Will Activists Try to Bring Foot and Mouth Disease to the U.S.?

The Associated Press ran a story on Friday about the concerns of Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Rep. Michael Simpson (R-Idaho) that animal rights activists might intentionally try to bring foot-and-mouth disease to the United States. Their fear was sparked by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Ingrid Newkirk who a few weeks ago told reporters that, “I openly hope that it [foot and mouth disease] comes here. It will bring economic harm only for those who profit from giving people heart attacks and giving animals a concentration camp-like existence.”

Craig and Simpson wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking the government to take steps to prevent someone from intentionally bringing the disease into the country.

We know that the department is taking steps to keep the United States foot-and-mouth free. However, we are concerned about recent press statements made by an extreme group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, where they openly hope that it comes here in order to destroy the domestic livestock industry. We are also concerned with reports from Europe that the foot-and-mouth outbreak could have been started deliberately by someone who stole a test tube of the virus from a laboratory.

Unfortunately, it would be almost impossible to stop somebody who wanted to fulfill Newkirk’s hopes. Although the government bans the import of animals and animal products from countries that suffer from the disease, it cannot ban the travel of people too and from such countries. Foot and mouth disease is so contagious that it would be relatively easy for anyone sufficiently motivated to start an epidemic here (though the size of any outbreak would depend a lot on how quickly the USDA can react).

The irony is that even without any help from animal rights activists, foot and mouth disease is extremely likely to find its way to the United States. Thanks to Newkirk’s comments, however, if and when it finally does arrive here, animal rights activists are likely to come under intense scrutiny and blame even if they had nothing to do with it.


Republicans worry eco-terrorists will unleash livestock disease. Associated Press, April 18, 2001.

Some Thoughts on Foot and Mouth Disease

After the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic that is spreading across Europe — and will likely make its way to the United States — two issues really dominated the story from an animal rights point of view. First, is the slaughter of animals really necessary? Second, did animal rights activists cause the epidemic?

The first question is easier to answer for sure — if the goal of an agriculture system is to produce meat cheaply and ensure that the foot and mouth outbreak is contained, then quick slaughter of animals is the best way to go about controlling the disease. If anything, European officials were not vigorous enough in their slaughtering of animals. A study by the UK’s Imperial College that was recently published in Science noted that to stop the disease not only should infected animals be slaughtered, but all animals within a 1.5 kilometer radius of infected farms, typically within 48 hours, in order to minimize the risk of the disease spreading. UK officials admit that while they were successful at having infected animals slaughtered, they weren’t initially able to keep up with the so-called pre-emptive slaughtering of animals near infected farms.

But wouldn’t vaccination be a viable alternative? Selective vaccination is already being explored by European officials, but there are severe drawbacks to using it as a widespread solution. First, it is obviously an additional expense, and vaccination requires an initial injection followed by a 6 month booster shot. Even then, each vaccination only covers a specific strain of the disease, and there are several different known strains of foot and mouth disease.

In addition, many countries such as the United States will not allow meat imports from countries unless they are certified as being free of foot and mouth disease free. Vaccination would permanently grind to a halt almost all British meat exports. Such bans are in place because of another problem with vacciantion — animals that have received the vaccine can nonetheless still carry the disease, without showing any symptoms, and pass it on to non-infected animals.

For these reasons, vaccination for the disease occurs largely in the developing world where the disease is often endemic. In many parts of Africa and Latin America, for example, foot and mouth disease is common and vaccination is widespread (largely because even though eradicating the disease would produce benefits, most developing countries can’t afford the initial investment costs of doing so).

Add to that the current near-hysteria among some Europeans over vaccination in general, and widespread vaccination just isn’t a very appealing option.

The second question is obviously extremely speculative — what caused the outbreak? There has been some speculation in the media that animal rights activists may have intentionally started the outbreak. Such speculation has been fueled by comments from animal rights activists, such as Ingrid Newkirk telling reporters that she hoped an outbreak of the disease hit the United States. On top of that, a vial of the disease was recently reported missing from the inventory of a research laboratory in the UK.

Still, I think it is extremely unlikely that animal rights activists are responsible for the outbreak. If they had, I doubt they would have kept it a secret. We’d be flooded with communiques (in fact, after Newkirk’s statements, I half expected the Animal Liberation Front or some other group to claim responsibility for the outbreak).

More importantly, though, Great Britain has had foot and mouth epidemics before — the last major one being in the 1960s — so outbreaks are hardly unknown, Europe in general has seen several outbreaks since the 1990s, and there are many ways in which the disease could have made it to the UK. At the moment positing intervention by animal rights activists seems to add a completely unnecessary level of complication.

The current leading hypothesis, for example, is that somebody illegally smuggled meat that was infected with the disease into the UK and then fed it to pigs. Apparently there has been a longstanding practice of airlines selling waste food, including meat, to pork producers who in turn feed it to pigs. The only problem is that some of the meat used in the meals probably comes from parts of the world that are not free of foot and mouth disease. This practice is banned in the UK, but apparently a number of suppliers were flouting the law. The current candidate for the originating site of the current epidemic turns out to be a pig farm.


Scientists back rapid slaughter policy. The BBC, April 13, 2001.

Why not vaccinate?. The BBC, April 19, 2001.

Experts assess foot-and-mouth impact. Christine McGourty, The BBC, April 18, 2001.

Newkirk: "I openly hope" foot and mouth epidemic hits the United States

Quite a few people e-mailed me with links to an interview with People for the Ethical Treatment of AnimalsIngrid Newkirk in which Newkirk was asked about the foot and mouth epidemic that has struck Europe. Newkirk told a reporter from Reuters,

If that hideousness came here, it wouldn’t be any more hideous for the animals — they are all bound for a ghastly death anyway. But it would wake up consumers…I openly hope that it comes here. It will bring economic harm only for those who profit from giving people heart attacks and giving animals a concentration camp-like existence. It would be good for animals, good for human health and good for the environment.

Such comments will, of course, help fuel speculation that animal rights extremists in Europe started the whole epidemic in the first place (speculation for which there is, at the moment, no evidence).

The other interesting part of the Reuters report was its description of PETA’s offices,

The PETA building looks and feels much like any corporate headquarters except for the dozens of dogs wandering around and sitting on special mattresses. Employees are encouraged to bring their pets to work. Many also take part in civil disobedience campaigns and boast long arrest records.

Odd from a group that maintains pets are a manmade abomination.


Animal rights leader hopes disease comes to U.S.. Alan Eisner, Reuters, April 2, 2001.

Americans Who Have a Clue Protest PETA

Several people from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (including Bruce Friedrich) showed up at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, this week to protest the planned slaughter of more than 230 sheep. The sheep were confiscated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture based on the suspicion that they may have been exposed to contaminated feed that could put them at risk of developing a form of spongiform encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease).

A group of 10 Iowa State University students showed up, in turn, to protest PETA. Calling themselves Americans Who Have a Clue, the students grilled hot dogs outside the USDA office and disputed PETA’s claims about the sheep slaughter.

“I’m here to let the USDA know that they’re doing their job and that there are people supporting them,” Loren Shetler told the Iowa State Daily. “How ethical would it be to let millions of livestock be slaughtered [if there were a major spongiform breakout in the United States]?”

Computer engineering sophomore Kevin Broulette said the group decided to grill hot dogs because, “We thought the protesters might get hungry, so we brought all this out.”


Iowa State U. students protest PETA at lab. Rebecca Cooper, Iowa State Daily, March 26, 2001.

Animal Rights Activist Attack Peter Singer Over Bestiality Stance

Peter Singer still has not made any comments about his book review for Nerve which, on the most friendly interpretation, offered a weak argument against bestiality. While People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Ingrid Newkirk offered a defense of Singer, many animal rights activists were quick to pile on denunciations of Singer, many of which were posted to the Nerve web site as well as being distributed through Internet e-mail lists.

Friends of Animals president Priscillia Feral wrote,

Friends of Animals, an interntional non-profit organization with 200,000 members throughout the world dedicated to promoting the rights of animals and concern for wildlife and the environment, denounces Princeton philosophy professor Peter Singer, for an essay in which Singer maintains that under some circumstances, it is acceptable for humans and animals to have sex with each other. FoA finds Singer’s position shocking and disgusting. Bestiality is wrong in part because the animal cannot meaningfully consent to sex with a human. In this sense, bestiality is wrong for the same reason pedophilia is wrong. Children cannot consent to sexual contact and neither can animals. Contrary to a statement from a spokesperson for PETA, Singer’s essay isn’t an intellectual issue, and his thinking isn’t logical. It’s a moral issue. Singer and his apologists just need to stop repeating every annoying idea they’ve developed for shock value.

Megan Metzellar, program coordinator for Friends of Animals weighed in as well,

Singer is basically condoning rape and molestation as long as one (presumably he?) can find a way to interpret the situation as being “mutually satisfying.” I suppose Mr. Singer can find a way to justify any base behavior in his mind via his meaningless hypotheticals. Singer has been put on a pedestal by the animal rights movement for a very long time but this essay is a wake-up call to those who have blindly idolized him. Moreover, since women are often sexually abused and exploited in conjunction with acts of bestiality, feminists should be outraged by his position on this issue. Child advocates should also be alarmed since Singer is condoning sex acts in which one party is basically incapable of giving consent. Singer is in dangerous territory here and if he has any sense left he will realize the potential fallout from this essay and retract his position.

Theodora Capaldo, president of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, was worried about the damage that Singer’s views will have on the animal rights movement.

As someone who has played and continues to play a high profile and influential role in the animal rights movement, I believe your responsibility changes. The success of animal liberation depends not only on the ideology, the legal arguments, and the philosophical reasoning but perhaps more importantly on the sophisticated strategies that will allow mainstream populations to hear the message, accept the message and act on the message. Heavy Petting will come back to haunt us and is a step backwards. Unchallenged, this essay will serve to further marginalize and, therefore, damage the animal rights movement. The consequences of it will push us back into the bubble-gum bottomed recess of prejudice that hell hole of ridicule that remains our greatest obstacle and enemy. Some people may care about your thoughts on bestiality from some perverse unconscious desires. More significantly, however, many others will study your every word not to better ground their arguments in support of animal rights but rather to find new ways to discredit our efforts. They have been given new ammunition and new accusations with which to boost their arguments about the absurdity of our beliefs. Heavy Petting will be used against us. Have no doubt.

Live by the sound bite, die by the sound bite.

Gary Francione, who seems to have laid low after shutting down his animal law center, reminded animal rights activists that Singer’s argument is beside the point since the existence of pets is an abomination itself, regardless of whether or not anyone is having sex with the animals.

Even if animals can desire to have sexual contact with humans, that does not mean that they are “consenting” to that contact any more than does a child who can have sexual desires (or who even initiates sexual contact) can be said to consent to sex. Moreover, Peter ignores completely that bestiality is a phenomenon that occurs largely within the unnatural relationship of domestication; a domestic animal can no more consent to sex than could a human slave. Therefore, since the threshold requirement–informed consent–cannot be met, sexual contact with animals cannot be morally justified….It is bad enough that Peter defends the killing or other exploitation of those humans whose lives he regards as not worth living, and, through his pop media image, he has succeeded in connecting the issue of animal rights with the very ideas that were promoted by some academics as part of the theoretical basis for Nazism. It is bad enough that the “father of the animal rights movement” regards PETA’s sell-out liaison with McDonalds as “the biggest step forward for farm animals in America in the past quarter of a century” (a direct quote from Peter) and that PETAphiles are pointing to Peter’s approval as justification for the sell-out. It is bad enough that Peter continues to support and promote those whose unethical actions have actually harmed animals. Bestiality merits nothing more or less than our outright and unequivocal condemnation. Peter’s disturbing view that humans and nonhumans may enjoy sexual contact as part of “mutually satisfying activities” will only further harm the cause of animal rights, and I can only hope that those who care will register their strong dissent.

Aside from the animal rights movement, it will be interesting to see how the Princeton community reacts to Singer’s newly found views on sex with animals.

Peter Singer Offers Moral Justification for Bestiality

One of the major underpinnings of much animal rights thought is the notion of speciesism — this is the claim, advanced by animal rights philosophers such as Peter Singer, that there is no rational basis for commonly held moral distinctions between human beings and non-human animals. Singer, and many others in the animal rights movement, maintain that the impetus behind such distinctions is based on an irrational attachment to the importance of human beings above all other species, which is deplorable in much the same way that arguing in favor of special moral distinctions for whites vs. non-whites or men vs. women is deplorable.

Critics of such views have maintained that not only is speciesism morally justifiable in ways that racism or sexism are not, but that animal rights advocates do not apply the concept of speciesism in ways that are internally consistent. In fact, most animal rights activists seem to veer away from the genuinely radical implications of speciesism.

But not Singer. In an article published in the online magazine, Nerve, the philosopher takes the speciesism idea to its logical extreme and argues that there is no rational reason to deplore sexual relations between human beings and non-human animals. The condemnation of inter-species sexuality, according to Singer, is just another example of a speciesist distinction.

In reviewing Midas Dekker’s book, Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, Singer explicitly defends the morality of inter-species sex. First, Singer argues that although the origin of the taboo against bestiality probably originated in the general taboos on non-reproductive sex (a questionable hypothesis in my opinion), this doesn’t explain the basic revulsion that most people have toward the practice. “But the vehemence with which this prohibition continues to be held,” Singer writes, “its persistence while other non-reproductive sexual acts have become acceptable, suggests that there is another powerful force at work: our desire to differentiate ourselves, erotically and in every other way, from animals.”

In other words, the bestiality taboo is just another way that human beings reinforce speciesism and cast themselves as completely separate and distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Singer then launches into a lengthy discussion to make it clear that he doesn’t think sexual acts that involve violence with animals are permissible, but seems to leave the door wide open for non-violent sexual acts between humans and non-human animals. Describing a woman who live with Orangutans and was almost sexually attacked by one of the animals, Singer writes,

The potential violence of the orangutan’s come-on may have been disturbing, but the fact that it was an orangutan making the advances was not. That may be because [Birute] Galdikas understands very well that we are animals, indeed more specifically, we are great apes. This does not make sex across the species barrier normal, or natural, whatever those much-misused words may mean, but it does imply that it ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.

This doesn’t come right out and say that bestiality is okay, but it is hard to imagine what Singer is getting at if he still thinks such contact is immoral. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Debra Saunders contacted People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to get its take on the Singer piece, and Ingrid Newkirk carefully hedged her words, telling Saunders, “It’s daring and honest and it does not do what some people read into it, which is condone any violent acts involving an animal, sexual or otherwise.”

I’m not sure how daring it is for a man who has previously said that retarded infants and Alzheimer’s patients can be killed because it is for the greater good is exactly making a “daring” statement by endorsing bestiality, provided it doesn’t include violence against the animal involved. That Newkirk is apparently willing to stomach this nonsense (going so far as to talk about the philosophical issue surrounding animals and the concept of consent) demonstrates just how radical and far reaching the animal rights view is at its core.

If Singer’s claims about animals and pain are true, this conclusion about bestiality does seem completely consistent with that view, and represents another example of just how incoherent the animal rights philosophy is.


Heavy Petting. Peter Singer, Nerve.Com, 2001.