MOVEMENT WATCH is an update on recent and current campaigns in the animal advocacy movement, with brief, rights-based analyses. MOVEMENT WATCH does not provide a full overview of any listed advocacy group’s work. Campaigns and news items are selected for their legal and social significance.
Time to Think Outside the Styrofoam
Evidently, Eric Schlosser, the author of a critique called Fast Food Nation, thinks there is such a thing as proper livestock handing, and believes that McDonald’s can send auditors into slaughterhouses to ensure the ethical treatment of cattle. What’s more, Schlosser seems willing to apply comparable ethical standards to immigrant workers.
In an essay in The Atlantic Monthly, which has garnered surprisingly little attention or controversy within the movement in the year since its publication, Schlosser noted that McDonald’s has been polishing up its public image. McDonald’s, announces Schlosser, “now requires that its meat suppliers handle and slaughter animals humanely.” Schlosser characterizes reductions in line speeds and proper stunning as the demands of “animal-rights groups,” although such practices are merely regulatory: the animals still end up as meat. Yet Schlosser praises McDonald’s for hiring Temple Grandin, “one of the nation’s foremost experts on animal welfare and proper livestock handling.” This development, Schlosser observes, received the support of the meat-packing industry and the American Meat Institute. It is a textbook example of what animal rights is not.
“Having demonstrated a strong commitment to the ethical treatment of animals,” opines Schlosser, McDonald’s “should now demonstrate the same level of concern for the human beings who work in the nation’s slaughterhouses.” Schlosser evidently thinks the animals’ situation is addressed, and moves right along to the problems of weak unions and worker injuries. Schlosser cites a Congressional vote to rescind the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s new ergonomics standard, designed to reduce cumulative trauma injuries, as evidence that “the federal government has little real interest in the nation’s most dangerous job.”
Again, Schlosser turns to McDonald’s for hope.
“Because we have the world’s biggest shopping cart,” boasts a McDonald’s representative quoted by Schlosser, “we can use that leadership to provide more focus and order throughout the beef system.” Schlosser immediately applies the “beef system” statement to the issue of worker safety: “If McDonald’s were to insist that the large meat-packers improve working conditions and reduce injury levels, they would immediately do so.”
Would Schlosser reduce us to viewing McDonald’s as the champion of an ethical society? “If McDonald’s can send auditors into slaughterhouses to ensure the ethical treatment of cattle,” exhorts Schlosser, “it can certainly do the same for poor immigrant workers.” All it would take, insists Schlosser, “is one clear demand that line speeds be slowed down, preventing countless injuries — one clear demand from McDonald’s.” Heaven help the poor immigrant workers if the current standards of “ethical treatment of cattle” set the tone for their future. Can we view the quality of life of workers in such simplistic terms? Would Schlosser be satisfied to work in a slaughtering plant as long as the lines were slower, and physical injuries easier to count?
Also last year, an interviewer asked Schlosser, “Are you a vegetarian?” A fair question, we think, given Schlosser’s experience with slaughterhouse visits, harrowing exposés of the meat industry, and rave reviews from the animal welfare advocates Schlosser cites. Schlosser’s reply might explain the dissonant desire to see fast food chains as potentially benign:
“I have a lot of respect for people who are vegetarian for religious or ethical reasons. Despite all my research, however, I’m still a carnivore. .. I still eat beef, though I always try to buy meat that’s been produced by ranchers who care about their animals and the land. And no, I won’t eat fast food anymore. Not until the industry changes its ways.”
In reality, meat does not, and cannot, fit an ethic that takes environmental responsibility seriously. Moreover, the high “care” factor beef Schlosser consumes might be available for the well-to-do, but certainly not for the immigrant workers. A finite planet cannot host free-range farms for everyone. Finally, if Schlosser does have a lot of respect for the ethical bases of vegetarianism, the sensible thing to do is clear.
Campaigning with the Big Picture in Mind
We recently received yet another message claiming a great victory for animals. This one hails from a campaign called Sled Dog Action Coalition. The coalition tells us that Bayer agreed to discontinue supporting the Iditarod race, a spectacle that uses sled dogs who are treated abominably — given water in rusty buckets, kept on short chains, and subjected to all sorts of abuses in training and racing. The coalition, which claims to be “committed to improving the lives of Iditarod sled dogs” but does not call for an end to the spectacle, urges recipients to write electronic thank-you notes to a certain Juergen Beunink of the Bayer company in Germany. Specifically, advocates should “thank them for not supporting dog torture.”
An understandable longing for progress can cause the animal advocate to miss the forest for the trees. Multinational corporations cause ecological, social and political problems around the world, and a closer look at Bayer seems well worth taking before the activist rushes out for a box of recycled thank-you cards. Bayer will get mixed messages from environmental and animal advocates if some are celebrating Bayer while others — mainly anti-vivisectionists, environmentalists, and people in broad social-justice movements — are more inclined to protest than praise. With a bit of refocusing for the broader picture, the reasons come into view.
Bayer, the German pharmaceutical giant, is a corporate successor to I.G. Farben, the conglomerate that made the poison gas used in Nazi death camps. The American Chemical Society summarized Bayer’s history as an I.G. Farben subsidiary during World War II:
“Recently publicized evidence suggests that I.G. Farben furnished experimental Bayer drugs for tests on concentration camp prisoners. The company stationed scientists at the camps to oversee human research, and provided at least a portion of the funds that supported the horrific experiments of Joseph Mengele. I.G. Farben produced the Zyklon B gas used in countless executions, and the company reaped handsome profits from factories set up near the Auschwitz and Maidanek prison camps to benefit from ready access to slave labor.”
Today, as Bayer attempts to distance itself from World War II history, its practices have drawn criticism from contemporary sources. Bayer was one of a group of pharmaceutical companies who recently sued the South African government for having the temerity to allow production of cheap, generic HIV drugs. Bayer’s animal testing contracts have attracted scrutiny, as has Bayer’s interest in genetically-modified (GM) crops.
Bayer is now the biggest GM company in Europe, with rights to genetically-modified maize and other plant variations manufactured to tolerate the herbicide glufosinate ammonium, or Liberty (also property of Bayer). As the de facto European Union moratorium on the commercial growing of GM crops lifts, Bayer stands poised to flood Europe’s ecosystems with scientifically manipulated plants.
Remarkably, Bayer has worked to persuade the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reverse its longstanding ban of pesticide experiments on human subjects — a ban in place since the Nuremburg Code reprehended Nazi doctors’ experiments on concentration camp inmates. Bayer’s interest rose after it conducted — and wanted to use — a 1998 study conducted through Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University’s Inveresk medical research laboratory in which eight paid student volunteers were exposed to azinphos methyl, an insecticide related to the nerve gas used in concentration camps.
In August 2001, Bayer submitted its study. In the autumn of 2001, the EPA tentatively declined to use the Bayer study — but not because of moral and legal issues. The results were simply deemed scientifically and legally irrelevant. The study encompassed only eight students, does not mimic the daily exposure likely to impact agricultural workers, and cannot be verified in children on whom scientists may not legally conduct non-therapeutic studies of toxic chemicals. Nevertheless, EPA Administrator Christine Whitman agreed to consider Bayer’s requests, soliciting an opinion on the study from the National Academy of Sciences.
In addition to the Nuremberg Code, a fundamental source of moral and scientific guidance on the ethics of human testing is the Helsinki Declaration, adopted by the World Medical Association. The treatment of the students offends both Nuremberg and Helsinki standards. Bayer hospitalized the students for a month, dosed them with a known toxin, repeatedly took blood and urine samples, and paid the students a figure in the range of £700-1500 (maximum $2,500). Although the students could withdraw from the study, the formal warning that leaving at any time for non-medical reasons could jeopardize the students’ compensation tainted the consent. According to the Nuremberg Code, a subject “should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable [an] enlightened decision.” The students were informed that the study may be disclosed for the development of medicines, and it was medicines they thought they were taking. Bayer never told the subjects that the purpose of the experiment was actually to procure standards for azinphos methyl that likely would have been weaker than those imposed if the company had used animal studies. Nor, apparently, did students know that the experimenters were actually Bayer contractors.
Bayer’s experiment incurred at least 67 “adverse events,” which included abdominal pain and chronic headaches. All eight students suffered from these “events.” Symptoms were attributed to a virus or the hospital environment, even though most occurred in the dosed group, and two of four placebo subjects recorded no health concerns. The insecticide tested on the students belongs to the class of pesticides called organophosphates, which have been linked to long-term chronic fatigue, increased suicide rates, and Gulf War Syndrome. None of the long-term effects associated with organophosphates is mentioned on any form Bayer gave to the subjects. Nor did Bayer offer follow-up examinations or treatment for any long-term effects. Friends of the Earth Scotland has called for action to force Bayer to monitor the health of the students for the rest of their lives.
The effort to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency’s moratorium on human test data continues to move forward in the courts, and a National Academy of Sciences committee will spend the next year examining the ethical and legal questions surrounding its use. Currently, companies test pesticides on animals, and market them at a tenth of the injurious strength. If similar tests could be conducted on humans, Bayer could market stronger pesticides. One result could be heightened damage to animals and ecosystems. In 1991, the Bayer insecticide flowed, in a rainstorm, from sugar cane into rivers, killing up to a million fish, along with turtles, alligators, snakes, and birds. And in 2002, Canada reported that high concentrations of the chemical in the Wilmot River killed 15,000 fish.
Another result could be that more insolvent students would present their bodies for toxic tests to Bayer and other multinational corporations. Concerned that such tests pave the way for the use of underprivileged or otherwise decisionally-impaired subjects, the Natural Resources Defense Council condemned the tests as “outrageous” and “immoral.” We agree, and hope that animal advocates will find it worthwhile to take a big-picture view when planning interactions with large multinationals such as Bayer. Animal interests are rarely presented as isolated, discrete problems. They come as part of the larger picture, inextricably woven with the effort to find safe, effective alternatives to chemical toxins and to strive for a just society.