The following presentation in Critical Animal Studies (CAS) was given by Ian Purdy at Brock University on April 20, 2011. The presentation prompted a lively discussion about tactics, strategies, creative activism and the need for activists to adapt their approach as is warranted by the enemy target and the environment. Ian is working toward his Master’s Degree in CAS.
NIO FLORIDA’S ANTI-VIVISECTION CAMPAIGN AT THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
The University of Florida (UF) and vivisection
UF, located in Gainesville, is one of the largest research universities in the U.S. It was awarded $574 million in research expenditures in 2009. Numbers aren’t available yet for 2010. A portion of this research money goes to animal experimentation, of course. The estimated tens of thousands of animals used at UF include dogs, cats, horses, sheep, cows, alligators, rabbits, birds, rats, mice, fish. There are also at least 33 primates, some of whom are macaque and capuchin monkeys.
UF made the list of Stop Animal Exploitation Now! (SAEN)’s top lethal labs of 2010. It was number 3 on a list of 20 labs that have killed animals through negligence and have been cited for violating the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) (an act federally-regulated protocols) by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The animals were 1 rabbit 6 rats; the cause of death was broken back and being boiled alive.
 (animals used: http://www.all-creatures.org/saen/fl/res-fr-fl-ufg-aphis-2009-1.html.)
The ongoing anti-vivisection campaign
Being run by Negotiation is Over Florida. Uncompromising position statement:
They also have a uncompromising definition of vivisection:
In terms of inception
The campaign began in Sept. 2010. The decision to target UF was made after a lecture was given by a member Stop Animal Exploitation Now! (SAEN) which covered some of the experiments that were going on at UF, among them brain mapping in monkeys, and covered the deaths of several animals from neglect. (More on brain mapping later.)
[Saen is a signatory of the newly formed Canadian Coalition Against Animal Research and Experimentation (CCAARE).]
In terms of laying the foundation
NIO Fla started researching the goings on in the labs at UF using the National Institute of Health (NIH) database. The NIH reveals the amounts of U.S. federal dollars being funneled into universities and for which experiments they are to be used. However, as the activists have discovered, what the NIH grant is supposed to be earmarked for and what it is actually used for may be two different things entirely.
Finally, after identifying specific UF vivisectors, NIO Fla turned to PubMed to determine the extent and nature of their research. For example, activists were able to determine that Mingzhou Ding had authored 781 articles dating from 1975 in which he’d used every animal from rodents to non-human primates in his research experiments.
Exposing the Experimenters & the Suffering
NIO Fla was guided by the premise that animal experimentation depends on a solid wall of secrecy that the public can’t penetrate to flourish. Public exposure is what experimenters fear most.
Therefore, exposing individual experimenters and the details of their work was a central tenet of their campaign.
There are other reasons for focusing on individuals, however:
- First, the vivisection complex so too big to tackle as a whole; concentrating on specific individuals makes it manangeable.
- Secondly, activists wanted to isolate vivisectors who used monkeys. The focus on monkeys was strategic: both in terms of engaging public support for the campaign, but also because ending the use of monkeys in research was deemed “winnable” strategy.
This played on initiatives like The Great Apes Project, which has garnered a lot of support in its bid to grant legal personhood to chimpanzees & bonobos.
Vivisectors are clearly aware of public sentiment on this issue, and frequently stress that most animal experimentation is done using the more socially devalued rats & mice.
Thus the activists chose to focus on:
Marco Salemi, a Medical Pathologist. They publicized that he used $700,000 in tax-payer funded grants to sicken dozens of macaque monkeys with neuroAIDS, a designer-strain of the AIDS virus that causes damage to the organs. His claim to fame is driving primates insane by inducing dementia.
Mingzhou Ding, a Neuroscientist who was bringing in $260,000 a year to do so called “brain mapping” experiments on primates.
The activists publicized examples of Ding’s work, including the following that from an October, 2008, article in The Journal of Neuroscience:
In order to implant permanent electrodes in monkeys’ brains, the tissue above the skull was cut and pulled back allowing access to the skull. Then a section of skull was removed. Instruments, possibly multiple probes, were placed into regions of the brain. Plexiglass bars were screwed to the skull with orthopedic screws and covered with dental acrylic to immobilize the head. Two male monkeys, called “B” and “V”, were given only two weeks to recover before testing began.
They were trained to identify deviant auditory tones and received a “liquid reward” each time they performed correctly (that means they were deprived of water). They were restrained and immobilized in “primate chairs” and were recorded through the complete darkness via an infrared camera. Electrical activity was recorded as the animals performed the discrimination exercise while experimenters put electrodes through the pre-made openings into their brains.
Exposing the Suppliers
NIO Fla found out that Alpha Genesis was the supplier of primates to UF through bizarre circumstances. It made a public records request of the university for veterinary records of animals being used for experiments. The request was denied, but along with the documents denying the request was a purchase receipt for a primate with Alpha Genesis’ name on it.
SAEN was already running a campaign against Alpha Genesis, so NIO Fla publicized their findings and thus implicated UF.
What SAEN had found out was that hundreds of monkeys at the Alpha Genesis facility were reported to have hair loss due to over grooming, a stereotypic behavior generally caused by stress. Colitis and enteritis, also common stress indicators, accounted for over 30 deaths reported in 2009-2010. These chronic inflammations of the GI tract cause diarrhea, poor weight gain and muscle wasting. The SAEN report goes on to note that the suffering of the monkeys aside, the health effects of long term stress also waste valuable research dollars by interfering with experimental results.
There were also numerous findings of individual monkeys suffering from almost every conceivable type of trauma.
Tax Dollar Irregularitie$ & Transparency
Of the $574 million in research expenditures in 2009-2010, NIO Fla discovered that over $338 million was taxpayer-funded federal grants – that’s almost 60% of UF’s research being funded by the public money.
The “wasted tax dollars” approach was instigated because, while members of the general public may not care about animal suffering – or, more accurately, feel disempowered to do anything about it – everyone cares when you tell them their taxes are being wasted.
PR director divulges damaging information as she defends Ding in the media and as a result the Coalition of American Voters (COAV) is created to enlist “members of the general public into the campaign despite themselves.”
In response to NIO Fla publicizing Ding’s brain mapping experiments in monkeys, the UF Public Relations Director attempted to deflect the issue in the media by claiming that:
- the experiments were in fact not done at UF;
- the data Ding was using were public domain;
- and that Ding’s role was simply to “analyze the data.”
The PR Director thus inadvertently exposed that:
(1) Dr. Ding never participated in the experiments for which he applied and received NIH awards;
(2) The actual experiments were conducted in New York;
(3) Dr. Ding is the applying for federal money to access data that is already publicly available;
(4) An unknown number of institutions across the country are enjoying federal awards for the same experiment.
So this naturally raised the question: why did Ding need $1,000,000 grant? This presented NIO Fla with a whole new set of issues to work with.
- Demonstrations (e.g., at football games and alumnae gatherings)
- Email “blasts”
- Public petitions (demand from at least 10,000 Gainesville residents for 24-hour video access to each and every animal experiment for which taxpayer money is being used.)
- Public records requests
- Petitioning candidates running for the legislature through COAV
Eco Fest 2011
NIO Fla secured a booth at this community event. They educated passersby on vivisection in general and the goings on at the UF specifically. They also invited people to join COAV, sign a petition and sign a letter to legislators.
Activists held an event called “Halloween Havoc” which involved Trick or Treating at Ding’s neighbors, essentially dropping off this pamphlet describing the nature of Ding’s work.
Infiltrating UF Holiday Party
“Chocolate and Champagne” Holiday Gala was held for members of the university community.
This action incorporated a demonstration, leafleting and infiltration.
Action involved a demonstration out front while 2 activists “infiltrated” the party and handed out the pictured party favours. The activists were shadowed by security, but securities’ hands were tied because to eject the activists would have caused a commotion.
After all, they’d bought a ticket to be there.
Unfortunately, this action resulted in the 2 activists being banned from UF property for 3 years for causing a disturbance.
- To expose the goings on in the laboratories at UF.
- To end experiments on primates at UF.
- To get a moratorium invoked on all NIH awards to the UF pending an audit, investigation and public report of findings of Ding’s grant.
From UF administration: initially an immediate and decisive response which consisted of trying to discredit NIO Fla and defend experimenter Ding; then silence after PR gaffes.
From students: reluctant to take on university.
However, NIO Fla is trying to ally their campaign at UF with a momentous campaign against tuition increases by the student body. “We are both looking at wasted tax dollars so I’m hopeful that this is a good fit.”
From benefactors, alumnae: in this case, the wall of silence is literal: they are bused in for special events and separated from the activists by a wall of security personnel.
IV. Lessons Learned
- “Exposure”: “naming & shaming” eperimeners forced the university to defend its vivisection program in the media; in doing so, it revealed funding irregularities.
- Tying vivisection to taxes: a way to establish a personal connection between members of the general public and vivisection at UF.
What didn’t work so much
- Email blast that targeted the media along with UF personnel. This alienated potential allies in the press.
- Don’t need large groups or elaborate campaigns to have an impact – only individual initiative and determination!
And as perhaps a general sign that anti-vivisection activists are beginning to have an impact
A recent poll cited by the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR), a front group for pharmaceutical companies and others who profit from animal experimentation, shows that public attitudes towards the use of animals in medical research are changing. From the mid 1990s through 2008 the level of support among the public has fallen from 70 percent to 54 percent.
FBR is worried enough to have recently spent more than $150,000 on misleading billboards around the country to advocate for animal abuse in vivisection. The emotionally manipulative billboards show a cute human child and imply that she’s at risk for developing a debilitating disease if the rat depicted alongside her is not killed.
I see this this blatantly emotional plea from supposedly rational experimenters as a welcome sign of desperation.