UCLA researchers picketed for animal testing
In Los Angeles, when a group of people drive in a van and visit homes in affluent neighborhoods they are usually celebrity-infatuated tourists. But yesterday was different.
A group of animal rights activists traveling by van took their own “tour.” Instead of celebrities, the homes belonged to UCLA researchers; instead of gawking, activists stopped to protest.
The group is trying to stop scientists from using monkeys in laboratory experiments, which they say are costly and of little scientific value. The protesters would march along a researcher’s street carrying placards, chant and leaflet in the neighborhood.
Activists say the experiments on monkeys involve such things as their heads being implanted with bolts and electrodes, being made addicted to tobacco and methamphetamine and using PCP to induce psychosis. Protester Nicoal Sheen called the experiments “barbaric,” saying such research does not provide useful information.
“Primates suffer,” she said. “They have every right not to be tortured.”
UCLA researcher Edythe London disagrees. London’s residence was one of the homes visited by protesters yesterday. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, she defended her use of animals in scientific experiments.
“My colleagues and I place a huge value on the welfare of our research subjects,” she said. “We constantly strive to minimize the risk to them. … Thousands of other scientists use laboratory animals in other research, giving hope to those afflicted with a wide variety of ailments.”
London, like most researchers, argues the benefits to humans provided by animal testing outweighs the risks to animals. But Sheen said people are blinded by such rhetoric. She points to alternatives to testing, such as the use of computer modeling, which she says is cheaper than using animals.
“Not a lot of people use computer modeling because society sees animal testing as a necessary evil,” she said. “We are trying to educate the public.”
The presence of demonstrators did not go unnoticed by residents. Protesters were met with irate neighbors at every visit. One woman said she called the LAPD and FBI over the noise and her sleeping baby. Another turned on their sprinklers when activists were standing nearby. One man, whom activists said had turned his garden hose on them during a previous demonstration, asked police about obtaining a restraining order.
Though neighbors would not speak on the record to LA Activist, many felt the tactics of the protesters were inappropriate.
“This is not what to do,” said one man. “It’s not effective.”
Pam Ferdin, who functioned as a legal observer during the protests, said demonstrating in front of the homes of researchers has been very effective. She said activists have gotten two researchers to stop using animals.
Ferdin cited the case of neuroscientist Dario Ringach who, after mounting pressure from protests, ceased his animal testing and turned to human volunteers.
“Dario was killing 30 primates a year, now he does studies without using animals,” she said. “He’s still a researcher, but doesn’t cut up primates for fallacious reasons anymore.”
In March 2010, Ringach told Science magazine that he was the victim of threats and harassment for years until he finally gave up animal testing in 2006, saying he had masked people banging on his windows at night.
Ringach co-founded, along with fellow researcher J. David Jentsch, a pro-animal testing group called UCLA Pro-Test.
Jentsch, whose home was visited yesterday, has also been the target of extremists. He has reported receiving death threats, and in 2009, his car was fire-bombed. No one was injured in the bombing.
“They’re absolutely determined. This is not a joke to them,” he told the Los Angeles Times in November 2010. “But this is the work I feel morally obligated to do.”
However yesterday’s protests did not involve such tactics. Demonstrators were meticulously monitored by Ferdin who made sure they did not violate any laws. In May of last year, several activists were arrested for allegedly “focus picketing,” which involves facing a residence and shouting towards it in an act of protest.
Since then activists have filed suits against the UCLA police, saying their First Amendment rights are being infringed upon. The cases are pending.
According to Ferdin, the activists were not focus picketing and are being targeted by campus police.
“We have been down the same streets picketing for the last four years,” she said. “The LAPD are fine with it. Only the UCLA campus police are telling us we can’t do certain things that are legal.”