I just received a detailed and thoughtful letter from a reader of my recent book, Capers in the Churchyard. The letter is signed by Ava Barcelona, who’s with a Chicago-based group called Action Volunteers for Animals. Barcelona examines the book’s critique of militant and undercover actions against industries that use animals, its endorsement of vegan education over coercive acts, and its emphasis on integrity in activism -- that is, its call for activists to integrate their vision into their methods, and model the kind of respectful society we’re hoping to bring about.
Inspiring people to consider fundamental lifestyle changes is difficult, unspectacular, and patient work. Suggest a vegan lunch at your next progressive book reading, green gathering, or anti-war meeting and you’ll see for yourself. Barcelona insists, however, that asking people to give up their medicines may well be harder than asking them to give up their meat. So how do vegan campaigns address the reality that people will buy and use drugs whose market-worthiness is proved through animal testing?
It’s a critique I can’t dismiss, especially because Barcelona reports having endured a toothache for twelve months after declining an animal-tested treatment. It’s hard not to be impressed. So on a rainy afternoon in Pennsylvania, I sit down to pen a reply.
Pennsylvania’s like a lot of other places. Much of the land and resources are invested in animal agribusiness. Farmers, in turn, rely on pharmaceuticals -- antibiotics, hormones, and vaccines -- to get the highest return from the bodies of the animals they breed and raise. And both farmers and drugmakers are increasingly wary of activists.
The Animal Enterprises of Pennsylvania
Let’s begin our tour of animal enterprises with a visit to Red Knob Farm in York County. That’s where Republican representatives Bryan Cutler and Jerry Stern went this month to announce House Bill 379. The proposal, expected to swiftly pass, will have land owners sticking signs on their fields and animal warehouses, signaling special penalties for trespassers. Cutler said marking farms as biosecure areas will defend them “from those who would use the current lack of security on our farmland” to “intentionally or accidentally introduce a transmissible disease or hazardous substance into our food supply." Every year, says the local press, state police encounter numerous incidents of vandalism against these wholesome sites where, as Red Knob’s farmer put it, cows “are treated like royalty.” (Presumably they’re thinking of Lady Jane Grey.)
The adjacent County, Lancaster, is Pennsylvania’s top egg producer. There too, they’re waging a campaign for farmland security. Last year, Lancaster County’s Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum on "agricultural terrorism”; FBI agent Joseph Metzinger explained that the Bureau needs to warn industry of "criminal acts in the name of animal rights.” 
One kind of security that Pennsylvania police officers probably needn’t doubt is their job security. Animal-advocacy groups are accusing farmers of lawbreaking as well, reporting violations to local Humane Society police officers, who can then bring charges in court. The Humane Society of the United States paid for the prosecuting attorney in a pending case against the Lancaster County egg company Esbenshade Farms.  The Philadelphia-based group Hugs for Puppies filmed the interiors of chicken warehouses at Kreider Farms, another Lancaster egg production company; but then one of the activists was fined under a trespass charge. 
Then there was the Philadelphian mentioned in the suburban news last year for appearing on the lawn of a pharmaceutical executive's home to protest animal testing. The state, of course, will assert itself in such matters, and it’s done so in the form of grants worth $2.5 million for a new Tactical Response Training Center in suburban Plymouth Township. Construction on the site, set to open this September, is being helped along by money from Peco Energy, Firstrust Bank, and the Annenberg Foundation. The federal government chipped in with a grant. And Berwind Corp., a Philadelphia-based investment management firm that also owns a drug-coating company, gave $250,000 to Montgomery County to help build a state-of-the-art shooting range at the site.
The county itself will pay more than $7 million for the project. Montgomery County has the highest number of pharmaceutical firms in the United States, explained the chair of its board of commissioners: “They're on a lot of animal rights groups' lists.” A new site for tactical team training is important to have “[p]articularly after 9/11,” said the county's public property director, Andy Gulotta. "There is a buzz on the street about this facility," boasts Gulotta, adding that it likely will serve as a model for other regional training sites.
The pharmaceutical division of Wyeth, one of the world’s largest drug companies, is also run out of a Philadelphia suburb. A division of Wyeth has long sold pig and bird vaccines to agribusiness, exemplifying Big Pharma’s linked interests in the human medical market and the perpetuation of animal farming. Wyeth sells the menopause drug Premarin, derived from horse urine. In 2005 Wyeth had the audacity (and, most disturbingly, the legal standing) to file a “citizen’s complaint” with the FDA to obstruct the distribution of alternative, plant-based hormone replacement therapies.
Pennsylvania’s politicians have worked out attractive grants and tax deals with Shire Pharmaceuticals, and the British-based company has set up its North American headquarters in the Philadelphia suburb of Wayne. Dr. James Cavanaugh, the chair of Shire’s non-executive board, has contributed generously to Pennsylvania candidates. Says Matt Cabrey, chair of Shire’s new political action committee: "It is important to have a vehicle where you can educate and communicate with legislators on issues that are important to you. If you call on your legislator for support, frankly you can expect that they may come back to you and ask for your support." The mutual admiration between biotech and government is the pride of Governor Rendell, who notes, “Pennsylvania ranks first nationally for pharmaceutical and medicine production. By working with companies like Shire, we’re working toward a great future to becoming an international leader in the biotechnology community.”
And of course, Pennsylvania has one of those handy “eco-terrorism” laws to make the state safe for pharmaceutical companies, and anyone who’s doing anything to an animal to make a buck. In such an environment, what effect will anti-vivisection demonstrators have -- other than becoming subjected, themselves, to experiments of the lawmaking kind?
Veganism as Direct Action
The early British suffragist Frances Power Cobbe organized the movement to abolish vivisection movement over a century ago; since then, however, the use of live animals in experiments and testing has hardened into established custom. When asking whether modern society could stop sacrificing animals on the pharmaceutical altar, it’s worth knowing what keeps people from challenging the practice. Perhaps it’s simply the fear of ordinary people who look to the promise of new drugs as their salvation. Ordinary people who, like almost all of us, were raised on breakfasts, lunches and dinners that demonstrated society’s view of other animals as beings created for our purposes.
Drugmakers are legally required, moreover, to test new products on nonhuman subjects, even though Hippocrates, author of the medical profession’s cherished oath, employed clinical observation as the basis for healing, and reportedly said: “The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different.” Of course, a lot of things have changed since Hippocrates was around. The most powerful motivator of drug production is not the modern corporation’s sincere interest in public health, but its duty to shareholders. Companies face layoffs if their new product concepts lag behind the rate at which their older drugs go off patent.
That’s why Schering-Plough CEO Fred Hassan recently assured the New York Times -- in a PR agent’s dream interview, “The Science of Attacking Cholesterol” -- that company researchers are acquiring new knowledge about cholesterol, and tackling the challenge with a variety of new drugs. If we can reduce low-density lipoproteins (LDLs, now known as “bad cholesterol”), explains Hassan, we give ourselves a much better shot at preventing heart attacks and strokes. Enter Zetia, “a major advance” to prevent the absorption of bad cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract. Then there’s Vytorin, the result of a joint venture with Merck. The Times doesn’t interject a word about the reality that all foods containing animal fats also contain cholesterol; foods free of animal fat contain no cholesterol, or negligible amounts. 
So let us step back for a moment, view the big picture, and ask: What if the Science of Not Eating Animals  lowered our cholesterol, improved our health, and reduced the toxins in our environment so that the science of perpetual drug invention was no longer imbued with an almost religious importance? In other words, if we reject the products of animal agribusiness, might we spare ourselves the diseases and cancers that make us prey to corporations as well as the diseases themselves? By sparing animals from Red Knob farm, could we spare animals from being tested by Shire?
The work of researchers such as Drs. Colin Campbell, Michael Klaper, and Dean Ornish has shown that a low-fat, vegan diet can prevent and even reverse heart disease. This kind of nutritional awareness could offer people power over their own health in ways that profit-seeking companies -- networks with a vested interest in our needing drugs -- simply cannot provide.
In a profound way, the most effective challenge to the use of animals in science is the humanitarian quest for a truly healthful lifestyle. To effect change in the social attitudes that underlie animal testing, and to provide an important public service as well, it would make sense for activists to show people how to opt out of animal products. Such activism would work at the root, challenging both animal farms and animal testing. It would also be understood by reasonable people as an important social movement, rather than a debate over cruelty that puts the losers in court or in prison.
a holistic practitioner of animal rights, works with Friends of Animals,
an advocacy group which will be celebrating its 50th
Anniversary in New York City on 18 May 2007. Lee’s also a
vegan cookbook author whose latest book is
Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror.
1) Gil Smart, “Animal Cruelty Charges Come
Home to Roost,” Lancaster Sunday News (13 Aug. 2006).
Other Articles by Lee Hall
is Neither: Ecology, Justice and the Politics of Borders