International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

6th European Vegetarian Congress
Bussolengo, Italy, September 21 - 26, 1997

Facts or fiction
Hiren Kara

Indian representative of Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC) and Assistant to IVU General Secretary

To start with, I would like to thank all the organizers for giving me the opportunity to address today's meeting.

"Man, if you hurt us, do we not feel pain?" "Man, if you cut us, do we not bleed?" "Man, if you kill us, do we not die?" If only animals could speak, these are surely some of the things we would hear. Millions of animals are used in experiments every year. About 62% of such tests are conducted without anaesthesia; the animals may be electrocuted, deprived of food and water, surgically mutilated, exposed to radiation, burned and scalded, deliberately wounded, exposed to poisonous gas, infected with deadly diseases, poisoned with products such as household cleaners, cosmetics and drugs.

Human cruelty has not spared monkeys, cats, dogs, birds, fish, rabbits, guinea pigs, mice and rats in these experiments. The reasons given for such tests are: to increase scientific knowledge, to develop new products and test their safety including their ingredients. These animals are mainly used by laboratories of commercial companies or by contract testing laboratories involved in the testing of new drugs and cosmetics. Universities that have an educational lab for their own research also use these animals. They are delivered by special companies who breed animals for this purpose.

As economic considerations are important, the way in which they are bred need not be particularly elaborate. Pets may even be stolen to supply laboratories. Wild animals such as primates are trapped by cruel and indiscriminate methods; due to stress and inadequate transport, about 70 to 90% of primates may die before reaching the lab. The film "Gorillas In The Mist" successfully showed what goes on behind the scenes before certain useful research primates are captured. The export of monkeys from India was stopped by the Indian government in 1977. (Beauty Without Cruelty naturally played an important part in this.)

Animal experiments are carried out for medical research, drug research, testing of cosmetic and household products, environmental pollution, agricultural experiments, military and space research, and psychological experiments. Such medical research gives findings of dubious reliability, because animals are being used instead of humans. Aspirin tested on rabbits and mice caused problems, but not so with humans. Penicillin is poisonous to guinea pigs, but is a lifesaver for humans. The LD 50 test, the lethal dose 50 test, is widely used. Rats, mice, rabbits or dogs are force fed drugs or other products, for example lipstick, until 50% of them die. The animals are made to suffer diarrhoea, pain, distress, convulsions and haemorrhages. Although scientists have condemned the LD 50 test as unreliable, it is still used.

Another test involves a substance being dripped into a rabbit's eye, normally the albino rabbit, as their large eyes give better results. These products do not produce tears which would wash away the product naturally; various types of shampoo are normally tested on rabbits' eyes, whose eyelids are held open by clips causing redness, swelling, irritation and bleeding, for a period of at least seven days. Other substances may also be tested for skin irritation; rabbits and rodents have protected skins, which are subjected to the application of products such as lipstick, perfumes, bleach and washing up liquids. The animals are restrained so that they cannot even lick the tested area of skin, which is then observed for signs of redness, inflammation, swelling and cracking. The same test is also carried out for products such as pesticides and industrial chemicals.

Are these experiments useful? In one test, when a rat was forcefed 4 pounds of lipstick, he died of intestinal obstruction and not poisoning. Also, the tests do not guarantee that the products are safe for humans. The findings of a lot of military and space research are not available. In the hope of extending human knowledge, scientists keep animals in cramped conditions, deprive them of water, electrocute them, separate them from their mothers or keep them in the dark. These are psychological experiments carried out for the benefit of mankind.

If however human beings are hurt, there are doctors, medicines, ambulances, hospitals with modern equipment, all to aid our recovery. At this point I would like to tell you about an experience I had two Congresses ago, at The Hague. While I was travelling by tram from the station to the Congress area, a tourist trying to cross the road got between two trams. Knocked down but not seriously hurt, he was in a state of shock. Much to my surprise, within half a minute to a minute, police and ambulance were there to help, in addition, of course, to the tram personnel. Just see how human beings are protected!

But what are we doing for animals? We show them no respect. Although animals may be different from humans in many important ways, like us they feel pain, experience discomfort, stress, pleasure and affection. Alternative methods of testing are possible which use human cells, tissue cultures and sophisticated computer modules. Alternative medicine has long existed: disciplines such as homeopathy, chiropractic and osteopathy have had good results with patients. So how can we stop animal suffering? It is up to you, yes, every one of you, to decide what you want to do. If you do not buy the products, demand will fall, and manufacturers will produce only what there is a demand for: this will make the difference.

Animals are made to perform in cruel circuses three times a day: elephants are made to stand on their rear legs, dogs are made to jump through rings of fire, birds are displayed with their wings clipped. These animals are kept in small cages, underfed and trained using cruel methods. I am aware that most countries on this side of the world have already stopped all this, but it still continues in India, in the East, so I have incorporated these facts into my speech. These animals are transported from city to city, in small cages, as I said, kept in confinement, in abnormal living conditions, and may not receive any treatment from a qualified vet. For whom is all this done? For those who buy tickets to laugh at animal misery.

In countries like Canada and Russia, though, circuses without animals are touring successfully. The export of frogs' legs and vivisection in schools still continued a few years ago, but now they have been banned. Frogs eat termites and insects and help to keep the balance of nature by insect control. The alternative is to use insecticides which cause serious illnesses including cancer. A computer program is available as a research alternative. The stomach lining of a calf is used as rennet in the manufacture of cheese, but in India the import of animal rennet is banned. Vegetable rennet is used instead. There is a lot of imported cheese on the Indian market which contains animal rennet, so it is important to read the label before you buy.

Kite flying, especially during the Indian kite flying festival or the harvest festival, brings down many birds hurt or with cut wings - they fly into the kite strings without realizing it. Can we not prevent this? Birds are meant to fly from tree to tree and make nests, but are kept in small cages, which is equivalent to life imprisonment for them.

Some people love to keep pets in their homes, and many of them also eat non-vegetarian food. Can you imagine your pet puppy sitting on your plate and saying, "If you eat other animals, why not me? If you are fond of animals, how can you like that meat?" Elephants are killed with poisoned arrows or food, and may take several days to die. The suffering that the mighty elephant has to go through is just to allow the unnecessary use of ivory to adorn the body or showcase. Since 1992 the Indian government has imposed a total ban on ivory trading, both African and Indian, for export or for internal use.

To produce just one gramme of silk, 15 silk moths are either boiled or steamed alive in their cocoons. Artificial silk is available, and some leading sari shops sell artificial silk saris. Some children's toys are made from rabbit skin; and china, fine or bone china, contains up to 40% ox bone. Shaving brushes are made from hair pulled out from a living pig. Eggs are definitely non-vegetarian: the more you know about them, the less you will want to use them. It is, therefore, up to you, the consumer to decide what you buy. Ask yourself: what could have gone into the making of the product? It doesn't depend on the vendor.

Some of the things you can do for animal rights are: 1) be a vegetarian; 2) boycott animal circuses; 3) boycott products with animal ingredients; 4) boycott products tested on animals; 5) last but not the least, be an active member of your local vegetarian society.

Questions:

Q: I have a question. Maybe some of you could help me with a dilemma that I occasionally find myself in. Although all my friends, acquaintances and relatives know the term "vegan", which means vegetarian, obviously not all of them seem to realize exactly what that means, so every Christmas I get given soap and cream, things for the bathroom; sometimes I know they are ok, sometimes they are definitely not, sometimes I'm not quite sure. Recently I happened to do a job for a friend of a friend, who is Spanish. I refused to take any money from him when I'd finished. A small parcel came in the post a couple of weeks later, and in it was a silk scarf. I don't want to offend this person, so what should I do? How do I get through to people that veganism is not just about what you eat? Should I return the gift and say, "Sorry, I can't accept it?" I know where he bought it. I was intending to take it back to the shop, to ask if I could exchange it for something else not made of silk, at the same time taking the opportunity of telling the shop staff that the scarf is unacceptable to me, but I might not have known what shop he bought it from, so does anybody have any ideas about handling a situation like this?

A: Well, I can't give a precise answer to your question. One thing I know is that is very embarrassing to return the gift, since it is not practical. What we have done in India is to create groups of people whose aim is to inform others that such products should not be used; and in Delhi we created a bonefile of silk products, ivory etc, items of animal origin confiscated by the Government. There was also some advertising so people would realize that such items are not meant for human consumption or use in general. That is what we can do as a community, but individually I realize it is very difficult to deliver such a message. I hope I have at least partially answered your question.

- translations by Hugh Rees, Milan - commissioned by Associazione Vegetariana Italiana (AVI)