European elections

If you live within the European Union, don’t forget to vote in the European Elections this May 22-25! Eurogroup for Animals, the federation of animal protection organizations in the European Union, started a campaign for the elections already last year. They have created a list of points about animal welfare that they would like political groups to include in their manifestos for the elections;

1. Improve farm animal welfare
2. Reduce the number of animals used in research and testing
3. Protect cats and dogs
4. Improve the welfare of wild animals
5. Use EU trade agreements to boost animal welfare in partner third countries
6. Ensure that animals are recognized as sentient beings in all legislation

More about what these points include and about the campaign in general can be found at www.voteforanimals.eu. For the Finnish campaign go to elainpolitiikka.net under “Europaparlamenttivaalit 2014” (in Finnish).

On Thursday last week, the local Animalia activist-group hosted a political discussion around these points and animal welfare in general within the European Union. Running politicians from different political parties had been invited, and in the end seven of them agreed to come; Sanna Lehtinen from the Centre Party, Jere Riikonen from the Christian Democrats, Johanna Sumuvuori from the Green party, Eila Aarnos from the Left Alliance of Finland, Juhani Tanski from the Workers party of Finland, Petrus Pennanen from the Pirate party, and then Helena Eronen from Change 2011, who did not show up to the actual discussion.

The politicians were asked questions about for example how the animals’ position in the EU can be improved, what they have done for the animals during their political career, what they would do to turn the trend of rising meat consumption, as well as questions about animal testing and slaughter transports. I was positively surprised by most of the politicians and their knowledge and interest in the subject, and the discussion turned out to be really interesting.

The only sad thing about the event was the small amount of people who turned up. Apart from the politicians and people who work for Animalia in different ways, only few came. Maybe the advertisement hadn’t been so good, or maybe people are not so interested in listening to political discussions, I don’t know. But I hope that next time a similar discussion is held there will be more people there to listen, because I found it very interesting and helpful. It’s different to actually have the politicians there and being able to ask them questions, than to just read their pamphlets and campaign-websites and try to decide who to vote for based on those.

The history of animal testing

The evening seminar about animal testing held yesterday (I wrote about it here) was really interesting, both the topics of the speakers and the questions from the audience.

Tuula Heinonen from FICAM, The Finnish Centre for Alternative Methods, talked about the problems with animal tests, why we need alternatives and some test methods that they are now developing in FICAM. Marianna Norring from the Juliana von Wendt Fund for Research Without Animal Experiments also talked about alternatives to animal testing and the purpose and goal of the fund. Marianna Lammi from Animalia talked about the history of animal testing, which I found very interesting and therefore want to share with you.

Advertisement from Animalia’s campaign against animal testing

The most interesting part of the history of animal testing is that all the way from the start there has been movements both for and against animal testing. In the antique, Hippocrates was for research based on patient observation and human autopsies, while Galenos, the founder of vivisection, created a strong movement of using animals in research. In the 17th to 18th century Descartes came with his theory that animals are just machines without souls and therefore can’t feel pain, while Voltaire was strongly opposing the use of animals in research.

In the 19th century, during the period of industrialization, the area of medicine was developing and animal experiments became everyday life at the universities. However, there was also winds blowing in the other direction. In England, Frances Cobbe founded the first anti-vivisection movement, the organization that now is BUAV (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection).

 

The Leaping Bunny Logo, the only assurance that a product is not tested on animals

During the first half of the 20th century came the first wave of animal experiments, because of infectious diseases, the world wars and laws such as the Therapeutic Substances Act, which made it compulsory to do test all medicines on animals. During this time the first laboratory for research on animals was founded in Great Britain. The second wave of animal experiments came later in the 20th century, when it became more common to test chemical and nuclear weapons, and the science of genetic manipulation got started.

Big things happened in the anti-vivisection movement during the 20th century as well. The first congress on prohibiting animal tests was held in 1909. The movement also got divided into two parts; a more radical stand and a more moderate one.

Today there is still a great reliance on animal testing as a research method since it is seen as something that “we have always done”, but also a rising interest in alternative methods because of different reasons. The movement against animal testing still have a lot of challenges to overcome before we can see a world where animals don’t have to suffer in the name of science or beauty.

World Day for Animals in Laboratories 24.4

Most people claim to be against animal testing of cosmetics, while they find similar tests done for medical research acceptable, or even necessary. Most people also don’t know to what extent animal tests are done, and how they are done.

The fact is that almost everything has at some point been tested on animals, things you would never even think would need such testing (such as tea or chocolate bars). In the European Union 11,5 million animals are used for different tests every year, and the number is not decreasing even though there are tons of alternatives to animal tests out there.

This coming Thursday (24.4) is World Day for Animals in Laboratories, a day to raise awareness of animal testing and its alternatives, as well as to pay tribute to those animals who have suffered and lost their lives in the name of science. 

Here in Helsinki, the local volunteer group for the animal protection organization Animalia is hosting an evening seminar about animal testing, its ethics and alternatives on Tuesday the 22nd, between 6 pm and 8 pm in Cafe Vanha (Mannerheimintie 3). Speakers come both from Animalia as well as from FICAM, the Finnish Centre for Alternative Methods. The event is free so if you are in the Helsinki-area and understand Finnish, please come!

The Facebook-page for the event can be found here.

On the actual World Day for Animals in Laboratories (24.4) you can find people from the Animalia volunteer group in the Helsinki centre, outside Stockmann, between 4pm and 7pm. There you can get information about the ongoing campaign against animal testing, and you can sign a petition.

Other animal rights and animal protection organizations around the world are also organizing events for the laboratory animals this coming week, so be sure to check out what might be happening close to you!

Seminar on animal tests and their alternatives

This morning I went to a seminar about animal tests and their alternatives, hosted by Fincopa, the Finnish National Consensus Platform for Alternatives. Four different speakers were talking during the one and a half hour seminar, about philosophical views for and against animal testing, how to recognize pain and well-being in animals, work that organizations do to limit tests done to animals as well as the new Finnish law regarding animal testing.

I found the part about recognizing pain and well-being in animals to be the most interesting one, because I knew much about what was said about the philosophical views from before, and the two last speakers and their topics I found it to be hard to follow because of their type of information and my a bit limited Finnish. I’m also generally very interested in animal welfare and research done on this topic. However, I got something out of all the different topics, new knowledge and some resources that I should definitely check out.

As a conclusion to the animal well-being and pain-part, the speaker Laura Hänninen listed a few common myths regarding this topic. I would like to share these with you, since I have heard most of them before and it’s sad that people still believe them to be true, even if research says otherwise:

  • Pain causes a stress reaction in the body, which releases cortisol. In other words, if the cortisol level in the animal’s body is not high, the animal is not in pain
  • The animal is not in pain, because she eats and drinks normally
  • The animal is well, because she is healthy
  • The animal is well because she produces well

Fighting for a world free from animal testing

Even though the EU accepted a new law prohibiting animal testing of cosmetics within the union last year, the law is far from perfect, and there is a lot more to be done on behalf of the animals used in animal testing for both cosmetic and other reasons.

In fact, the number of animals used in tests in Finland have increased during the last few years, even though you would think that the reality would be the opposite considering how much alternatives have been developed. The animal protection organisation Animalia launched a new campaign last week, with the intend of turning the trend and make sure fewer animals are used for animal testing year by year.

In Finland, most animal tests (70%) are done for basic research, in other words to get information about different biologic processes, without really giving any answers to specific (medical) problems. Genetic manipulation has increased the use of animals for these kind of tests. Animal tests used for medical research amount for less than one-fourth of all animal tests conducted in Finland. The most used animals are mice, rats and fishes, but also rabbits, dogs, pigs and sheep are used a lot. Apart from the use of animals in direct experiments, a lot of animals are also raised so that their tissues can be used.

The well-being of animals used in animal tests is questionable, even apart from the tests themselves, which might be very painful and in some cases cause chronic problems. The living conditions of the animals are poor, they live in confined spaces – rats that are fond of climbing, for example, can live their whole life in cages so low that they can’t even stand up on their back legs – and get no stimulation whatsoever.

There are a lot of alternatives for animal tests, and it has also been proven over and over again that results of tests conducted on animals cannot be directly transferred to humans, but require further research. When it comes to animals raised for their tissues, the problem could easily be resolved by using donated human tissues, which can be done the same way as donating organs – something you might want to consider doing!

On the campaign website www.koe-elain.fi you can find more information about the campaign, about animal testing and it’s alternatives (unfortunately only in Finnish).

The Ghosts in Our Machine – thoughts after the screening

We went to see the documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine in the cinema yesterday, and it did live up to my expectations.

It was beautifully filmed, and both painful and pleasing to watch. Painful because of all the depictions of suffering animals in captivity, pleasing because of the depicted happiness and love of the animals that were rescued and brought to sanctuary (in this case Farm Sanctuary in New York). It was also an interesting behind-the-scenes story of the work Jo-Anne McArthur does, a very painful and distressing – but also very important – job.

DSC_0982#The picture is my own, taken last summer at a cattle farm here in Finland

For me as a several year vegan and animal activist the issues brought up were not new, but it was still powerful. It gave me motivation to continue doing what I do, and continuously striving to finding new ways of helping animals, even if it is painful. Somehow I also felt a little bit of peace in the middle of all the pain, because I know I do my best to not contribute to the suffering of all these animals. Even if I can’t save them all, at least I’m not putting their flesh in my mouth, their skin on my feet, or chemicals tested on them in my face. Most of the time it does not feel like that’s enough, but sometimes I still get to feel that peace, and parts of this film gave me that.

The film does not explain much what animal rights and the activism for animals is all about. Instead it depicts the suffering of animals in different life situations and the work of different animal activists. The footage is most likely eye-opening for someone who is not familiar with the suffering of animals in our world, even if it doesn’t give all the facts. The facts can always be found elsewhere.

My summary goes like this: WATCH IT, you will not regret that you did.

The Ghosts in Our Machine

The documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine is about Jo-Anne McArthur and the work she has done for animals during the years, through her amazing photographs of animals in different life situations – those being exploited as well as those living in sanctuaries. The documentary seeks to open our eyes to the way we treat animals in this world – to point out the ghosts in our machinery – that in almost every part of our life, there is an animal being exploited, whether it’s for food, clothing, research or entertainment. It also is a depiction of animal rights activism today, where it is and where it might be going.

The documentary started screening in different parts of the world already in the end of last year, and now the time has come for it to be screened also here in Helsinki. It can be seen on three different days this week, during Helsinki Documentary Film Festival:

  • Tuesday 28.1 at 9 pm in Kinopalatsi 8, Kaisaniemenkatu 2
  • Wednesday 29.1 at 2.30 pm in Kinopalatsi 8, Kaisaniemenkatu 2
  • Friday 31.1 at 5 pm in Bio Rex, Mannerheimintie 22-24

Tickets can be booked online through the film festival’s home page, where you can also check out the other documentaries that will be screened during the week.

I’m hoping to go one of these days – if I don’t get a worse cold that the one I’m having right now – because I’ve really been looking forward to this film. I love Jo-Anne McArthur’s photographs, out of which many can be viewed on the We Animals – webpage, and I am excited to hear her story.

If you want to know more about the film, please visit the Ghosts in Our Machine’s webpage. There you can find out when it will be screened in your area (or request a screening if there is none), pre-order the DVD, watch the interactive story about the documentary and find out how you can get involved – among other things!