RSPCA Upset at Ketchup Commercial Featuring Hamster

UK newspapers are reporting that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is unhappy with a Heinz ketchup advertisment that features a hamster.

The ad features a hamster in a cage drinking from a ketchup bottle instead of a water bottle.

An RSPCA spokeswoman said of the ad,

We are concerned about child copycat incidences arising from this ad. Hay, grass, cereal mix and water are an essential part of a guinea pig’s diet and in no case should water be replaced with ketchup.

Heinz said in response that, “The advert is about exaggerating the fact that all foods taste better with Heinz Tomato Ketchup, and in no way is Heinz encouraging families to copy the adverts.”

Wow. The first place I ran across this was in British tabloid The Sun and assumed it was a hoax or, at best, exaggerated, but numerous other British newspapers are reporting the same story.

The RSPCA has really mastered the art of unintentional self-parody of late.


Heinz tomato ketchup guinea pig ad criticised by RSPCA. Media Bulletin, November 23, 2004.

Guinea pig’s tomato sauce TV role leaves a bad taste. Russell Jackson, Scotsman.Com, November 23, 2004.

RSPCA criticises guinea pig ad. ITV.Com, November 23, 2004.

Fury over new ketchup ad. The Sun, November 23, 2004.

Genetically Modified Fish Produce Blood Clotting Agent

Researchers at the UK’s University of Southampton and U.S. biotech company AquaGene have created a genetically modified fish which produces the human blood clotting agent factor VII.

Factor VII is used to treat a rare form of hemophilia as well as being used to treat gunshot wounds.

Currently factor VII is available commercially as NovoSeven — an injectable factor VII made from genetically modified hamster cells. Unfortunately growing hamster cells is surprisingly expensive, and a single injection of NovoSeven can cost up to $10,000.

Producing factor VII in fish would be much cheaper because researchers can achieve higher yields of the protein. According to researcher Norman Maclean,

Each milliliter of human blood has about 500 nanograms of the protein. We were able to match that yield in the blood of our fish.

Maclean has produced several variants of the fast-growing freshwater fish tilapia which are genetically modified to secrete factor VII from their livers and into their bloodstreams.

Maclean and AquaGene must now prove to the satisfaction of health agencies that the factor VII produced by the genetically modified fish is similar enough to human factor VII and that it is safe to use in humans before clinical trials could begin.

Interestingly, animal rights activists frequently claim that human beings are just too different from animals for things like NovoSeven or this new fish-derived effort to work. In this case, though, it is the difference between animals and human beings that makes using animals as a source for factor VII attractive.

Factor VII can be derived from human sources, but it requires expensive filtering to ensure that no human diseases are passed between the donor and the ultimate recipient. So far, there is no evidence that diseases can be passed from factor VII derived from hamsters or fish, making animal-based products superior to the human-based alternatives.


GM fish produce cheap blood-clotting agent. New Scientist, September 8, 2004.

Treating Congestive Heart Failure in Hamsters (And Maybe Humans)

In July, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine published a study detailing their efforts to create a gene therapy treatment for congestive heart failure.

The research involved hamsters who have a naturally occurring genetic defect that leads to eventual heart failure in much the same way that congestive heart failure does in human beings. In congestive heart failure, the heart’s ability to pump blood gradually declines. The scientists wondered if there might be a way to restore the heart’s vitality using gene therapy.

Using a virus they delivered a genetic mutation to the hearts of the hamsters that corrected a defect in the gene that regulates the way calcium is cycled through the heart. This sort of problem has been linked to heart failure in human beings. With the mutated gene in place, the hamsters showed a dramatic improvement in the ability of their hearts to pump blood throughout the seven month long experiment.

Having proved the concept in hamsters, the UCSD researchers are now conducting similar experiments on pigs, with human trials likely in the next 12-18 months assuming that the findings in the pigs are as positive as were the results in the hamsters.


Congestive heart failure: Treatment shows success in animal model. Heart Disease Weekly, August 25, 2002.