Posts Tagged ‘animals’

Vaccines, Vegans, & Autistic Puppies, Oh My!

December 7, 2010

With flu season I’ve been seeing more anti-vax comments online, so I have decided to rewrite this post and update it to help deal with this vexing issue.

The issue of vaccines has been a much debated one in the vegan sub-culture and is one of the areas in which I think well meaning vegans can have rational disagreements, some fully support getting all recommended vaccinations, some selectively vaccinate, and others choose to abstain. Unfortunately while researching this post I came upon a shocking number of vegans citing the misinformation about mercury and “toxins” as a reason they choose not to vaccinate. Such objections just aren’t supported by the science. On a whole vaccines are a benefit to human health but some vegans have issues with animals suffering to make vaccines through animal testing and animal derived ingredients.

The current flu vaccine is made using fertilized chicken eggs, about 1-5 injectable doses produced from each egg, though one egg can produce over a hundred doses of the nasal spray FluMist, so this may be a reasonable lower impact compromise for some individuals. Many other vaccines are also produced using various animal ingredients such as bovine serum, gelatin, milk derivatives, and other forms of animal tissue. The egg method of vaccine production is slow and inefficient and that has been reason enough for the industry to seek out more efficient and hopefully animal-friendly vaccine production methods.

Among these advances are methods using cell lines derived from vero cells, canine kidney tissue, or caterpillar cells, “the cells can be grown essentially forever in the laboratory. And so, no animals need to be sacrificed.” One benefit of such methods is that a new batch of vaccine can be produced in days as opposed to a couple months with the embryonated egg method. Other advances include plant based vaccines with research in Texas working with tobacco plants leading the way.

For a more on other “controversies” surrounding vaccines please check out this post on Vegan Skeptic.

Some folks have taken their anti-vax ideology to extremes…or its logical conclusion.

In a recent article in the Daily Mail, Catherine O’Driscoll is taking the anti-vax propaganda to a new level. She is worried that vaccines are making puppies autistic. The question of how a layperson can diagnose a sometimes-subtle spectrum disorder in a non-human is enough to throw some doubt onto her story, but this woman raises so many red flags you would think its May Day.

She claims, “We are not anti-vaccination,” explaining, “What we are saying is that currently our pets are receiving far too many.” Yet on her own website she also says, “I do not vaccinate my dogs at all – because I believe that vaccines are capable of destroying health.”

So just like Jenny McCarthy does for children, she is using the “too many, too soon” argument as a Trojan horse for the elimination of all vaccines.

This is old news people, but guess what, vaccines DON’T CAUSE AUTISM! The question has been extensively studied, and despite the public controversy stirred up by entertainment celebrities, the scientific consensus is that vaccines for humans and animals are generally safe, with very low incidence of side effects. To not vaccinate your pet is to leave them susceptible to a wide variety of potentially deadly diseases like Parvo, Distemper and Rabies. An un-vaccinated pet runs the risk of infecting multiple other animals or even infecting a person with rabies.

Why would someone promote something so foolish? Well, maybe she really believes it (people believe weirder things). But you should also note that in addition to books and DVDs, her website is offering one- or two-day seminars to learn an energy healing/acupressure technique she calls the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) for £55 to £170.

Whether it is financial interest or genuine delusion causing her to do it doesn’t matter in light of the fact that she may be responsible for many preventable canine deaths.

The Tragedy of Dolphin-Safe Tuna

November 25, 2010

A horrific example of the failure of greenwashing and a speciesist approach to animal protection is the problem of dolphin-safe tuna. It hit the public consciousness when various environmental organizations such as the Earth Island Institute and Greenpeace started awareness and lobbying campaigns to stop the then common tuna fishing methods being used in the Eastern Pacific Ocean which they considered cruel and environmentally unsound. You see, schools of yellowfin tuna tend to be associated with dolphins in the EPO, possibly either for protection or to help locate prey, by following these dolphins fishermen were able to easily locate the tuna. Then they would encircle the school of fish, dolphins and all, with purse seine nets. While many crews made efforts to allow the dolphin to escape, numerous dolphin died of asphyxiation, from stress, or were bludgeoned to death, hundreds of thousands of dolphins were killed each year.

The legal campaign was successful and eventually “dolphin-safe” labeling was codified in US law. To prevent unnecessary suffering or death, the new dolphin-safe guidelines essentially banned the technique of “dolphin fishing”, the intentional chasing or encirclement of dolphins. This policy applies only to US boats or boats catching tuna to be sold in the US, for other nations “dolphin fishing” is still common and many foreign vessel have filled the gap US vessels left when many of them were decommissioned or started fishing the west pacific. Since then tuna fishers wishing to sell their tuna in the US have had to go through much greater trouble and expense to locate free swimming schools of tuna, known as “school fishing”, or resort to Fish Aggregation Devices (FAD) also know as “log fishing”. These are floating objects are designed to aggregate marine life to one spot for easy netting, though the reason they attract such a wide variety(over 300 species) of marine life in not fully understood and may vary by species. The more high tech FADs are be equipped with GPS and sonar to allow for remote monitoring of number of fish and one ship can service multiple FADs, a very efficient method to generate large catches. This efficiency comes at a price though. While it does kill less dolphins, compared to netting tuna associated with dolphins, netting tuna around FADs creates significantly more non-cetacean “bycatch”, an industry euphemism for the “unintentional” victims of their nets.

Scientists with the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) came up with these estimates of bycatch rates per 10,000 sets of purse seine nets for the three fishing methods mentioned earlier. The method called “school fishing” of netting “immature yellowfin tuna found swimming in schools, will cause the deaths of eight dolphins; 2.4 million small tuna; 2100 mahi mahi; 12,220 sharks; 530 wahoo; 270 rainbow runners; 1010 other small fish; 1440 billfish; and 580 sea turtles.”

Using FADs and catching “immature tuna swimming under logs and other debris will cause the deaths of 25 dolphins; 130 million small tunas; 513,870 mahi mahi; 139,580 sharks; 118,660 wahoo; 30,050 rainbow runners; 12,680 other small fish; 6540 billfish; 2980 yellowtail; 200 other large fish; 1020 sea turtles; and 50 triggerfish.”

And using the old methods to net “mature yellowfin swimming in association with dolphins, will cause the deaths of 4000 dolphins (0.04 percent of a population that replenishes itself at the rate of two to six percent per year); 70,000 small tunas; 100 mahi mahi; 3 other small fish; 520 billfish; 30 other large fish; and 100 sea turtles. No sharks, no wahoo, no rainbow runners, no yellowtail, and no triggerfish and dramatic reductions in all other species but dolphins.”

Rod and reel fishing wasn’t mentioned and while it has low bycatch rates, it is expensive, time consuming, and the large amount of baitfish required would have to be considered. You may also notice that for the first two methods “immature tuna” are referred to where as for the “dolphin-fishing” method “mature tuna” are referred to. This is because the fish attracted to FADs or found free swimming tend to be younger and smaller than schools swimming with dolphins, scooping up these fish will have a greater effect on the tuna population as a whole causing subsequent catches to drop by as much as 25%.

As you can see the current reliance on FADs has resulted in larger kills of sea turtles, rays, juvenile tuna, and at least several endangered species and is a large factor in the decline of some shark populations, an important issue as of late. While some conservationist’s response to this issue is to return to the fishing method of encircling dolphins, the anti-speciesist response would likely be to recognize fishing is inherently cruel and stop altogether. As consumers we can choose the tuna-safe alternative and avoid culpability in the deaths of dolphins, sharks, and tuna.

The Institute of Cetacean Slaughter

November 14, 2010

I originally posted this in September but as the Japanese whaling fleet once again prepares to enter Antarctic waters to slaughter whales I feel a need to update this post.

I’m sure by now you have heard about the controversy over Japanese whaling, but just what is going on?

This past season, the Japanese fleet, operated by the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), killed 507 whales out of a quota of 1035. The ICR claims it’s due to harassment by The Seas Shepherd Conservation Society(SSCS).* Despite these and other efforts Japan has been able to kill over 7000 whales in the past 20 years. Compare this to the 840 whales taken for scientific research in the 31 years before the moratorium and it sure seems suspicious that as soon as commercial whaling is banned that the number of “scientific” catches sky rocket.

Anti-whaling nations and groups say that the Japanese catch is illegal and exploiting a loophole in the 1986 Moratorium on commercial whaling enacted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and adding insult to murder they are doing it in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
The ICR says it is hunting for scientific research which is allowed by the 1986 moratorium.
Yet, they seem to be primarily researching data that directly relates to furthering commercial fishing and whaling.

The ICR’s four stated objectives are
(1)Estimation of biological parameters to improve the stock management of the Southern Hemisphere minke whale
(2)Examination of the role of whales in the Antarctic marine ecosystem,
(3)Examination of the effect of environmental changes on cetaceans and,
(4)Examination of the stock structure of the Southern Hemisphere minke whales to improve stock management, size, population density, and feeding habits

But, I think Takanori Nagatomo, deputy director at the Far Seas Fisheries Division in Japan,said it much more clearly, if not more bluntly, when he said, “We have been engaging in research whaling to collect scientific data so we can resume commercial whaling.”

This involves killing the whale for analysis of stomach contents and other internal organs such as ovaries to examine reproduction rates, and ear plugs for age verification. Once the data points are collected, the bulk of the carcass is butchered and packaged on board their factory ship for sale in Japan (international sales are illegal) as dictated by IWC convention which says that scientific catches must “so far as practicable be processed.”
But, the meat isn’t always sold through legal channels where the money goes to offset the cost of the operations and pay back subsidy loans. Theft of meat is allegedly rampant, according to two whalers-turned-whistle-blowers, and involves both crewmen and ICR staff members and in a price controlled market(4200 tons are in storage as of 2008) it can be quite lucrative. In 2009, Whale meat illegally sold to an undercover documentary film crew in a Los Angeles restaurant, The Hump, was determined through DNA test to be identical to whale meat purchased in Japan in 2007 & 2008 and most assuredly came from Japan’s “scientific” hunts. Whale meat illegally sold at a Seoul restaurant was also determined to be from the Japanese catch.

The necessity of lethal research is questioned by a vast number of scientists around the world and by the IWC which has issued over 30 resolutions that “expressed its opinion that Special Permit whaling should: be terminated and scientific research limited to non-lethal methods only (2003-2); refrain from involving the killing of cetaceans in sanctuaries (1998-4); ensure that the recovery of populations is not impeded (1987); and take account of the comments of the Scientific Committee (1987).”

The Southern Ocean Research Partnership, comprised of 13 different nations including Australia, New Zealand, and France, have their own non-lethal research program in which biopsies are taken, tracking devices used, and fecal samples examined. They have obtained usable population data and have the full approval of the IWC and offer up their model as an example of a viable alternative to the lethal research.
The value and self-serving nature of the data the ICR is producing has been questioned by many scientists. Dr. Nick Gales, head of Australia’s scientific delegation to the IWC, commented on an analysis of 43 research papers produced by Japan over an 18 year period, describing the research as “really bizarre and strange experiments with sheep and pigs and eggs,” he said. “It’s totally esoteric; very strange indeed.”

All of this comes at a hefty financial cost to the Japanese citizen. It’s estimated that the Japanese government has subsidized the whale hunts to the tune of $164 million since 1988. Japan has the highest Government subsidies for fisheries in the world, this adds to the problem of the profit motive to exploit whales. The Japan Times reported “as of 2007, almost ¥441.8 billion is handed out each year by the Fisheries Agency of Japan. Fish are thus caught and sold at an artificially low price, since the government covers some operating costs, thus encouraging overfishing — what economists will recognize as a tragedy of the commons.”

It seems obvious to me that Japan’s whaling is a thinly disguised commercial whaling/tax swindle program with the stated intention of justifying a full return to commercial whaling. What do you think?

*The issues of the SSCS are many and varied which I will not go into at this time, but for counter balance to this claim and other controversies about SSCS please visit SouthernFriedScinece. They were also gracious enough to post this pro-SSCS response by Craig Nazor. While I have a belief in the necessity and justice of direct action or intervention to save cetacean and other lives and applaud SSCS’s past success in sinking a number of whaling vessels and preventing numerous deaths directly, I think any intellectually honest animal rights supporter should seriously consider some of the more recent controversy and questions surrounding Sea Shepherd and their integrity.

**Update: It now appear the Japanese have at least temporarily conceded to the SSCS and called off the whale hunt for this season. Final kill count is not out as of yet but lets hope its well below last years, as it appears to be by preliminary reports. Even the folks over at Southern Fried Science are cautiously celebrating. Good work Sea Shepherd, stay vigilant and keep up the pressure, this is what direct confrontation and intervention (rather than media hoaxes) can accomplish!