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Animal rights activist hounds Berkeley

By Andres Cediel
Saturday October 05, 2002

By Andres Cediel 

Special to the Daily Planet 


Animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky is proclaimed an international terrorist by some and savior by others. His most recent feat, which earned him six months in maximum security prison, was releasing 1,500 minks from a farm in Canada where they were being raised for fur. 

“I knew I would get out [of prison],” said Yourofsky, “but the animals never would.”  

Yourofsky is on a nationwide speaking tour as a lecturer for the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Yourofsky spoke to a group of two dozen students and activists at UC Berkeley on Tuesday, alleging cruelties within the meat industry, calling lab testing on animals unscientific and espousing veganism as the path to world peace. 


“I’m not an animal lover,” he explained. “I just loathe injustice.”  

Yourofsky’s grievance that 10 million adoptable animals are put to death every year is particularly relevant to Berkeley citizens, who will be voting on a ballot initiative this November to rebuild the city’s animal shelter. The current facility, built in the 1940s, is thought to be inhospitable to animals. It has sewage problems, a rodent infestation and is unable to provide proper isolation for sick animals, shelter officials say.  

Shelter volunteer and co-author of the initiative Jill Posener calls the shelter “Berkeley’s dirty little secret” and said that the facility was designed “to hold an animal for 24 hours and then kill it.”  

Yourofsky’s message was not directed at those working to save animals in poor conditions, but aimed at UC Berkeley professors uphill who use animals to advance their field of study. 

According to the university’s public relations office, more than 40,000 animals are housed on campus for research. Psychology professors who experiment on them receive millions of tax dollars to investigate such things as how the brain analyzes visual motion and the neural mechanisms of sound recognition. 

The Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy (BOAA) points out that these procedures involve attaching electrode pedestals to the brains of monkeys or zebra finches, and then paralyzing eye movement or subjecting the animal to eight to 16 hours of continuous audio stimulation. In both cases, once the experiment is complete, the animal is killed for brain examination. 

“When will we let go of these medieval practices?” Yourofsky asked. 

He added that, aside from the ethical contradictions, animal testing is not scientifically valid. There is no correlation between one species’ reaction to a stimulus and that of another species, Yourofsky contended. 

“I’m still waiting for the scientist who can show me the formula [showing this correlation],” he said. 

Richard C. Van Sluyters, professor of Optometry and chair of the Animal Care and Use Committee at the university, disagrees with Yourofsky’s assertion. 

“It would be ludicrous to suggest that there are no similarities,” he said. “You’d have to be a conspiracy theorist.” 

Van Sluyters points out that the medical field has relied on animal testing for the past 100 years, and that advances show clearly that testing is useful.  

In regard to the treatment of animals, the professor explained that labs undergo rigorous internal and governmental inspections to make sure they meet certain standards for testing. Just last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture cleared the university labs, Van Sluters said. 

Veterinarian Elliot Katz is more skeptical. 

“I realized that they [university scientists] were treating the animals in a crap manner,” said Katz, “because they knew that the experiments they were doing were crap anyway.” 

In the early 1980s, Katz became involved in animal rights when he organized a defense of Max Redfearn, a university veterinarian who was threatened with his job after refusing to sign USDA papers certifying that animals had been treated humanely. 

Katz, Yourofsky and others assert that there are more effective and humane alternatives to testing on live animals, such as computer models and videos. 

Members of BOAA have picked up on Katz’ work and have drafted resolutions calling for UC Berkeley to phase out animal testing. Both Berkeley City Council and UC Berkeley’s student government have officially supported the effort.