Tag Archives: mice

Use of Alternative Sources Does Not Solve My Problems with Meat

As an omnivore who has chosen to live without meat because no animal should have to go through our factory farming process just so I can have a sausage, I am constantly on the lookout for alternative options.  Unfortunately, I find tofu about as appealing as Kleenex under most circumstances, and the vegan “replacements” for my formerly favorite foods (hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken strips) don’t so much mimic those foods as taste so completely unlike them as to reinforce how much I miss them.

For example, I can try adding “tofu crumbles” to my spaghetti sauce to remind me of the ground hamburger I used to put in there, but there are three problems: 1) the tofu crumbles cost twice as much as the rest of the ingredients put together; 2) they take time and effort to cook properly; and 3) they do not actually taste like ground beef (or like anything).  I do not need the texture of ground beef in my spaghetti sauce so badly that I must go out and buy tofu crumbles for it.  (Bring on the mushrooms and fresh peppers instead!)

There is a new movement wandering around which is trying to encourage people to eat less beef, poultry and pork by using replacement meat sources instead of removing meat entirely from the diet.  This is supposed to appeal to carnivores because you don’t have to declare yourself a granola-eating vegan (I do not like granola, myself) in order to reduce the amount of beef in your diet: you can remain a dedicated carnivore, and even say you’re doing it for the environment, rather than for the animals, further reducing any appearance of sympathy you might have had.

Perfectly edible even without the "scraps" of mouse meat.  (Source: Vice.com)

Perfectly edible even without the “scraps” of mouse meat. (Source: Vice.com)

Along these lines, a journalist from Vice decided to eat live food from a pet store for a week, one meal a day, to see what replacing traditional meat sources with something less environmentally intensive to raise might do to her diet.  Her actions, including grinding crickets into a replacement pancake flour and the creation of what is essentially a mashed potato casserole with mice in it, remind me strongly of my trying to find alternative meat sources for my spaghetti sauce.  The recipes take additional work and time; the unusual additives don’t add much pleasure to the meal; and in every case there’s a cheaper, faster, vegetarian option available — simply don’t add the alternative meat source.  Hey, look, it’s a perfectly serviceable potato casserole with no mice in it!

….those little guys were raised in a sterile lab, which is more than you can say for your average chicken nugget.”

Plus, well, the mice are often being raised in the same kind of factory farming conditions to which I object with beef, poultry and pigs.  It doesn’t have the same impact on the environment, because mice don’t need the same kind of space or materials that the larger animals do, but it certainly has a similar impact on the mice, which was kind of my problem with meat in the first place.

toilet-fish-tankThe author’s problems with killing the live minnows (You do not euthanize fish by adding salt to their water.  You do not euthanize fish by adding salt to their water.  You do not euthanize fish by adding salt to their water!)reminds me that even — and especially — these tiny animals are “slaughtered” for consumption in terrible ways, mostly because they’re too tiny to scream audibly and therefore any method is “painless”.  Mice are generally gassed with CO2, which can be a terrible way to go if performed badly (which it usually is).  This also fails to solve the issues with factory farming that led me to give up carnivory.

Whether they have a smaller impact on the environment or not (they probably do), and whether their handling of them is in some way “better” than our treatment of pigs, cows and chickens (it probably isn’t), I don’t need crickets (or minnows, or mice!) so badly as a source of protein (peanuts! almonds! peas! quinoa! spinach! sunflower seeds! beans!) that I need to kill 50 of them to add texture (and, apparently, an almond or shrimp flavor) to my plate of spaghetti.  I had enough problems using 1/50 of a cow to get the flavor I actually wanted!

How about an option that’s plentiful, cheap, lives naturally in crowded conditions and is easy to obtain?

Ambient Temperature Shown to Affect Results of Cancer Research on Mice

Photo by gracey at www.morguefile.com

Photo by gracey at http://www.morguefile.com

Scientists have finally “asked” lab mice their preferred ambient temperature.  They discovered the mice prefer warmer temperatures than have been traditionally provided, and that, furthermore, their bodies behave differently at their preferred, warmer, temperatures.  (Here’s the original article, by Kathleen M. Kokolus et. al., published in Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.)

I think the scariest thing about this paper is that it mentions that it has already been shown that mice prefer warmer temperatures than currently mandated, and that the colder temperatures in which they are currently kept induce “cold stress” and accompanying biological changes (references 3-7 in original article, dated from 2009-2012).  Has anyone been fighting to raise the standard ambient temperature for laboratory mice since 2009?  It seems to be taking the threat of these issues affecting the results of research to make scientists care whether or not the mice are in temperatures they’d prefer.

Beyond that — for how many years have we been doing research on mice at these recommended temperatures?  How much research has already been done with populations of mice affected by chronic cold stress?  Would we have gotten the same results in labs kept at 86 degrees Fahrenheit?  What results which we currently take for granted might be wrong?

What other variables might be sub-par for our research animals, and what effect might those things have on their responses to, say, cancer-causing chemicals?

Scientists’ View of Humane Science

Image by mensatic via morguefile.com

Image by mensatic via morguefile.com.

If you are interested in how scientists are currently viewing animal-based research, there is a free online course available, taught by employees of Johns Hopkins University (one of the big animal research “players”), Alan Goldberg and James Owiny.  The course is called Enhancing Humane Science – Improving Animal Research.  It is sponsored by the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, which sounds great until you realize it’s also part of Johns Hopkins.  This course is absolutely not in any way unbiased.  Johns Hopkins has a lot of big stakes in animal-based research.

I’ll admit I haven’t listened to the whole course yet, but it reeks of the stuff I had to read while working in animal research.  It appears to be a pretty accurate picture of the scientists’ point of view concerning animal welfare.

I’m not defending or attacking anybody here.  This mess, and my opinion of it, is too huge and complicated for me to summarize it in one journal post.  But if you were looking for a good introduction to how scientists look at animal research, and where they are coming from when they say, “But we are doing everything we can for the animals in our care,” this is where a lot of them are standing right now.  The jargon and the general attitudes are appropriate and seem pretty representative.

They aren’t cackling and rubbing their hands together, drooling over the prospect of thousands of dead mice.  On the other hand, these animals routinely undergo experiences we would not inflict on our pets.

Home Sweet WTF

“The goal of managing any mouse colony … should be to maintain adequate numbers of animals in as little shelf space as possible….”

Husbandry protocol, University of California, Irvine

The image to the right is of a standard laboratory mouse cage.  This is considered a pretty cutting edge mouse habitat these days.  The unit is actually fairly airtight — the blue and red things are valves through which air enters and exits the chamber when the cage is inserted into a “ventilated rack system” (described below).  These cages are designed to work with the rack system keep the environment the mice are in separate from the outside environment, usually by running any air going into or out of the cage through a replaceable HEPA filter in the top of the cage (not visible in the picture).  This keeps immunocompromised mice from getting sick, and keeps lab workers from catching anything the mice might have.

According to the manufacturer’s web site, these palatial enclosures have 75 square inches of floor space.  That might sound like a lot, but that translates to about 7 3/4″ wide by 12″ long in a cage 6 1/2″ high — about the size of a sheet of typing paper.  (The cages are commonly called “shoebox cages” for a reason.)  That measurement also doesn’t count the intrusion into the living space of the enormous food hopper, under which the mice must squeeze to get from one side of the cage to the other.  These cages are of course perfectly within guidelines for the absolute minimum space requirements per adult mouse.  (Here is an amusing page comparing mouse cage sizes to human equivalents.)

Generally, facilities limit the number of adult mice in such a cage to five, which works out to fifteen square inches of space per mouse — the size of a three by five index card.  In practice, these cages are often far more full even than this.  For example, breeding colonies often keep two adult females with an adult male and, either through protocol or lack of finesse on the part of the researcher or technician, may allow the resultant litters to remain in the breeding cage until they are weaned at about 21 days.  At left is an image of a 21-day-old mouse next to an adult.  Average litter size for a laboratory mouse is between 6-8 pups (although as many as 20 can be born at one time).  Imagine the cage just before weaning, with three (or more!) adults and potentially more than twenty “pups” that are fully half the size of the grown mice.  I have picked up cages in which the bedding was not visible through the mass of mice inside.  They do make larger cages which can be used for breeding, but these require more space, are more difficult to change and sterilize, and are more expensive to purchase, and are not always used.

Here is a photo of a ventilated rack system made by Allentown, Inc., a primary rodent housing supplier.  These racks are, again, the cutting edge for keeping a lot of mice in a very small space.  Previously, mice were placed on shelves on rolling racks; in this technologically advanced age we have perfected a model for keeping mice in almost the absolute minimum space possible.  These racks hold 100-200 cages apiece, with a single “standard” size mouse room able to potentially hold three to twenty racks.  I worked in a facility which had six 150-cage racks in a single room (one of many mouse rooms).  One technician was assigned to oversee all 900 cages in this room.  How diligent do you think that person could be when inspecting individual mice (remember, 1-5 mice per cage, potentially 4,500 mice in this room) for disease?

The boxes on top of the rack are the intake and exhaust blowers, which force air through the system and keep the rack either positively (no outside germs get in) or negatively (no inside germs get out) pressurized.  Although all cages receive equal amounts of fresh air (at 40-60 full air exchanges per minute, it must be like living in a wind tunnel), light is definitely in short supply down on those bottom racks.  The techs I worked with used to carry flashlights to see the bottom rows.

Note that there aren’t actually laws dictating minimum required living conditions for mice and rats.  Rodents are not covered under USDA regulations (which is one reason they are so popular as laboratory animals).  “Minimum living space” for mice and rats right now is “whatever we want it to be”.  Currently, more or less voluntary standards for this are set by the laboratories themselves, under the guise of the National Research Council, which could be considered to be just a bit biased in favor of the scientists.  There is a voluntary system of conforming to these standards via accreditation, but no federal agency is involved in enforcing them.  In fact, here is a page wherein the federal government is currently busy trying to buy a rack with even smaller (61-square-inch) cages for its own use.

Glow F**k Yourself

Photo via http://kidsblogs.nationalgeographic.com/kidsnews/2009/05/glowing-animals-gallery.htmlI believe that, at this time, we have mastered the technology of making glow-in-the-dark animals.  First there were the glowing mice, then the rats, the commercially-available atrocity the “glo-fish“,  Alba, the glowing rabbit who was also an “art installation”, pigs, and a whole host of other critters, and now, apparently, we have the glow-in-the-dark beagle.

What our intrepid scientists are doing, really, is stuffing extra genes into an animal to see if they can.  (Yes, that’s apparently all the justification they need.  They probably put the word “cancer” in the grant application, though.  You never know, this might be it!)  When scientists want to swap a gene from one organism to another, they choose to transfer a gene which makes the target animal, which ordinarily does not glow, produce a glowing protein.  They do this because that kind of thing is really easy to spot and doesn’t require complicated blood testing to see if it’s taken hold.  If the resultant animal glows, voila! — you have successfully transplanted a gene.

Why do they feel that making more glowing animals is necessary at this time?  I think we’ve passed the point of “required replication” of that original first experiment and entered the world of “unnecessary duplication of results”.  We’ve been shuffling genes around for years, as evidenced by that impressive list above.  We’ve even done beagles before, in 2009.  I think we’ve certainly seen that “we can” make glowing animals.  Now that “we can”, what are we doing with this amazing new technology?

To quote from the beagle article:

“[ByeongChun] Lee said the genes injected to make the dog glow could be substituted with genes that trigger fatal diseases. He and his team would then be able to chart the course of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and more, better understanding how such diseases develop.”

It is fascinating how that paragraph doesn’t say, “The creation of transgenic beagles will allow us to give laboratory dogs a whole host of genetic diseases they don’t normally get, so that we can study how those diseases affect dogs, as if that were somehow relevant to how they affect people!

Yes.  The whole point of this ludicrous enterprise is that eventually, we will have man-made “animal models” for diseases that animals don’t normally even get — as though studying how these transplanted diseases behave in their new, unnatural hosts will tell us a damn thing about how they behave in humans.  We have reams and reams of evidence — including some generated from actual scientists doing animal-related experiments — that animal and human systems are not identical, and therefore we cannot extrapolate directly from one to the other, and here these people are, wasting time, money, and animals on making more animals to chew through while flailing helplessly in circles blathering about how they can cure cancer if only they can grind up a few more mice.

Ever notice how none of the articles point that out?  None of them say, “This will allow us to kill hundreds, maybe thousands, more dogs every year while searching for cures for human diseases.”  It’s always “Ooh, look at this adorable puppy — which may be a cure for cancer!

Am I saying that we should never, ever investigate recombinant DNA?  No.  Am I saying that perhaps we should think about using our newfound power of shuffling genes about to create hardier or more fruitful food crops that could feed impoverished nations, rather than new “animal models”, “designer fish” and “art installations”?  Yes.  We do not need to learn to cure artificially-induced Alzheimer’s disease in dogs.  We need to learn to cure it as it occurs naturally in people.

“We have learned well how to treat cancer in mice and rats but we still can’t cure people.”

– Professor Colin Garner, quoted in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

I love science.  I love learning new things, and exploring new ideas.  I understand that we can learn things from animal research we cannot learn anywhere else.  This?  This is a grotesque parody of research.  This is an absolute waste of funds.  There are human-based studies at my local VA hospital desperate for funding to help wounded veterans overcome combat injuries.  There are developers who could really use grants to help design new prosthetic limbs.  Why are we wasting money on this?

But ooooh, lookit the cute glowing beagle!