But it’s not in front of them. What is in front of them is a pretty ad. And it’s very, very hard to break through the veneer of advertising for bad products—especially if you have acquired the taste for them over many years—and say, hang on a minute, I need to take you behind the scenes and now show you a more compassionate way to behave. So, it’s like with any cause, you have to jar people’s idea of reality and show them that it’s a façade, that they’re not being kind when they buy these products, to themselves or to the Earth either.
REDWOOD: What are your thoughts on animal research?
NEWKIRK: I think it’s a hideous business. Every day without fail, we have complaints from laboratories here. Every single day. Sometimes we deal with veterinarians, technicians, janitors, guards, that indicate that the animals are treated like widgets. They are not even counting the kind of experiments they’re used for, which is another matter. That they are left in metal cages as if they have no behavioral or social needs, as if they’re not intelligent, and yet studies come out all the time showing that even the little rat in the laboratory, his heart rate soars, his adrenalin level goes up, his pulse rate increases when someone simply opens the lab door. They don’t even have to put a hand on him. So these animals, before they’re even touched, are living in fear and in completely unnatural and uncomfortable conditions. As for the science, I think we’ve learned by now that sometimes old habits die hard and that when there isn’t enough oversight of what is done for animals in labs, that someone can actually continue to use animals in a particular experiment, say executive stress experiments, where they actually swim animals to their deaths. There was a case in which this experiment was done every year for 14 years, by one experimenter alone. And no one says, “Hey, John, this really needs to stop,” or “You’re not doing this in the most intelligent way, there are other ways to study executive stress.”
REDWOOD: Are you convinced that eliminating all animal research would have no adverse effect on finding cures for human illnesses? For many people, that’s a key issue.
NEWKIRK: I think most people just believe that blindly, just as when you get into the elevator, you don’t believe it’s going to crash. I mean, you just trust that it must be the case or they wouldn’t use them. But when you show most people, look at AIDS or cancer, for example, and animal experiments haven’t done anything for us. In fact, all they’ve done is waste money and waste time. In fact, the state of cancer research is so much more sophisticated than it ever was. Because of microscopy, we are able to see precancerous tumors. Not because of animal experiments. And the way we test drugs these days. While the law still says that we have to go through these batteries and batteries of animal tests, from mice to monkeys, wasting time, we have high-speed computers now that we can program with human data. We can break down the properties of chemical components, see how they interact with each other. You know, we’ve got cloned human skin now. We’ve got whole human DNA on the web. Everything we’ve learned about AIDS has come from human epidemiology and studying the mutation of the virus in human blood and human beings. But we’ve still got chimpanzees infected with HIV banging their heads against the side of their steel cages and being there for two decades now.
REDWOOD: Could you share your thoughts about the euthanasia of animals in pet shelters? I was surprised by the complexity of this issue when there was a recent controversy here in Virginia, where PETA is headquartered, about shelters that “put animals to sleep” and those that do not.