Animals have been raised for the purpose of food for centuries, if not millennia. It is often said that you should not curse the hand that feeds you, yet it is possible that this is exactly what is happening in the United States. Animal Rights groups have been portraying a possibly biased picture of what occurs during Animal Science education, which is learning about the production and care-taking of animals. They may truthfully say what occurs, or tell about methods used, but to the average American, the manner in which they portray these methods could possibly sound cruel and unusual.
Animal Rights activists, such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), have been causing major changes in methods and techniques used in animal education, involving areas of research, production, and care-taking procedures. Research could be the most critical part of medical advancement. Universities around the world conduct vigorous research that has led treatments for cancer, penicillin, and many other medicines. However, these benefits have not been seen as advancement by everyone. Activists, such as the group Animal Liberation Front, have become malicious and destructive, even to the point of sabotage.
In 1999, the Animal Liberation Front broke into several laboratories at the University of Minnesota and ruined lab equipment, stole lab animals, such as rats, mice, and salamanders, and painted graffiti on the walls of the buildings. Damages were estimated to be over $750,000, including set back of research. The criminals responsible for the atrocity were caught on tape, wearing masks, and pursued by an investigation led by the FBI and local law enforcement (Thomas 1). Such acts of violence may prove to be very detrimental to, not research, but the education behind it all.
Students most likely find it very hard to concentrate on their research or topic of study when their labs are under siege. The production aspect of animal science is much more susceptible to potential confrontations with animal rights activists. At Clemson University, coveralls and solid rubber boots, each precisely described to meet requirements, must be worn at all times. Boots must be washed before and after entering the barn or other areas where livestock are held. This is not to prevent human disease, but to prevent contamination of the herd (McConnell).
This could be a good method of controlling what elements are allowed into the animals’ environment; however, it is very hard, even with these precautions, to prevent some type of contamination. Farm animal production has been around almost as long as man, and now, changes are being made, trying to advance these practices. Changes have also been made to how these animals are trained. For example, when halter-breaking a cow, an almost always effective method to stop it from pulling back, is to tie the cow up for a period of time.
The cow will usually learn rather quickly that pulling back only tightens the halter around their snout. Animal rights people have deemed this cruel and inhumane, since the hide around the snout may get sore or even soft. This potentially valuable tactic for teaching the animals not to pull away is no longer taught by the university instructors. In Florida, there is new legislation banning gestation cages for pig farmers (Lomartire 1). The activists may see it as a tiny, restrictive cage; however it is crucial to prevent the sow from accidentally rolling over onto her young.
Also, it allows for close observation in case of any complications during birth. Although some changes caused by animal rights groups have had significant benefits, many changes have proved to be detrimental to the ability of students to efficiently work on livestock. Research barns and facilities are constantly under the careful watch of animal activists. One mistake could cost years of lawsuits and protests. Animal rights groups in the past have accused many research facilities of cruelty to animals. Clemson’s farms are under constant surveillance by Animal Welfare Services and other university sanctioned groups. Dr.
McConnell of Clemson University said, “I can’t even kill a barn rat without looking over my shoulder” (McConnell). Someone raised around farms would most likely know that barn rats are more dangerous to a herd than any human. They are carriers of many different diseases and can ruin an entire herd. Most animal rights people would be against the control of barn rodents, yet they are concerned enough about the health of the herd to require boots and coveralls. Also, during the process of castration, Animal Welfare has required that iodine be applied after the process is finished to clean and disinfect the area (Burns).
Gary Burns of Clemson University said, “The iodine is the most painful part. It burns like hell after that” (Burns). There are very few blood vessels in the scrotom, and at only a few days old, the baby calf barely feels a thing. This is another case in which Animal Welfare has tried to improve the animal’s comfort level, but perhaps instead made it more painful. Proper documentation is now required to exactly state what is going to be done in every class before it happens. This is no big deal in a math or biology class, but when working with live animals on a farm, anything could happen at anytime.
There is no place on a syllabus for reaction. Animal Rights is one of the hottest topics out right now. There are people so passionate about it that they will do almost anything to show their compassion. They even go so far as to equate turkey farms to concentration camps (Walters 2). Students around the world must face these activists on a routine basis. In an introductory animal science class at Clemson University, almost an entire day of class was spent on how to deal with groups like PETA and what to do if confronted by them.
Is it possible for student to fully reach their potential as animal science students when they must constantly be watching for an extremist looking to sabotage their efforts? In an interview with CNN, correspondent Sharon Collins asked Robert Tracinski, a senior fellow of the Ayn Rand Institute, about the effectiveness of PETA said, “I think the basic problem is that in upholding the rights of animals, what they’re really doing is restricting the rights of human beings” (Collins 7).
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