I write in response to Dr. Neal Barnard's letter in the [Fall] 1994 issue (V.5 #3) about the statement from the Public Health Service, "The Importance of Animals in Biomedical Research," which appeared in the Summer 1994 issue (V.5 #2).
I agree with Dr. Barnard that the AWIC Newsletter serves an important function in disseminating information on animal welfare issues. I disagree with his conclusion that printing the PHS statement does not serve your readers well, because a) the PHS is an important part of the biomedical research endeavor in the United States, and b) the reasons stated by Dr. Barnard for his conclusions are deeply flawed.
Barnard claims that the statement, "virtually every medical achievement of the last century has depended directly or indirectly on research with animals," is false, because, he says, "the elucidation and clinical testing of risk factors for heart disease never depended upon use of animals in any way." In fact, virtually all of the methodologies used to evaluate cardiovascular function in persons whose risks are being assessed were developed and/or refined in animal experimentation. The extreme counter argument to Barnard's claim is, of course, that even circulation of blood was discovered in animals.
Barnard mentions in his letter a review article, unfortunately not referenced, which he claims shows progress in stroke research was impeded because of 25 drugs that reduced experimentally induced strokes in animals, none worked in humans. A cursory Medline search of Stroke for the most recent 5 years failed to reveal a review article whose title or abstract suggested focus on interspecific variability of drug response or to support for Barnard's conclusion. What was immediately obvious from this search is that animal models of stroke have made and continue to make enormous contributions to an overall understanding of the biochemistry and pathophysiology of the disease, and to its diagnosis and treatment, including the selection, evaluation, and safety testing of promising pharmaceutical agents.
Dr. Barnard objects to the paragraph that said animal activists have disseminated misleading information, demonstrated against animal use, and committed acts of vandalism or terrorism. An additional specific objection is to the PHS claim, a very well documented claim, by the way, that the majority of physicians accept the necessity of animal experimentation. Barnard's objections may best be understood in the context of the fact that the American Medical Association chastised Dr. Barnard's group, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which, in 1991, it labelled a pseudo-physicians group whose membership included less than 10% bona fide physicians, for misrepresenting the critical role animals play in biomedical research and education, and for irresponsible and potentially dangerous recommendations on health matters and concealing its true purpose as an animal "rights" organization.
Ronald M. McLaughlin, DVM
Director, Laboratory Animal Medicine
University of Missouri-Columbia
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The Animal Welfare Information Center
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