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PETA's President on the Evils of Apathy and How 'Gobsmackingly Clever Animals Are'

04/08/2014 15:30 BST | Updated 01/10/2014 10:59 BST

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In the second interview with Peta founder and president Ingrid Newkirk, I hear about the ethical dilemmas posed by scientific research, the Silver Spring Monkeys case and why the "cures business is a fraud".

Q Are the meat/sports/dairy industries simply too powerful to challenge?

A Nothing is impossible to challenge. I believe in David and Goliath and in the power of a tiny fly to disrupt a president's speech or a mosquito to rob a king of a good night's sleep.

Change must come from people showing that they care and who want their children to think they were decent, compassionate, magnanimous, understanding, thoughtful and kind, not selfish, greedy, ignorant, arrogant consumers of whatever advertisers tell them to get.

Most people will change, our job is to inform them and to link them to others who are changing. Apathy is an obstacle, as is the power of those whose profit depends on exploitation, but that has always been the case for social movements. We shall overcome!

Q In light of growing scientific insight, will future generations look back and much like slavery, find it hard to believe that society once deemed animal enslavement acceptable?

A Scientists cannot ignore all the studies showing how gob-smackingly clever animals are; ants build boats and form bridges, beavers are nature's engineers, chickens and bears can count up to at least five and birds circumnavigate the globe. Groundhogs use verbs, frogs use a kind of semaphore and dogs know on average, about 200 human words without having been taught them, how many humans know even one word of dog?!

Technology is leaving animal experimenters in the dust: we have the whole human genome on the Internet, along with brain imaging and super-computers to program with human data. In vitro tests for chemicals and drugs (such as the HIV cocktail) leave force-feeding guinea pigs and beagles in another age. It will all go.

 

Q Does PETA have more of a 'case' when it comes to the food industry than with the search for cures?

PETA has many scientists on its staff. We show people cats with electrodes sunk into their heads, that the military blows up pigs, the disrespect and disregard that experimenters have for animals, the barren metal cages these animals live in and their fear, people become upset. Then we show the superiour alternatives and the realisation comes that this "cures" business is a fraud.

If I'm debating an animal experimenter on a TV or radio show and we sit together in the green room beforehand, I always say, "So, how many animals have you used in your career? How many years have you been doing this? How much has that cost?" They usually um and ah on these very important measures of worth. Then I ask, "And what have you discovered from the use of all these animals over all this time at all this cost?" Invariably, they point to some old, historic thing like "Well, the discovery of insulin came from animal experiments", and I'll say, "Actually, it didn't, but never mind. The question is, what have you discovered?", and they haven't discovered anything of use at all, or they fudge - and then I can catch them out.

 

Q How do we balance between the unbearable treatment of the Silver Spring monkeys and scientists' claim of discovering a new therapy for stroke victims as a result?

A Such claims should always be carefully scrutinised. There are often far better ways to get information. It's like saying you can only reach your destination by walking when, you could also get there by car, bus, train, plane or running.

The problem is that most animal users don't bother or care to look, it's inconvenient. As one experimenter who blinded infant monkeys to study the effects of vision deprivation on brain development said when challenged, it was inconvenient to have to drive more than 10 miles from the lab to observe and record the development of blind children. We don't have to plunge into monkeys' brains in this day and age of brain imaging. In fact, if we work in a modern way, we will get results quicker and they will be more relevant to the human experience, e.g., if we had put the money into cloning human skin instead of burning beagles, we would have saved far more human burn victims far earlier.

 

Q Do you educate people about the cruelty of dog isolation?

A We have always advocated that if you can accommodate dogs in your home and have the love, the patience, the time and the money for veterinary care, please take two. They keep each other company when you are out, and they have someone of their own kind to bond with

 

Q How did you get to collaborate with the wonderful Joaquin Pheonix?

A I know his mother, a very kind soul named Heart who works for world peace, but we first met his brother, River, and started working with him a couple of decades ago. Joaquin is a wonderful man from a kind family of people who would never hurt a hair on an animal's head. He's also very handsome!