Modern Farmer’s, “Farm Confessional” provides an inside look into animal agriculture jobs from the workers that perform them. Most of the submissions remain anonymous to protect the worker, and in some cases, the industry. Last week, the column featured a confessional of a current medical student who worked as a mouse breeder in a laboratory after college. Their experience is an example of what goes on in just one laboratory, but the procedures followed are most likely similar to that of other laboratories.
The article is mostly just a recap of what happened while the person was there, but at times, there is a reflection of what made them uncomfortable, and how they justified the research performed on the mice.
The author writes:
I would go in, check my mice, wean out the ones that needed to be weaned. Much of the work is actually about documentation. Every mouse that you want to use, you have to document them. It’s called “tagging and tailing.” You give them an individual number, tagging their ears in the same way you would larger livestock. Then you take a sample from them, a tiny clipping of their tail, and you ‘ll later do genetic analysis to see if the mutation you wanted came through the breeding process.
Here the tone is very exacting. The worker is explaining what they did in the laboratory. The process of “tagging and tailing” is something that is done without much thought as “you would larger livestock.” There seems to be a general regard for the animals in research (and alluded to in farming) that it is acceptable to treat them as objects for our own purposes — be it food or research.
So what happened to the mice that did not have the genetic mutation and so were unfit for research?
And, uh, and the ones that did not, they ended up getting culled. The culling process is very heavily regulated, and where I was at, you’d have to kill them twice, effectively…The first way you did that is carbon dioxide … You’re trained not to induce any additional physical harm or distress to the mice. So there’s this very slow, very specific rate you increased the amount of CO2 in the room. They’re walking around, they’re moving around, and then very, very slowly they’re more sluggish, and then finally they just kind of fall asleep. After all of them have stopped moving, and you don’t see any respiratory movement or breathing, you wait another few minutes or so. After that you separate their cervical spine from their head.
There is a large amount of evidence to the contrary that animals simply “kind of fall asleep” when exposed to carbon dioxide in a gas chamber. For example, a research paper commissioned by the Humane Society of the United States entitled, “Carbon Dioxide for Euthanasia: Concerns Regarding Pain and Distress, with Special Reference to Mice and Rats” reveals reasons why CO2 gassing is not the best method of euthanasia and suggests alternatives. There is also large and passionate movement to ban gas chambers as a method of euthanasia in animal shelters, as it is deemed very inhumane. So although the workers may be trained not to induce any additional physical harm or stress, the animals are still dying often slow, painful deaths.
The author continues on:
Yeah, in the beginning, it definitely was kinda strange, for sure. Just simply that sensation. It was certainly was something I had to get used to. But eventually it became a process of the work we were doing. Any individual who does this has to find a reason or a justification why they think it’s important. Obviously it’s been heavily politicized, and people can view this from a lot of different perspectives. I think looking at the scope of animal research and the benefits humanity has accrued and gained as a result of animal models — to me it’s worth it.
But we need to stop and look at the whole story: not all animal research has benefited humanity, and if we were able to devote resources to the perfection of non-animal alternatives, we would be much better off in the world of science.
Animal research isn’t pretty, it isn’t “fun,” and it’s no one’s preferred job, so perhaps it’s time to move past it.