In the animal rights movement's largest gathering ever, thousands marched to Capitol Hill on Sunday, calling on Congress to limit the use of animals in product research and urging Americans to "Eat Beans, Not Beings."
"The animal rights movement has arrived," Peter Linck, one of the march's organizers, told a crowd estimated at 24,000 by Park Service police. The rally organizers said that 50,000 were there.
"This is a growing lifestyle movement," said Tom Regan, a North Carolina State University professor and another organizer of the march. "These people don't eat animals. They don't wear animals. And they choose not to use products that were tested on animals."
Speakers and march organizers stressed the need for humane treatment of animals, mostly avoiding discussions of the tactics that some activists have used, such as breaking into farm buildings and medical labs to "liberate" animals.
They said that their movement no longer can be labeled as one of either "little old ladies in tennis shoes" or "extremists," but rather one that represents views shared by most Americans.
Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan condemned animal rights activists as "nothing more than animal rights terrorists."
"I want Mr. Sullivan to apologize publicly to the millions of American men, women and children who have compassion for animals," said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), who heads the informal Congressional Friends of Animals. Other speakers included actor Christopher Reeve and singers Grace Slick and Laura Nyro.
The marchers came down Pennsylvania Avenue carrying signs such as "Fur Is Dead" and "Animals Have Rights, Too." Some carried gruesome photos of dogs, cats and other animals that had been subjected to medical experiments.
Researchers maintain that animal testing is crucial to discoveries beneficial to humans and that the majority of experiments use rodents.
The march included both the traditional humane societies that protect stray animals and more radical groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front, which has carried out raids on research facilities.
The groups are united in pushing three measures in Congress. One would stop all hunting and trapping on federal wildlife refuges. A second would require makers of products such as cosmetics and pesticides to seek ways of testing the toxicity of their products other than by injecting them into animals. A third would forbid the raising of veal calves in small crates.
Meanwhile, the House Agriculture Committee will consider a bill later this week that could send animal rights protesters to prison for up to three years for attacking farms or research labs.