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Animal Rights and Wrongs

By Edwin Feulner
President, The Heritage Foundation
November 4, 1998

When it comes to all-time nutty and offensive quotes, the following surely ranks near the top: "Six million Jews died in concentration camps, but 6 billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses."

This statement did not come from David Duke, Louis Farrakhan or some other anti-Semite out to make light of the Holocaust, but from Ingrid Newkirk, founder of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

And there’s this, from PETA’s Web page: "Unfortunately, a number of things in our society came about through others’ exploitation. For instance, many of the roads we drive on were built by slaves. We can’t change the past; those who have already suffered and died are lost. But what we can do is change the future by using non-animal research methods from now on."

Such remarks can only be uttered by those who inhabit a twisted moral universe. The Holocaust no worse than eating chickens? Slavery the moral equivalent of testing lab rats? This is not love for animals; it is callousness toward human suffering.

Those who think the animal-rights crowd is composed of harmless vegetarian teenagers ranting about fur coats need to think again. These are serious people with a serious—if scary—belief system. For example, animal-rights advocate Dr. Jerry Vlasak, writing about a man whose 5-year-old boy had open-heart surgery, says the boy’s life is "no more or less important than any other animal’s life, no matter how much [the father’s] emotions tell him otherwise."

Envirolink, another animal-rights organization, has gone so far as to draft its own "Bill of Rights for Animals." The first article: "All animals are born with an equal claim on life and the same rights to existence." Oh really? I hope none of these folks have mice in their homes, lest they be tempted to commit genocide with a mousetrap and a slice of Velveeta.

I have a dog. I like animals. But I must confess: I’m a specieist. I believe my species is superior to others. In fact, I don’t even believe animals have "rights," at least not in the same sense that people do. Not that I endorse cruelty toward animals. It’s just that I can’t feel bad for the cow when I’m devouring a juicy burger. And I certainly can’t get worked up over using animals for medical research, especially when the benefits to humankind (not to mention our pets, who depend on the same treatments we do) are so abundant.

I’m sure many of today’s animal-rights activists don’t know that nearly 58,000 cases of polio were reported in the United States as recently as 1952. Today, that crippling disease has been eradicated thanks to research on rabbits, monkeys and rodents. And while it was tragic when animal-rights activist Linda McCartney succumbed to breast cancer earlier this year, at least her life was prolonged with chemotherapy—another treatment made possible by animal research.

Medical research is simply not possible without animal research, according to the Americans for Medical Progress Education Fund (AMPEF). All the machines and computer simulations in the world cannot replicate the results derived from observing living muscle, circulatory, blood, bone and organ systems. Indeed, the AMPEF estimates that animal research has resulted in a 28-year increase in our life spans.

The good news is that the animal-rights activists are losing, and some of their staunchest opposition is coming not from conservatives but from the left—led by anti-AIDS activists. And no wonder: When Newkirk, the PETA founder, was asked what her group would do if animal research produced an AIDS cure, she said, "We’d be against it."

Perhaps it’s time to suggest a new motto for animal-rights activists: "We love animals, it’s just people we’re not too crazy about."

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Note: Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (, a Washington-based public policy research institute.



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