry executives say that as much as 25 percent of the drugs tested on animals failed to show side effects that later proved serious enough to prevent the drugs from being marketed. To avoid such mistakes, companies often test products on multiple species and large numbers of animals.
"Concern about the costs and questionable benefits of animal testing has been growing since the 1970s, and the number of lab animals sacrificed in the United States has fallen since then by nearly 50 percent among the species tracked by the Department of Agriculture; the total was 1.18 million in 2005, the last year for which numbers have been reported. The government's statistics are limited to cats, dogs, primates and a few other species and do not cover birds or fish, or the most common lab animals, mice and rats."
(As noted above, birds are not counted and also not covered by even the paltry federal laboratory animal welfare laws.)
"The field is crowded with start-up companies like MatTek, Admet and Xceleron." But "Charles River Laboratories, the world's largest supplier of genetically engineered rodents for labs, also has a subsidiary called Endosafe, which provides an alternative to the testing of solutions in rabbits' eyes for contamination with fever-producing bacteria." The head of Endosafe says,
''We are the fastest-growing division in Charles River with the highest margins."
We read that "in many ways the alternatives are driven by a few giants eager to move from animal testing for scientific, business and image reasons. Procter & Gamble has spent $225 million developing and deploying alternative testing methods for a wide range of personal-care and pet food products over the last 20 years... And L'Oreal, the French cosmetics giant, says it has spent more than $800 million over the same period. That includes deals to buy Episkin and SkinEthic, two companies that make alternative tests."
Of particular interest, given L'Oreal's acquisition of the Body Shop, is the following:
'''This is not an area of competition for us,' said Patricia Pineau, L'Oreal Research's spokeswoman, who said that its tissue testing products and services were sold at cost to other companies, including rivals like P.&G. and Unilever."
The article tells us: "Those cooperative impulses are being driven by European regulators, who have set 2009 as a deadline for all animal testing on cosmetics. Another push has come from European legislation, which requires companies to provide safety data for about 30,000 chemicals over the next 11 years. Estimates found that the program could require killing an additional 3.9 million animals, but regulators have responded by putting heavy pressure on industry to develop and validate alternatives."
You'll find the full article on line at
It, along with the information on Alex, Felix and/or Anita, provide great opportunities for letters on our use and abuse of other species. The New York Times takes letters at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also consider letters to your local paper, jumping off from articles on any of the topics covered above.
Always include your full name, address, and daytime phone number when sending a letter to the editor. Remember that shorter letters are more likely to be published. And please be sure not to use any comments or phrases from me or from any other alerts in your letters. Editors are looking for original responses from their readers.
Yours and the animals',
(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com. You may forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts if you do so unedited -- leave DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line. If somebody forwards DawnWatch alerts to you, which you enjoy, please help the list grow by signing up. It is free.)
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Date: Wed Sep 12 17:24:39 2007