By Genevieve Cottraux
Biological-supply company Bio Corporation was charged on December 29, 2017 with 25 counts of animal cruelty in its killing of animals it supplied for study and dissection. In an undercover operation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) last November, secretly recorded video was obtained that shows workers at the Alexandria, Minnesota, company drowning fully conscious pigeons and injecting live crayfish with latex. Workers in the video also claim to freeze turtles to death. In the charges brought against Bio Corporation by the State of Minnesota, these acts are deemed illegal and inhumane. The animals thus treated at Bio Rad are shipped to public schools for science classroom dissections.
Responding to a complaint filed by PETA in October, a local judge ordered Alexandria police to investigate. When time passed without an investigation, PETA filed a complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which certifies such supply facilities. Minnesota law requires humane euthanasia under the direction of a veterinarian, while the federal Animal Welfare Act prohibits unnecessary pain and suffering. Bio Corporation owner Bill Wadd insisted that the company follows the law and his workers don’t generally kill animals. Animals received are already dead from slaughterhouses, for example.
Animalearn, a group promoting humane education and respect for animals used in education, estimates that about 6 million vertebrate animals are dissected every year in high schools across the United States. This figure does not include elementary schools, middle schools, or colleges and universities. A similar number of invertebrate animals are also dissected in schools. Some of these animals are experimented upon while still alive. About 170 types of animals are used, the most common being frogs, fetal pigs, and cats.
In 1987, Victorville, California student Jennifer Graham refused to dissect a frog and sued her school district to allow another choice. K through 12 students are now allowed by state law to opt out for moral reasons. There are presently 17 states that guarantee students the right to opt out of animal dissection. In 2017 in Maryland, state senator Ron Young argued for a bill allowing students alternatives to dissection. He argued that not only are dissections unnecessary but alternative methods are actually cheaper. The bill was defeated. Young will reintroduce the bill in 2018. Some countries, such as India, have banned animal dissection in schools and universities. Dissection is no longer conducted in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Israel, among other countries. Many medical schools in the United States are also discontinuing the practice.
Virtual alternatives to animal dissection are available. One award-winning example is Digital Frog 2.5 from Digital Frog International, who call themselves “savers of frogs and inspirers of learners.” The comprehensive set of modules in Digital Frog 2.5 includes a section on ecology—species diversity, frog calls, behavior, and the frog life cycle. In a doctoral dissertation at George Mason University, Christine Youngblut concluded that, “multimedia-based virtual dissection was more effective than hands-on dissection in helping students learn… [even] when the time available for the virtual dissection was approximately 44% less than that available for hands-on dissection.”
In British Columbia, Canada, in 2015, animal advocates and scientists formed the Animals in Science Policy Institute (AiSPI) in order to provide education about the use of non-animal alternatives in teaching, testing, and research. Executive Director Elisabeth Ormandy pointed out, “…of the 46 peer-reviewed studies that we looked at, 89 per cent showed that non-animal alternatives are at least as good as, if not better than the animal-based methods when it comes to student learning outcomes…”
The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), as part of their mission to advance science without harming animals, lists major objections to classroom dissection:
- It is academically unnecessary. Students who use alternatives such as models and computer software score as well or better on performance tests.
- Dissection clearly harms animals and requires the killing of about 12 million animals a year in the United States.
- It is hazardous to the environment.
- The chemicals involved and the use of medical instruments like scalpels can be harmful to students.
- It fosters the notion that animals are expendable and encourages a callous attitude toward animals.
- Non-animal alternatives are more economical than animal dissection.
Alternatives to dissection are readily available. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine offers an extensive list of animal-friendly alternatives. Animalearn has created an extensive lending library of alternatives, The Science Bank. As technology advances, alternatives become more readily available and more affordable. The iPad app Frog Dissection, winner of PETA’s Mark Twain Ethical Science Award, is downloadable for $3.99, for example.
In the words of Laurie Wolff, a student in Las Vegas who successfully petitioned the Clark County School Board for an amendment allowing students to choose alternatives to dissection, “It’s a waste when there are so many other ways to learn about science without having to kill something first.”