Texas Activists to Protest at Civil War Reenactment

The Texas Establishment for Animal Rights is quickly establishing
itself as the nuttiest of the nuttiest when it comes to AR groups. On
March 13 and 14 it will protest a Civil War reenactment held on a farm
in Texas. Are animals going to be killed or tortured? Nope, according
to a TEAR press release the problem is that “hundreds of men dressed
in civil war regalia, along with horses, cannons, rifles and mortars
will descend on the farm scaring the petting zoo animals, the farm animals,
the migratory waterfowl and birds.”

National Dairy Council Rips Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

In response to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s claims that milk consumption doesn’t
help prevent osteoporosis, the National Dairy Council issued a press release
pointing out PCRM’s long running difficulties in giving accurate information.

As the NDC points out, “the
claim the group is making does not represent the total body of available
science. It is an erroneous conclusion based on a single study limited
to a narrowly defined population. The study, by its authors’ design, was
not constructed to show cause and effect as this group would want you
to believe. Rather, it was constructed as an epidemiological study intended
to generate observations and hypotheses that may lead to further study.”

PCRM misrepresented a study?
No, you don’t say.

Cornell President on Animal Dissection Policy

Animal rights activists
have been agitating at Cornell University to ban animal |dissection| and
several weeks ago attempted to disrupt a biology lab class. In February,
Cornell president Hunter Rawlings sent an excellent letter to Cornell
Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, politely making the case
for the continuation of the animal dissection policy.

Cornell already offers students
in most classes alternatives to animal dissection. Only students taking
physiology courses must perform animal dissections. According to Rawlings,
though, even when offered alternatives, most students prefer the live dissections. Of
525 students who took Cornell’s introductory Biology 103, for example,
only 20 chose not to participate in the dissections.

Rawlings also noted that,
contrary to the student activist’s claims, classes were informed a week
prior to the dissections of the upcoming dissections and instructed to
discuss the matter privately with their instructors after class if they
wanted to choose an alternative.

Finally, Rawlings punctures
the oft-made claim that available alternatives to animal dissection are
more than adequate to completely replace live dissection. Rawlings wrote,

It is also important to note that many of the Biological Sciences
faculty agree that existing alternatives to dissection are almost universally
inferior to the level of quality appropriate for Cornell courses or are
otherwise unacceptable … In many cases, and in certain upper level courses,
they say, adequate alternative materials are simply not available … While
alternatives are available in the introductory general biology course,
I cannot accept your position that the university must adopt a policy
that all Cornell courses offer an alternative to animal dissection when
such a requirement is determined by the responsible faculty member to
be an essential element of the course of instruction.

More Xenotransplantation Advances

Even if they don’t lead
immediately to treatments in human beings, the announcement of two recent
advances in genetic engineering of organs provides more evidence of the
sort of technologies likely to hit the mainstream of medical technology
before the end of the next decade.

In mid-February researchers
announced in Science News that they had successfully transplanted
bladders grown in the lab into six beagles. The scientists grew the bladder
cells around a plastic form to make it take the shape of the bladder and
then implanted the artificial bladders in the dogs. Within three months
the artificial bladders were completely active and some of the dogs have
had the bladders for almost a year with no problems.

Obviously getting the technology
to work in human beings is a whole other problem, but these experiments
are doing for this technology what the early animal experiments on organ
transplantations did – they suggest solutions and help scientists better
understand the problems they will encounter when seeking to grow human
organs in the lab.

In a related story, Canadian
researchers are hoping to take that step of translating animal experiments
into a treatment for human beings sometime this year. Researchers there
expect for the first time to use a genetically engineered pig liver to
keep a human being alive while waiting for a liver transplant from a human

Pharmaceutical company Novartis,
which has been harshly criticized by animal rights activists for its efforts
in genetic engineering, is reportedly ready to spend up to $1 billion
to develop a viable pig liver. To avoid the risk of spreading disease
from pigs to human beings, the pigs will be raised under special conditions
to assure they are disease free. The pigs are isolated from other animals
and housed in a sterile environment. The pigs are fed by hand to avoid
microbes that might pass from pig to pig while suckling.

The impetus to move forward
with this technology is especially strong in Canada which has a rather
low rate of human organ donation – only 12.1 donors per million people
compared to the U.S. with 17.7 donors per million people.

As I noted two weeks ago,
the Campaign for Responsible Transplantation attacked Americans for Medical Progress for highlighting former Chicago Bear running back Walter Payton’s
recent announcement that he has a rare fatal liver disease. The CRT attack
on AMP, however, seemed like an act of desperation. They tried to throw
everything but the kitchen sink at AMP – xenotransplantation might not
work, it poses a risk of transmitting disease across species, it could
be avoided by increasing the donor pool, etc.

There are many responses to
these claims (CRT doesn’t seem to keep up with recent scientific advancements
in genetic engineering) but as far as I can tell the bottom line is this:
animal rights activism in the medical experimentation field has been successful
largely to the extent that it has engaged people’s sympathies against
hurting animals, especially unnecessarily. But that play on emotionalism
is a double-edged sword, since most people are openly “speciesist”
who, when it comes down to it, will find the suffering and pain of Walter
Payton far more compelling and worthy of alleviation than that of a pig
whose death could save Payton’s life.

What seems to anger CRT to
no end is that AMP gave them a taste of their own medicine with their
focus on Payton. I say more power to them.

Companies Steel Themselves Against Competition

For the past several months
U.S. steel companies, their unions and Democrats on Capitol Hill have
been whining that steel manufacturers from Brazil, Japan, Russia and other
countries are “dumping” steel in the United States. These critics
charge that companies from these nations are unfairly selling steel at
a price that is simply too low for American firms to compete. As a letter
from 13 U.S. governors to President Bill Clinton summed up the case, “Our
businesses cannot compete with unfairly priced, dumped and subsidized
products from desperate foreign markets. Each day of lost market share
equals real job losses and serious financial consequences for a vital
American industry.”

Although the Clinton administration
initially resisted calls to take action against the “dumping”
of steel, the Commerce Department ruled in late March that Belgium, Canada,
Italy, South Africa, South Korea and Taiwan all illegally dumped stainless
steel into the U.S. market. Stainless steel from those nations could face
tariffs as high as 60 percent if the U.S. International Trade Commission
decides the “dumping” hurt domestic steel makers. Although stainless
steel makes up only a small percentage of the steel market, this decision
makes it all the more likely that the Commerce Department will rule that
Japan, Russia and Brazil illegally dumped hot-rolled carbon steel into
U.S. markets.

As with most “anti-dumping”
appeals, however, the real problem is not with the foreign producers but
with the domestic steel industry; special protectionist measures now will
only reinforce and exacerbate those problems.

As a September 1998 article
in The Economist noted, long-running protectionist legislation
on behalf of the steel industry has encouraged firms to avoid taking measures
to reduce their costs or improve their operating procedures. Whereas in
other countries consolidation of firms has followed relatively flat steel
prices, The Economist notes “in the hour or so it takes to
get from Gary, Indiana, to Chicago you will pass nearly half a dozen full-scale
integrated steel plants, each with its own supplier networks, inventory,
production schedules, marketing and sales force.” ThatÂ’s an extremely
expensive method of business for a rather undifferentiated commodity such
as steel.

In fact it is so inefficient
that the traditional steel industry faces serous domestic challenges from
small-scale competitors once derisively referred to by the big steel companies
as “mini-mills.” Unlike the traditional steel companies, which
use ion ore and huge blast furnaces, the mini-mills use scrap metal and
electric-arc furnaces. Dismissed only a few years ago as insignificant
players, mini-mill companies such as Nucor now produce almost 40 percent
of U.S. steel and Nucor recently passed U.S. Steel as the number one domestic
producer of steel.

The more traditional steel
companies have tried to run their own mini-mills with little success.
An Alabama plant, Trico, financed by a group of traditional steel producers,
lost nearly $40 million last year. The large steel companies with their
bureaucratic, old style production methods have been unable to replicate
the set of management processes and coordination necessary to make mini-mills

The large steel companies
are using the current surge in steel imports, caused in part by the huge
boom in the U.S. economy, to seek quotas to protect them from their own
inefficient production methods. House Republicans and Democrats joined
together in late March to approve the Steel Recovery Act which would limit
the amount of steel imported into the U.S. to the average of level of
steel imports from July 1995 to July 1997.

This bill would be a disaster.
According to the Precision Metalforming Association, limiting steel imports
to this average would have left American industry 4 million tons of steel
short of what it needed. The result would be a dramatic rise in the price
of steel in the U.S., which would result in increased cost to consumers
— a special tax on consumers to benefit the steel giants. In addition
without an opportunity to sell its steel in the world’s largest market,
foreign nations won’t have access to the dollars they need to help recover
from the ongoing Asian economic crisis. Setting up protectionist barriers
in America now would be like throwing gasoline on a raging fire.

The regimen of protectionist
barriers on foreign goods such as Japanese cars already harms American
consumers (almost $1,000 per car in the case of the automobile quota);
the last thing Congress should be doing in the midst of AmericaÂ’s economic
boom is imposing even more burdens on business and consumers.

Gattaca: The Documentary

In the dystopic film, Gattaca,
Ethan Hawke plays a man in a world where genetic testing and engineering
run amok. Children’s DNA is tested at birth and their genetic makeup used
by the government and businesses to determine what sort of job they will
hold and the person they will marry. Just a scary fantasy, right? Maybe,
but Michigan is taking a giant step towards making some parts of that
fictional future come true.

Beginning in 1965 Michigan required
blood samples to be taken from all newborns. The samples were handed over
to the state for genetic testing. Like many such laws, this one was passed
to “protect” children — the blood samples were screened for treatable
genetic disorders such as hypothyroidism. Although the state claims to
be looking out for children, parents aren’t informed of the procedure
— my wife and I learned about the law from newspaper reports about the
law not from the Michigan hospital which took our daughter’s DNA on behalf
of the state.

In 1983, the Michigan legislature
passed a law requiring the state to keep the blood samples on file, but
didn’t specify for how long. State officials claimed that for liability
purposes it needed to keep the blood samples until the children turned
21, at which time the samples would be destroyed. The first wave of children
targeted by the law will turn 21 in 2003. As that date gets closer, however,
the state is already concocting new justifications for keep the samples
indefinitely and is already putting the samples to use in ways that should
frighten anyone concerned with fundamental civil liberties.

A privacy commission set up
by Michigan’s Republican governor, John Engler, recently issued a proposal
that the state should maintain the DNA samples literally forever. The
privacy commission (which seems rather unconcerned with people’s privacy
concerns), notes that DNA samples have already been instrumental in solving
crimes. In several high profile cases, DNA samples of children involved
in kidnapping and murder cases have been used to identify the victims
and the criminals who preyed on them. Police use of the DNA samples in
such cases currently requires parental consent, but it doesnÂ’t any sort
of court order. The privacy commission believes that status quo should
be maintained.

At each step of the way, the
state has pushed the boundaries. When it started taking DNA samples and
testing them in the 1960s it could have made the program voluntary —
large numbers of Michigan citizens probably would have allowed the state
to pay for genetic tests of their children, though clearly some would
have opted out. Similarly, the state could make the retention of the records
voluntary. It could allow parents the choice of whether or not to maintain
their children’s DNA for forensic use and it could give the children of
such parents the choice of whether or not to have the DNA samples destroyed
when they reach 18.

But of course the state doesn’t
do this because the argument at each stage is that the mandate is for
the greater good — it’s the government looking out for the poor defenseless

Over time, though, the state
will inevitably continue to push the envelope and expand police access
to the DNA samples to promote the common good. Michigan cities are already
on the cutting edge of questionable police use of DNA.

In 1994, for example, Ann
Arbor, Michigan, was plague by a serial killer. Police suspected the killer
was an African American and knew some of his general habits but had little
else to go on. So they forced 160 African American men to submit to “voluntary”
DNA testing to exclude themselves as suspects in the killings. The tests
were voluntary in the same way that getting arrested is voluntary — those
who refused to give DNA often received police visits at work or had police
stop them on buses or on the street.

Blair Shelton was one of the
men who gave his DNA sample only after police harassment at his workplace.
Like all 160 men, Shelton was excluded as a suspect. The police eventually
caught the serial killer, but without any help from the DNA dragnet.

The nightmare was only beginning
for Shelton, however. Even though another man was convicted of the murders
and the DNA sample excluded him from being connected to the crime, the
Michigan State Police insisted they had to keep his DNA sample on hold
indefinitely. First the prosecutor claimed they had to keep the blood
sample on file until the convicted killer exhausted his appeals. The prosecutor
actually expected people to believe that if DNA samples of someone who
had nothing to do with the crime were destroyed, the real killer’s conviction
could be overturned. When that argument didn’t fly, the police argued
that if their crime lab destroyed the samples they might lose their accreditation!

Shelton had to sue and his
case spent several years in the courts. Finally in 1997 the Michigan Supreme
Court ordered the state police to destroy all blood samples they had taken
from suspects for the purpose of DNA testing. State police Capt. Richard
Lowthian actually told the Detroit News, “It’s a monumental change in
the way we operate. When we eliminate someone as a suspect, were’ going
to immediately destroy the records. We have no choice.”

But given the choice, Lowthian
clearly would have liked to maintain the records. And it is a matter of
time before the police begin lobbying the legislature to overturn the
Supreme Court’s ruling. All it will take will be a single high profile
murder or rape and police suggestion that if they had just maintained
their DNA samples, they could have cracked the case quickly.

This is, after all, how things
have gone in Europe. In many European countries widespread DNA testing
has become an all purpose tool for police. In a 1997 case in France, for
example, a judge ordered every man in the village of Plein-Fougeres to
undergo “voluntary” DNA tests in hopes of finding the murderer of 13-year-old
Caroline Dickinson who was raped and strangled while on a school trip
in the area in 1996.

In Great Britain, authorities
were on the verge of ordering 7,500 truck drivers to undergo DNA testing
after the murder of a visiting French student. Before the authorities
could put their plan into action, however, the killer was apprehended.
In fact in the United Kingdom DNA is routinely taken from criminal suspects
and stored in a national database. Of course British officials reassure
the public that the innocent have nothing to fear.

Police officials in the United
States look at such provisions and begin salivating. Apparently in agreement
with Michigan authorities, New York City Police Commissioner made headlines
when he called for maintaining a database of DNA sample from everyone
arrested in New York.

So pardon me if I’m a bit skeptical
when Michigan tells me that they’re only interested in protecting my daughter
by keeping her DNA on file indefinitely.