June in animal news: Five questions with PETA Vice President Kathy Guillermo


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We’re asking prominent members of the animal-protection community to tell us what they think about the latest animal news in a feature called Five Questions that debuted on Unleashed last month. Here, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals vice president of laboratory investigations, Kathy Guillermo, shares her take on what mattered for animals in June and what’s on tap for PETA in July. Guillermo’s answers represent her own views and not necessarily ours.

Unleashed: What do you view as the most important development in animal news to happen in June?

Kathy Guillermo: In June, we learned that animal experimenters at the University of Wisconsin-Madison may face criminal penalties for violating the state’s ‘Crimes Against Animals’ law by killing sheep in excruciatingly painful decompression experiments.


The ruling, which opened the door for a possible future injunction to halt the experiments, came in response to a legal petition filed by PETA and Wisconsin’s Alliance for Animals. As far as we know, this is the first time that a judge has found probable cause for criminal charges related to the abuse of animals in a laboratory since PETA’s landmark Silver Spring monkeys case in 1981.

Unleashed: What were PETA’s biggest projects in June?

Guillermo: PETA’s Laboratory Investigations Department has been focused on trying to convince NASA to ground its misguided plans to spend nearly $2 million to fund a cruel and archaic radiation experiment on monkeys. In the proposed project, up to 30 squirrel monkeys would be exposed to a harmful dose of space radiation and then locked up in labs for the rest of their lives and used in years of experiments.

In the past, monkeys used in similar government experiments have suffered from brain tumors, blindness, cognitive decline and other debilitating conditions. These inhumane experiments were eventually halted because the results of radiation experiments on monkeys were not applicable to humans.

In June, PETA members held protests across the country and popped up at engagements where NASA administrators were speaking, including NASA head Charles Bolden at Caltech’s graduation. PETA activists took over a Twitter feed during a presentation by NASA at a social-networking conference, tweeting, ‘NASA STOP TORTURING ANIMALS!’ that was the buzz of the conference and the blogosphere.

PETA also filed a complaint with NASA’s inspector general [alleging that] -- in violation of grant guidelines and federal regulations -- NASA awarded funding for this ridiculous project before it was even reviewed by one of the facilities in which it would take place. PETA’s campaign was buoyed by the support of NASA’s European counterpart, the European Space Agency, when it stated that it ‘declines any interest in monkey research and does not consider any need or use for such result.’

Unleashed: What will PETA be working on in July?

Guillermo: As long as there are animals being tormented in laboratories, we’ll be fighting to get them out. This summer, we’re pushing facilities like the Medical University of South Carolina, the University of Michigan, and the St. Louis Children’s Hospital to replace the abuse of pigs and cats in invasive and crude medical-training exercises with modern, strikingly humanlike simulators. We’re asking Arizona State University to stop cutting holes into rabbits’ necks and killing them in an undergraduate biology course. We’re urging companies like Unilever to get with the times and stop testing their foods and beverages on animals. And we’re pushing the U.S. government to stop poisoning and burning animals in deadly and ineffective chemical tests and to replace them with modern human-relevant alternatives.


Unleashed: How can interested animal lovers help in July?

Guillermo: There are many easy changes that people can make in their own lives that have a big impact on animals who suffer in labs: Buy only cosmetics and household products that aren’t tested on animals, donate only to charities and universities that don’t fund animal experiments, and if you’re a parent or student, request alternatives to animal dissection at school. People can also get involved in our NASA campaign by contacting NASA officials and politely asking them to permanently halt plans to fund radiation experiments using monkeys and instead to direct their funds to modern and humane methods of scientific inquiry.

Unleashed: What do you think is the most common misconception about your organization?

Guillermo: Few people realize that PETA is an expert in reliable non-animal research methods that will not only save animal lives but also lead to understanding and curing human diseases. Non-animal research is more efficient -- and infinitely less cruel -- than blinding, poisoning, and burning animals in laboratories. PETA spends a substantial amount of time and resources facilitating the development, validation, and implementation of modern human-relevant non-animal research methods like cutting-edge human cell-based techniques, computer simulations, and sophisticated human-patient manikins. These methods not only replace cruel and wasteful animal tests but also are less expensive and quicker, and they hold more potential to actually improve human health. Abolishing animal experimentation is a winning scenario for everyone.

[Correction 7/6/2010: An earlier version of this post stated that a ruling about the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s decompression experiments on sheep included an injunction to permanently halt the experiments. An injunction was not included in the ruling, but it does give the judge the option of imposing an injunction in the future. We’ve corrected the post.]

Kathy Guillermo is the vice president of laboratory investigations of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Guillermo directs PETA’s efforts to uncover abuses in laboratories, to work with whistleblowers to expose violations of animal protection laws, to prompt federal and state agencies to cite laboratories for violations, and to replace animals in laboratories with modern, non-animal methods of experimentation. Guillermo’s 1993 book, Monkey Business: The Disturbing Case That Launched the Animal Rights Movement, details the cruelty case that launched then-fledgling PETA into national prominence.