The status of
animals is not an innate constant such as eye color or
build, but a social-cultural characteristic that can be
awarded or taken away. As a cultural group, we decide
how high this status is. It's also a gradual concept.
A higher or lower status can be awarded, contrary to the
concept of "intrinsic value" that may or may
not be recognized in animals. It's impossible to say about
an animal that it has a little intrinsic
(or self) value. People, animals and objects can gradually
be awarded more or less status. At the top of these gradations
there is sometimes a transition. When a musician, a horse
or an old house gradually grow in status, it may be that
after a certain "threshold value" they gain
an untouchable super status: rock stars, dressage horses,
monumental buildings. This top status receives a lot of
attention and sometimes veils the gradual character of
the concept of status. Thirdly, status is a relative concept.
I award a different status to the teacher of my 7-year-old
son than my son does himself.
Underneath are text fragments from the speech by Tjard de Cock Buning, given on 1st April 2000, on his acceptance
of the office of extraordinary Professor Animal Testing
Issues at the Faculty of Animal Medicine of the Utrecht
Researchers award a lower status to a laboratory rabbit than other people
do to their pet rabbits. A sociologist sees behavior changes
when people of different status meet. The behavioral scientist
sees status differences in social animals such as people
and wolves, which incite submissive or dominant behavior.
Meeting people of the same status, however, does not lead
to behavioral changes, we act as we normally do.
Realizing that status has no absolute size but that it
is a cultural group phenomenon, means that people in a
subculture who think animals have a low status (poultry
farmers, animal testers) have just as few "solid"
arguments as those in a subculture who award a higher
status to animals (animal protectors). As long as these
two cultures remain strictly separated by laboratory walls,
any meeting between them will lead to a culture shock,
and as a consequence will at least incite avoidance behavior.
People will keep their mouths shut outside the laboratory
and at the next family gathering.
Legislators were wondering whether animal status could
also be improved in the field of biotechnology. The interesting
thing about the concept of status is that it is dynamic.
The status of a top researcher or top institute may plummet
when news of unethical behavior such as fraud and plagiarism
reaches the outside world. And inversely, a biotechnologically
altered bull can grow into the Dutch media hype "Bull
Herman" for which the government eventually determined
that it can't be butchered like any normal bull.
What determines this dynamic status?
An animal's status is determined by four variables:
a historical/cultural component, the personal bond,
knowledge about the animal and the abundance of the
species. S = f (H + (P+K)/A) Let me briefly exemplify this. There are cultures and
practices in which a certain animal "as a matter
of course and over many years" gains a higher or
lower status. Stephen R. Kellert did a lot of research
in the US into this cultural valuation. You all know
the examples of the holy cows in India, the holy cats
and crocodiles in Egypt, and the spider Anansi in Africa.
But there are also "pariahs" under the cultural
images of animals, such as rats and spiders in Europe.
People are born into a cultural framework and through
fairy tales, cartoons and computer games children learn
the status belonging with every animal species. This
background value is used in resonance with the environment
to develop variations. Pets that people bond with gain
a higher status than other people's pets. P for personal bond A bond is a contract that creates mutual obligations.
The philosopher Levinas said that ethics finds its roots
in encounters with others. In instances where these
meetings go beyond mere eye contact I surrender my own
selfish freedom to the influence of this other. I allow
the other to manipulate my emotions. The other also
opens his defensive cover and knowingly becomes vulnerable
to my enrichment. Encounters change people. Several
encounters create a bond, a relationship, a contract
of mutual taming.
K for Knowledge
There are also animals to which we do not ascribe a
historical status and with which we do not have a bond
through direct experience. But it's remarkable that
having knowledge about the lives of certain animals
can help them gain a higher status. Stephen R. Kellert
did research in the seventies to find out whether systematically
low-scoring animal species could gain more status by
introducing e.g. spiders to children in grade schools
during their Natural History lessons. It turned out
to be possible to increase an animal's status through
This places animal experimenters in a strange process.
Their own research generates much knowledge about the
animals. The literature that positions their own research
compared to other research in the world accumulates
in the minds of the biologists. The more they know about
the complexity of animals, the more researchers esteem
the animals, and the less they will be inclined to handle
them "carelessly". The animals gain status.
But this representation is less appropriate in the case
of molecular biologists. On the one hand their focus
is on detailed processes within the cells, and they
will develop a respect for cellular mechanisms. On the
other hand they only rarely meet genetically modified
mice. Rearing them is done by animal keepers, and the
biologist often only studies the animal's tissues through
his microscope lens. The image is also less appropriate
to animal experimenters in medical studies. For them
people, mainly as patients, are the points of reference.
The animal only has value when it succeeds in mimicking
a human property. More knowledge on lethal forms of
colon cancer (in transgenic mice - genetically altered
to allow the growth of human tumor cells) generated
a respect for the mechanism of human cancer cells. It
didn't so much increase the status of mice, it may even
have decreased it, because mice are "only"
the carriers of the cells. A for Abundance There's an interesting psychological phenomenon that also
determines the dynamic of an animal's status. As soon
as we hear that there are only a few specimens of a certain
type of animal left, this species' status skyrockets.
A variation on this phenomenon appears with the status
difference between originals and copies. Copies of masterpieces
in art are awarded a lower status. Their numbers appear
to be an important variable for status.
Endangered species may count on a higher status than those
who are not endangered. Animals that have large litters
several times a year, such as mice and rats, are marked
as pests. They are outlaws, and hunting them seems to
hardly affect their species. This is completely different
with animals that only bear a single young when they reach
a late age (lions, elephants, orang-utangs, whales). The
death of a single parent or young can endanger the entire
group. The WWF is very active for these vulnerable animals.
What does this dynamic mean for the future?
We have entered the age of information technology.
The knowledge scientists and biologists are collecting
about animals is growing every day. This knowledge is
now being spread to citizens and students at a much
higher speed than twenty years ago, thanks to popular
science magazines (New Scientist, Nature and Technology)
and scientific sections of newspapers, and of course
Discovery Channel and the Internet. If there are any
animals left about which no fascinating reports on their
lives have been written, this will surely come in the
next fifty years. This trend shows us that cumulative
knowledge will increase the status of all animals. Fifty
years ago it was possible to freely use DDT to fight
malaria in Africa. Nowadays this is a classic example
of simplistic thinking. Of course, DDT kills mosquitoes
that carry the malaria parasite. But now we know so
much about the network in which parasite, mosquito,
man, resistance and immune systems modulate each other,
that a reasoning of linear cause and effect is deemed
outmoded and simplistic. However, the philosophical
consequences of the network approach are that the status
of the smallest animals is elevated to an essential
link in the survival of the known top scorers in the
animal kingdom. Think about the role of krill (small
shrimp-like crustaceans) in the polar seas that are
essential to the survival of whales. If there were something I would stake my life on, it
would be the certainty that in the next fifty years
Holland and Europe will be urbanized even further. What
is left of nature will be shifted more and more to national
park management. The question is whether even Africa
and South-America will still have wild areas. The movements
of larger animals will be monitored from satellites,
and Wild Life Rangers will guard ecological networks
locally. There will be no question of wild animals.
Just imagine. There will be a time when even wild animals
will be comfortable with people driving, walking and
videotaping around them. The category of "wild"
animals will cease to exist. We will only be able to
speak in a virtual sense about animals that, if we hadn't
noticed and protected them, would have had the potential
to become truly wild animals. But no animal will live
that way. All animals are doomed to become "kept
animals". The concept "kept animal" plays
a part in judicial philosophy. The Flora & Fauna
Law contains rules for handling wild plants and animals.
The Health and Welfare Law for Animals contains rules
for our handling of all kept animals. The former legislation
will become increasingly empty in the coming years.
Even migrating sandpipers in a borderless Europe will
be regarded as protected animals that fly from reservation
to reservation along biological main structures. Already,
ornithologists have a bond with recaptured birds they
ringed the previous year as "wild birds".
The thought that people in other countries may shoot
down "their" birds during their migration
and eat them makes their blood boil. In this sense,
the bond between an ornithologist and his ringed birds
leads to the same emotions you would be experiencing
when some brute poisons your pet. Maybe you want to
interject that there is a difference between a personal
bond with a pet and a general feeling of responsibility
for the survival of animals. Morally, this difference
does not exist. Morally, I would be outraged in both
cases, because this bond, in the sense of 'you mean
something to me in my life (and vice versa)', has been
brutally trodden on by an unknown person. In neither
case is it a question of a bird dying in France (or
a cat in Amsterdam). No, it's my bird and my cat dying.
In future, all animals will be my-animals for everybody.
prediction for this century is that the list of endangered
species will only get longer. This will eventually also
lead to all animals gaining a higher status.
Dear listeners, in view of the demographic developments
it is inevitable that the status of animals will keep
increasing in the coming years, all the more because
our knowledge of animals and their function in ecological
networks keeps growing. At the same time, biodiversity
and biomass of animals will constantly decrease. The
remaining animals will be placed under the management
of people, so humanity will integrally take up the function
of animal protector in the coming century.
But Holland also has two sectors in which the numbers
of animals are kept large through breeding programs,
where everything is done to prevent bonding with animals,
and where a compromising increase of knowledge about
species' needs is answered with programs to deselect
these needs (minks, chickens) or to remove them from
the animal through genetic engineering. In short: where
every variable points to a lower status of the animals.
I'm talking about the booming business of factory farming
and biotechnology. And this while, please note, agricultural
politics have been pursuing a policy for five years
to shift production maximization towards durable agriculture,
and the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, urged
on by Parliament, has been aiming toward a decrease,
replacement and refinement of animal testing for 15
Of course, economical forces are great in both sectors.
But that is at most an explanation, it has nothing to
do with justification.
I do foresee
two developments that will stop the current growth in
the use of test animals. In the coming years, attention
for the refinement of test installations in relation to
tour de forces in genetic modification will lead to completely
new types of test animals and installations. In most cases
of biomedical testing the animals should hardly have to
notice that they are being tested on. At a subtle detection
level, small changes in the genome of mice will supply
a lot of information about the non-pathological dynamics
of physiological processes. The extreme pathology we know
now in classic animal testing will no longer be as necessary,
because our knowledge of mechanisms at a molecular level
will increase. Research questions will increasingly be
asked at that level, and this will remove the need for
painful symptoms as a necessary end. Eventually, it's
conceivable that animal testing will become redundant
because molecular diagnoses, direct therapy and monitoring
inside patients themselves will become possible. The risk
of suffering, against which vulnerable test subjects are
protected by the Nuremberg code and the Declaration of Helsinki, will be greatly reduced. In this sense I would
like to start a dialogue between the medical ethical committees
and the animal experiment committees about the real added
value and risks of animal and human testing in the transition
to clinical trials. Animals and patients can benefit when the unnecessary parts of animal testing are skipped.
I also foresee that genetic modification as a new technology
will break free from laboratories and will significantly
change the agrarian sector (factory farming, fur, recreational
animals). But it will not be restricted to this sector.
Pets, released animals "gone wild" and finally
even people will become modified.
Of course, some researchers and farmers will be inclined
to anachronistically invoke traditional values and historical
rights (the right to hunt, to wear fur, to the inheritance
of agricultural businesses, to fishing with live bait,
to cancer research with mice). But still people would
be wise to anticipate more on the increase of the status
of animals in our society. It's today's young researchers
that will be called to account in fifty years. A survey
by our own department has shown that today's researchers
and research management do not score high in transparence
in the area of transgenic animals. They would rather invest
in research than in welfare monitoring and animal care.
This is understandable from a short-term viewpoint. In
the long run grandchildren will question their grandparents
on their past handling of animals. And then I guarantee
that views on a "correct" handling of animals
will be much more elevated than they are now.