Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocay (BOAA) held a vigil last night before UC Berkeley’s Northwest Animal Facility to protest the use of animals for experimentation. Clutching signs and candles, the black-clad protesters stood in silence along Oxford St. between Hearst and Berkeley streets while campus police video-taped the scene.
The two-hour silent vigil was intended to mourn animals used in scientific research and draw attention to live animal experimentation at UC Berkeley.
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“We’re trying to do something a little different then your normal protest,” said BOAA faciltator Christine Morrissey. “We’ve set the tone to be very solemn and mourn the dead animals that have come out of this school. At the same time, we want to promote alternatives to animal research,” she said.
Demonstrators handed out flyers describing alternative methods to animal research as well as peaceful measures people could take to promote change. Research alternatives cited include in vitro research, bacterial/viral/fungus sampling, autopsy, physical models, mathematical modeling, genetic and clinical research as viable alternatives. The UC has already adopted the in vitro method for antibody production.
The consensus in all sectors seems to be in favor of substituting new technologies in place of using lab animals, but the feasability and timeline for doing so remain unclear. “People don’t want to [frivolously] use animals for research. Researchers have pets at home and develop strong feelings toward the animals they study,” says Dr. Helen Diggs, a director at UC Berkeley’s Animal Care Facility. “People only use animals for research because they are essential to research. As the scientific community discovers legitimate alternatives to using animals, we embrace them.”
Diggs cites the UC’s adoption of the in-vitro model of antibody production over the past five years as having spared many live mice, and says she looks forward to similar alternatives. “I think in time we’ll have more success finding alternatives,” says Diggs. “That’s where the BOAA group comes in--they have to encourage young people to get into these fields, get into the labs, and contribute. Don’t just scream at us, come help us find alternatives,” she says.
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In Defense of Animals, a non-profit group based in Mill Valley, Ca., has been participating in an ongoing dialogue with BOAA reps and Diggs, who is representing the UC on animal rights issues. “Essentially, we want to work with the UC rather than be adverserial, so we can really advance what’s going on in the research community,” said Erin Williams, communications director at IDA. Williams says there are many existing technologies that can be substituted for live animals, but that the UC has yet to commit funds for their adoption. “Traditionally, new research technologies are underfunded and underutilized. We are trying to work with the university to get them to commit to a gradual, quantifiable reallocation of funds from animal research to non-animal technologies,” she said.
Though not necessarily driven by compassion, even the business sector has moved toward more humane testing. Companies that sell animals and technologies for testing have shown a significant trend toward cutting down on the percentage of live animals shipped out in favor of cheaper and more efficient non-animal testing technologies. Massachussetts-based Charles Rivers Laboratories, the biggest lab-animal provider in the nation, has seen the lab-animal portion of their business shrink from 80 percent to 40 percent over the last five years, according to a recent article in the Boston Globe.
BOAA is also calling for the immediate ceasure of using primates for research, but Diggs says that’s not possible. “We can’t just stop the research in progress,” Diggs says. “With primate research, we just can’t suddenly stop working on studies that are having a definite impact on human medicine and having a definite biomedical impact. There’s work going on that needs to continue.” Diggs says they need to find and validate alternatives to using any species for study, and that singling out primates is not constructive. “That’s a form of speciesism,” she says.
Both the Berkeley City Council and the ASUC (student union) have endorsed BOAA’s requests to the UC.
In addition, two initiatives have been placed on the upcoming ASUC ballot. One asks for a 5% reduction in animal research by the university, and the second requests that the UC provide alternatives for science students who don’t want to participate in animal dissection. The university currently allows students to opt out of dissections, but has yet to provide an alternative.
Asked what’s next for BOAA, Morrissey says that though they have had positive discussion with the University through Diggs, their goal now is to try and get a meeting with Chancellor himself, as only he can affect policy change.
E-mail reporter Jamie Luck at email@example.com