' The Animal Food and Research Industry: Can Technology pave a path towards Animal Welfare? | MTLR

The Animal Food and Research Industry: Can Technology pave a path towards Animal Welfare?

Peter Singer in his famous book “The Animal liberation” in the 1970s, wrote that the ability to feel pain and happiness is the prerequisite for the consideration of rights and not the ability to reason. If the ability to reason was the main criteria, then children who have no linguistic skills or mentally incompetent person would have no rights as well as they cannot reason. Thus, to deny a non-human animal rights because it cannot reason would mean that children also cannot have any rights. Therefore, the pre-requisite to deciding whether one should have rights is their ability to feel, a phenomena science has credibly proved to be true for animals. However, despite this criteria, non-human animals have been tortured in laboratories and slaughtered for food, for purely humanistic reasons. In the 20th century, where there were technological alternatives, usage of animals for research and food purposes would have had made sense as there were no possible alternatives to the usage of animals. Some may say that research was essential for human survival. However this theory doesn’t hold any merit today because of technological alternatives available where plant based and veganism, technology capable of mimicking the human physiology is a reality. Sadly, as animals themselves cannot advocate for this change, economic advantage for a few is preventing this change to happen and that is a very problematic summation of humanity in the 21st century.

For Animal welfare activists in the US, the Edward Taub case of 1981 rings stressful memories. Dr. Taub was working on a federal research program at the Institute for Behavioral Research (IBR) in Takoma Park, Maryland over Monkeys. The Monkeys were kept in a severely distasteful environment where they were fed inedible food and were forced to live in their own feces. Taub’s research was only exposed because a young Alexander Pacheco, who went later on to found “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” (PETA) posed as a volunteer researcher at IBR. What Pacheco unearthed was evidence of animal cruelty, on which Taub was charged with seventeen counts of animal cruelty under Maryland Law.

The Trial was held in the Montgomery County District Court, presided over by Judge Stanley Klavan. Because the charges were misdemeanors, with a maximum penalty of 90 days, there was no jury. On November 23rd, 1981, Taub was convicted for failing to provide necessary veterinary care to six monkeys. Taub later appealed to the Circuit court where his case was heard de novo. Due to one juror simply refusing to indict Taub, as per a compromised verdict, Taub was indicted only for failing to provide veterinary care to just one of the monkeys.

Thereafter, shockingly, the Maryland court of appeals granted certiorari and acquitted Taub of all charges by adjudicating that the Maryland Anti-cruelty law didn’t apply to research conducted as per a federal program and that the pain caused to the monkey was “purely incidental and hence unavoidable”. Rather than ridicule Taub’s action, the research community heaped huge praise on him and started a campaign to silence the ethical demands of regulating animal research.

On the other side of the spectrum, is Pakistan, where companion animals is considered a luxury of the elite. In accordance with this trend the current Pakistani government, via a statutory regulatory order in early May 2022, had banned the import of much needed pet food. The issue with banning the import of pet food is that the Pakistani animal industry is currently similar to those of the USA in the 1970s. As a result, Pakistan does not have the resources or the ethical mindset about producing quality pet food. A pet food import ban meant animals suffering from diseases and having been prescribed a specific diet, would be deprived of a reasonable care they truly deserve.

There has been false reports that the ban has been lifted. However, despite protests by several animal rights activists including myself, the veterinarian community and pet owners, the ban is still in place. The fact that it took a massive protest for the Pakistani government to understand how much companion animals meant to the nation offers a bleak future for the animal food industry in Pakistan and other undeveloped states where profit and sole human development overshadows animal welfare concerns.

Similarly, just last week, on June 12th 2022, a ship that was carrying over 15000 sheep worth around 3.7 million dollars, capsized while it was en-route to Saudi Arabia from Sudan in the Sudanese Red Sea. Officials reported that the maximum limit for sheep occupancy on-board was only 9000. No wonder it capsized. Fortunately all human lives on deck were saved, whereas 90% of the sheep drowned and those that were rescued are sickly and might not survive.  Furthermore, the animal carcass drowned in the sea will negatively affect the aquatic environment and later humans as they will undoubtedly consume aquatic food. Unfortunately, this travesty took place to a need for profit and transporting animal food, both avoidable.

Lastly, it has been reported that Covid-19, which has taken almost 4 million recorded lives, could have spread through bats as a reservoir animal. The Covid19 pandemic could have been prevented if there was a worldwide consensus regarding animal research parameters so that high-risk animals would be not be subjected to experimentation or quartered to distasteful environments. A team of eminent lawyers known as the “Lawyers for the Convention on Animal Protection”, is drafting an international treaty based on the One-Health Approach in order to protect animals and to prevent spread of zoonotic diseases and hence another pandemic. The convention specifically calls for animal research parameters with reference to high-risk animals such as bats.

 Animal Research and Food Industry both need extensive reforms and technology can be an effective tool in achieving a middle-ground so that the goals of the food and research industries are not compromised on one hand and animal welfare is ensured on the other. Food products such as the impossible burger at Burger King and other plant based food options produced in the lab, which taste just like animal meat but are in fact 100% plant based, are extensively hitting the food market. The vegan/vegetarian trend is becoming a booming industry and a shift from animal food to experimentally produced food in a research lab is highly likely now than it ever was in the past.

On the other hand, there is technology available that can mimic the human physiology and can replace actual animals from being tested in a lab. Using technology, future Taub episodes can be averted, the need for animal transport can be extinguished and underdeveloped countries can change their respective food and research industries and shift to the booming plant based industries and still make profits.

It’s a win-win for all parties. All we need is more diversity, equity and inclusion in the way the world develops its future policies, where all creatures, be it human or animal are protected.

Altamush Saeed is an Associate Editor on the Michigan Technology Law Review.

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