China Slaughters Thousands of Civet Cats in Wake of New SARS Case

Despite warnings from the World Health Organization that it would likely be counter-productive, Chinese officials move forward in early January with the slaughter of thousands of civets after a new case of SARS was discovered.

After discovering the first confirmed case of SARS in China in six months, authorities in the southern Guandong province ordered the mass slaughter of all civet cats. In all, somewhere between 4-10 thousand civits were killed.

The animals were slaughtered by drowning, electrocution, incineration and, in some reported cases, clubbing to death. Officials in the Guandong province announced there would be a $12,000 fine for anyone who was found trying to hide the animals. The civet cat is sold as a food delicacy in some parts of China.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said the slaughter was premature and likely to be counter-productive. According to the WHO, the connection between civets and human cases of SARS has still not been definitively proven, although WHO concedes that civets do contract a disease that appears to be very similar to SARS.

Moreover, the WHO warned that if civets are carriers of SARS, methods of killing them like clubbing could end up potentially exposing more people to the disease than simply letting the animals live.

Ignoring the criticism, Guandong authorities supervised the January slaughter which also apparently spread to other animals, including badgers and rats.


China steps up SARS civet cull. The BBC, January 9, 2004.

WHO criticises China cull plans. The BBC, January 5, 2004.

China follows Mao with mass cull Tim Luard, The BBC, January 6, 2004.

Researchers Clone Rat

In September researchers from China and France announced they had managed to clone rats, adding it to the growing list of animal species that have been successfully cloned.

Figuring out how to clone the rat took considerably longer than the mouse (which was cloned in 1998) due in part to the speed with which rat embryos develop — the eggs would start to develop before researchers could swap genetic material to produce the clone.

French researchers solved that problem by using an inhibitor to delay the development of the fertilized rat egg long enough to insert the clone DNA material.

Rats are used in a number of animal models where they are closer analogues to human physiology than mice (such as diabetes for one), and the ability to clone rats and make gene knockout rats will greatly aid research into a variety of human ailments.


Rat Clone Is New Big Cheese of the Lab. Los Angeles Times, September 26, 2003.

Rat is latest clone. The BBC, September 25, 2003.

China Lifts Ban on 54 Species Despite SARS Concerns

Despite continuing concerns over the origins and transmission of SARS, China in August announced the lifting of a ban on the trade and sale of 54 species of wildlife. This includes the civet cat which is known to be a carrier of the disease.

More than 800 people worldwide have died from SARS since it first emerged in China in late 2002.

So far researchers have not yet been able to say whether SARS jumped from non-human animals to humans, but transmission from civets or other animals to human beings somewhere in southern China is a leading hypothesis for the disease’s emergence at the moment.

The World Health Organization, which is trying to pinpoint the source of the disease, opposed China’s move. Dr. Hank Bekedam, WHO representative to CHINA, said, “We think it’s a little early to lift the restrictions.”


News shorts. MeatNews.Com, August 19, 2003.

SARS: China to lift wildlife ban. Associated Press, August 14, 2003.

Chinese Researchers Claim Human/Rabbit Hybrid

Chinese researchers claimed in August to have created the first human/rabbit hybrid embryo.

The researcher was carried out at Shanghai Second Medical University and details about the research was published in Cell Research, a bimonthly peer reviewed journal of the Shanghai Institute of Cell Biology.

The researchers claim they fused skin cells from a number of human source with rabbit cells that had most of their rabbit DNA removed. According to the researchers, 400 of the hybrids grew into early embryos and more than 100 survived to become blastocysts.

There are many good reasons, however, to be skeptical that the researchers actually managed to create hybrid embryos.

According to a United Press International story, the report on this research had been submitted and rejected by several more reputable journals over the past two years. The study has been rejected for publication because both the draft and the version published in Cell Research omit data that would make it possible to confirm that the researchers actually resulted in embryonic cells.

And, as UPI tactfully puts it, “researchers in China have gained a reputation for making bold claims about cloning and stem cells that, all too often, prove false.”


Scientists Doubt Chinese Claim of Rabbit-Human Clone. United Press International, August 15, 2003.

Cloning yields human-rabbit hybrid embryo. Rick Weiss, Washington Post, August 14, 2003.

Peter Singer Looks Back at 30 Years of Animal Liberation

Peter Singer wrote an article in May for The Guardian looking back 30 after the publication of his essay/book review in The New York Review of Books, “Animal Liberation.”

Singer writes that, “A lot has changed since the appearance of that review and of the book, also called Animal Liberation, that grew out of it.” Of course what has not changed are Singer’s specious arguments. For example, Singer still apparently thinks this is a good argument for animal liberation,

Being able to reason better than another being doesn’t mean that our pains and pleasures count more than those of others — whether those “others” are human or non-human. After all, some humans — infants and those with severe intellectual disabilities — don’t reason as well as some non-human animals, but we would, rightly be shocked by anyone who proposed that we inflict slow, painful deaths on these intellectually inferior humans to test the safety of household products. Nor, of course, would we tolerate confining them in small cages and then slaughtering them in order to eat them. The fact that we are prepared to do these things to non-human animals is a sign of “speciesism,” a prejudice that survives because it is convenient for the dominant group — in this case, not whites or males, but all humans.

It is still difficult to understand how Singer can make the leap from how we treat human beings with differing reasoning capabilities to how we treat members of other species where not a single member of that species shows any evidence of higher-level cognitive skills.

Moreover although Singer concedes later that “evolutionary theory effectively debunks the idea that God gave humans dominion over the animals,” he is apparently oblivious to how other developments in evolutionary thought, including evolutionary psychology, have undercut what little substance there was to Singer’s claim that “speciesism” is mere prejudice. In fact what Singer dismisses as mere prejudice in fact is the best hypothesis yet on the evolution of moral foundations.

Another thing that has not changed is Singer’s selective citing of scientific research, such as his reference in his Guardian article to studies claiming that fish feel pain. In fact that study simply demonstrated that fish are capable of nociception and are able to respond to external stimuli, not that they feel pain.

Even Singer is forced to concede the obvious — 30 years later there is no society on the planet that is close to adopting his view of human/non-human relations,

Still, no society is even close to giving equal consideration to the interests of all animals. The spread of western methods of intensive farming to China and other nations in the developing world is threatening to incarcerate billions more animals in factory farms. After 30 years, the most that can be said is that — at least in the developed world — we are beginning to move in the right direct.

Singer seems to be pinning his hopes here that an increasing awareness of animal welfare issues will inevitably lead to animal liberation. Europe seems the only place where that even has a shot, but even there it is Europe’s increasingly anti-science, anti-technology views that have allowed the animal rights movement to gain ground rather than any serious contemplation of granting animals equal interest.


Some are more equal: Why do we insist that rights to life, liberty and protection from torture be confined to humans? Peter Singer, The Guardian (London), May 19, 2003.

SARS, Influenza and Meat?

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has been a major topic in the news recently, which means it was also an opportunity for animal rights groups and individuals to spread the usual nonsense and lies about zoonosis (diseases that humans may acquire from animals).

One of the major errors concerns the 1918 influenza pandemic. For such a major event with plenty of books, articles and web pages available, you’d think they could at least get this right, but alas, no.

Michael Greger, MD, weighed in with this bit of outdated information,

Animal agriculture is not just a public health hazard for those that consume meat. In fact, the single worst epidemic in recorded history, the 1918 influenza pandemic, has been blamed on the livestock industry. In that case, the unnatural density and proximity of ducks and pigs raised for slaughter probably led to the deaths of 20 to 40 million people. . . . All of these influenza strains seem to have arisen in the same region of southern China where intensive systems of animal agriculture have become a breeding ground for new killer viruses.

PETA chimes in claiming that,

The influenza epidemic of 1918 originated in pigs.

But these claims are completely dishonest distortions of what is known about the 1918 epidemic.

The 1918 influenza pandemic did not originate in Asia. The first known cases of the disease, in fact, occurred Kansas in May 1918. Five hundred soldiers became infected with a mysterious new disease, and 48 of them died. It is most likely the disease originated either in Europe or the United States — soldiers traveling both ways across the Atlantic would have quickly spread the virus.

Did the disease arise from animal agriculture? To answer that question, first consider one of the more astounding aspects of the 1918 influenza pandemic — we actually have samples of the disease that were preserved (in some cases because the bodies of victims were buried in places like Alaska, where the ground remained frozen) and have been partially sequenced.

As far as ducks are concerned, a study of waterfowl from the Smithsonian Institution’s collection found that this was unlikely. The Smithsonian has a huge collection of liquid-preserved waterfowl from which it extracted genetic material. The genetic material was tested for a specific gene that made the 1918 influenza strain so deadly. Researchers who studied the genetic material concluded that (emphasis added), “Comparisons of this sequence with that of the 1918 pandemic virus suggest that the pandemic viral HA gene was not derived directly from an avian source.”

But did the disease spread from pigs to humans? The short answer is that nobody knows, and that it is just as likely that the disease spread from human beings to pigs.

The 1918 strain could definitely infect both humans and pigs, but the 1918 pandemic was the first time that swine influenza was recognized as a disease — this was something entirely new for both pigs and human beings. The swine influenza was isolated in 1930 and human form of the disease in 1933, and they were similar enough for researchers to conclude that they were essentially the same virus.

Dr. Richard D. Slemons, DVM at Ohio State University, writes of the question of how the pandemic started,

Since swine flu was reported as a new disease entity in pigs in 1918, it was further believed that the agent was originally transmitted from humans to pigs and subsequently became established in pigs. Retrospective serologic investigations provided further data supporting the belief that the same agent was responsible for the 1918 influenza outbreaks in humans and pigs. However, these data did not provide insight into whether the virus went from humans to pigs or vice versa. The question as to whether the virus originated in humans or pigs, or even another species and then jumped to both pigs and humans, remains unanswered.

Why can’t groups like PETA ever get even basic facts right?


SARS: Another deadly virus from the meat industry. Michael Greger, April 13, 2003.

SARS Epidemic Caused by Meat?. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, April 2003.

Influenza: Past Clues Guide Future Defense. PulmonaryReviews.Com, January 2002.

History, Structure, and Function of Swine Influenza Virus. Richard D. Slemons.

Seeking the 1918 Spanish Influenza Virus. Jeffery K. Taubenberger, American Society for Microbiology, July 1999.

Origin and evolution of the 1918 “Spanish” influenza virus hemagglutinin gene. Reid AH, Fanning TG, Hultin JV, Taubenberger JK, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1999 Feb 16;96(4):1164-6.

1918 Human Influenza Epidemic No Longer Linked to Birds. Smithsonian Institution, Press Release, August 2, 2002.