• Advice & Consent

    Laboratory Animals

    Pet theft is a devastating crime that harms both animals and their owners ("From the Leash to the Laboratory," by Judith Reitman, July Atlantic). No animal owner should ever have to worry that his or her pet, if stolen, will end up in a research laboratory. Any dealer who knowingly sells stolen animals to research laboratories is acting not only illegally but also immorally. Unfortunately, Judith Reitman's article fails to accurately portray the efforts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to address this issue.

    In the early 1990s we identified the use of stolen animals in research as a major problem and took action to deal with the source of this problem: Class B dealers trafficking in stolen cats and dogs. By 1995 we had put into place a policy -- still in effect -- that subjects Class B dealers who sell animals for research to quarterly inspections. Prior to 1995 they were often subject to only one inspection per year. We also began focusing greater attention on paperwork "tracebacks" of Class B dealer animals to their original owners. Contrary to Judith Reitman's comments, traceback records demonstrate that our efforts have paid off. In fiscal year 1993, when we performed random-sampling tracebacks of animals sold to research institutions, we were able to trace only 40 percent of the animals back to their original sources. By fiscal year 1999 we were able to trace back 93 percent.

    We have also successfully and aggressively prosecuted those who violate the law. Since 1993 we have imposed more than $520,000 in fines against licensed Class B random-source cat-and-dog dealers. Largely because of our agency's increased efforts to enforce the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the number of Class B dealers has dropped significantly, from 104 in 1993 to twenty-eight. In 1997 we fined one Class B dealer operation $175,000-the largest fine ever imposed by the animal-care program -- and permanently revoked the dealer's AWA license. The USDA is pursuing payment of this fine in full.

    Craig A. Reed

    Judith Reitman's exposé of a black market in stolen pets is long on innuendo and short on facts. Her premise that pet dogs are regularly sold to medical-research facilities is a tired allegation that has repeatedly been refuted not only by enforcement authorities and laboratories but also by some knowledgeable animal-rights advocates. I find it interesting that nowhere in the piece does Reitman cite even one example of a stolen pet's being sold to a laboratory.

    Reitman wrongly portrays the USDA as an agency unwilling or not able to carry out its duties while underreporting the extent of the "stolen-pet trade." The USDA deserves credit for the progress it has made in monitoring the activities of animal dealers and enforcing the Animal Welfare Act when rules are broken. Since 1993 the number of Class B dealers has fallen from more than a hundred to a record low of fewer than thirty.

    Also contrary to Reitman's assertions, both the Foundation for Biomedical Research and its sister organization, the National Association for Biomedical Research, have always supported the vigorous enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.

    In informal surveys of animal-control departments in various states we have learned that although dog theft does occur to varying degrees, in virtually every case these animals were stolen for dogfighting or sport hunting. Surprisingly, this is the same conclusion reached last year by Animal People, one of the leading animal-protection newspapers in the United States. For the fourth straight year it could find no evidence of stolen pets' being sold to research facilities. Instead it confirmed its previous finding that "the 1990 Pet Theft Act amendments to the Animal Welfare Act appear to have virtually halted sales of stolen animals for laboratory use since taking effect in January 1992."

    According to the most recent USDA figures, just over 76,000 dogs were used for biomedical research in 1998. Approximately 70 percent of these were bred specifically for research; the remaining animals were acquired from pounds -- after efforts to locate their owners failed and euthanasia was the only remaining option -- or bought from USDA-licensed and -regulated Class B dealers. Meanwhile, some four to six million dogs and cats are euthanized each year because no one wants them, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

    The sad truth is that most missing dogs and cats simply run away. They are taken in by other people, killed on roadways, fatally injured by other animals, picked up by animal authorities and never claimed by their owners, or, yes, stolen and resold. But biomedical-research laboratories are one of the last places to look.

    Frankie L. Trull

    The theft of dogs for sale to medical-research laboratories is merely a symptom of research institutions' overall misrepresentation of their activities to the public. In an article published in the February, 1997, issue of Scientific American, Neal Barnard, M.D., and I explained how the animal models used in medical research typically differ fundamentally from the "analogous" human conditions in the mechanisms of disease induction, the diseases' natural history, and the effects of experimental manipulations. In short, data from animal models cannot be applied to human beings with reasonable confidence -- something that animal researchers, who are well funded by public dollars, will not tell you. Human clinical investigation has been and will remain the main force behind medical progress; yet it remains sorely underfunded, owing to the political power of animal researchers.

    Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

    Judith Reitman pinpoints a problem we're seeing on a regular basis in the Phoenix metropolitan area -- neighborhood sweeps in which as many as two dozen family pets disappear from their own gated and walled-in back yards on the same day -- never to be seen again. It's stupefying ... and heartbreaking.

    Marilyn Shupe

    Craig Reed's claim that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has a 93 percent success rate in random tracebacks is based on a very small sample. According to Ron DeHaven, the deputy administrator of the agency, random tracebacks are typically done for only three to five animals per dealer during each quarterly inspection. Some facilities hold hundreds of dogs. As I indicated, a random sampling of inspection reports shows that five of the largest dealers have had record-keeping violations. Some dealers have not even allowed inspectors on their premises.

    Mr. Reed points to one instance, three years ago, in which a significant fine was imposed. In many other cases fines have been small. As I said in my article, in 1995 the Office of the Inspector General found that most of the fines APHIScollected during the previous year were $300 or less -- which dealers describe as the cost of doing business.

    In my article I did not charge the Foundation for Biomedical Research or the National Association for Biomedical Research with failing to support the Animal Welfare Act. I did say that the association helped to defeat proposed congressional legislation intended to curb pet theft.

    Ms. Trull is correct that the number of Class B dealers has fallen. As Mr. Reed notes in his letter, and as Inoted in my article, the current number is twenty-eight. However, the number of bunchers supplying random-source dogs to Class B dealers has not, apparently, fallen.

    Regarding Ms. Trull's position that most missing pets have simply run away and that virtually all stolen pets are taken for purposes other than research: I find it telling that APHIS itself, on its Web site, advises people whose pets are missing to approach animal dealers and research facilities in the hope of finding them there.

    Global Warming

    In "Breaking the Global-Warming Gridlock" (July Atlantic), Daniel Sarewitz and Roger Pielke Jr. make a number of interesting points about society's growing vulnerability to climate and weather. In so doing, however, they unfairly mischaracterize environmentalists and scientists as sharing a single-minded interest in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions while neglecting the inevitable consequences of climate change.

    It is true that most environmental organizations' climate campaigns center explicitly on measures and agreements to reduce greenhouse gases. Reducing greenhouse-gas emissions through the Kyoto Protocol and similar agreements remains the best way to prevent the worst scenarios relating to rising temperatures and sea levels.

    But Sarewitz and Pielke do not acknowledge that environmental organizations have long been promoting policies aimed at making ecosystems and societies more resilient in the face of the kinds of stress expected from extreme weather events and climate change. Environmentalists support all the actions that the authors recommend to prevent destruction from floods, such as protecting forests and wetlands and curbing development on fragile coastlines. Environmentalists also advocate measures -- among them conservation tillage, which reduces soil erosion -- to ameliorate the effects of drought on soils. Although environmental groups have not always promoted these policies as "climate adaptation" measures, they have been pursuing them for decades -- far longer than their emissions-reduction campaigns.

    Susan Subak

    Sarewitz and Pielke give far too much importance to the fact that the U.S. Senate is opposed to the Kyoto Protocol. Senate opposition to this treaty or to some similar agreement is probably transitory. Flawed as the Kyoto Protocol may be, it is an important first step toward establishing a global structure that can restrain global carbon emissions. The authors are mistaken in saying that "the only nations likely to achieve the emissions commitments set under Kyoto are those, like Russia and Ukraine, whose economies are in ruins." The UK, for one, seems on schedule to achieve its ambitious emissions reductions.

    The authors seem to think that because the Kyoto treaty by itself will not halt global warming, it ought to be dismissed. They go on to say, "Even if greenhouse-gas emissions could somehow be rolled back to pre-industrial levels, the impacts of climate on society and the environment would continue to increase." Obviously so, but that is certainly no reason to abandon critical efforts to curtail the excessive release of climate-disturbing gases into the atmosphere and thereby avert worsening an already perturbed climate.

    John J. Berger

    We note with satisfaction that Susan Subak and Elliot Negin, of the Natural Resources Defense Council (a strong proponent of mandated emissions reductions), agree about the importance of reducing societal and environmental vulnerability to climate. Their agreement demonstrates the central political conclusion of our article: reducing vulnerability is a better organizing principle for action than reducing emissions. This common ground is of critical importance because, as we have shown, the impacts of climate are largely determined not by anthropogenic or other changes in the climate but by patterns of human development and environmental degradation.

    John Berger's letter underscores the intractable character of the gridlock. On the one hand, even the most ambitious emissions-abatement goals cannot begin to address the world's climate problems. On the other, these goals are unlikely to be achieved. Contrary to Berger's assertion, a U.S. Department of Energy analysis released this year projects that UK carbon emissions will be about five percent higher in 2010 than they were in 1990. Berger may have been misled by a temporary decline in UK emissions during the 1990s. Ironically, this decline reflected the consequences of Thatcher-era policies aimed at breaking the power of the coal unions, not a commitment to global environmental stewardship. The UK's problems in meeting the Kyoto targets will be exacerbated by a 90 percent decline in government support for energy-technology research over the past twelve years.


    A note about "aspirin" (Word Court, by Barbara Wallraff, July Atlantic). The Bayer company, original manufacturers of Aspirin in Germany, did not lose their trademark through a failure to defend the name vigorously. After World War I the United States demanded the trademark among its reparations -- and the U.S. government deliberately let it go into the public domain so that other companies could use it. In the United States everyone can now manufacture aspirin.

    In Canada the Bayer company still holds the trademark. Other companies that manufacture the drug must call it acetylsalicylic acid (or ASA).

    Fred Kerner

    Fred Kerner is right that the aspirin story is more complicated than I was able to tell; Charles C. Mann and Mark L. Plummer explored it compellingly in these pages twelve years ago, in an article titled "The Big Headache." The U.S. government did expropriate Bayer Aspirin's property, but promptly sold it, receiving $5.3 million from the Sterling Products Company in 1918 for the business and the trademarks on Aspirin and Bayer. Litigation about the name Aspirin had, however, been under way in fits and starts since before the war. In 1921, to Sterling's dismay, Judge Learned Hand ruled that the name had indeed fallen into generic use in the United States, and the company lost that trademark.

    Phoebe-Lou Adams

    Phoebe-Lou Adams departing The Atlantic? It can't be possible! Although I knew she had been on the staff for many decades, I simply thought she would always be there for me to enjoy her pithy reviews and arch commentary. She seemed to be one of an increasingly rare breed of writers and reviewers who have a vast ken and the ability to make references and asides. Her writing, full of vim and vigor, was a delight to read, and she tantalized me to search for more and expanded my own range of literature and its myriad genres. She rarely let me down.

    David Guyer

    Alas, I have lived too long. Life without the monthly gleam from Phoebe-Lou Adams will be a darker prospect. But blessings on her for all the enlightenment she has so generously imparted this good while.

    Robert L. Smith


    Thank you for Rob Nixon's most interesting article "As American as Cricket" (July Atlantic). I would like to correct one mistake: The one-day version of cricket was not invented in the late 1970s by "a maverick Australian entrepreneur." It was created in England in the early 1960s, and swiftly became very popular. The Australian television tycoon Kerry Packer revolutionized the sport in the 1970s by setting up World Series Cricket in competition with the official game. He attracted the world's best players with large sums of money (cricketers had been badly paid until then), put them in colored outfits, and introduced floodlit day/night cricket-innovations that have set the tone for one-day cricket ever since. English cricket lovers like me hope that the game will take off one day in the United States -- except you'd probably soon be beating us.

    Robert Low

    One-day cricket was indeed devised in England in the 1960s. But without Kerry Packer's entrepreneurial interventions, the one-day game would never have revolutionized the aesthetics, economics, and international politics of cricket. Although pay has improved since the 1970s, the gap between the salaries that international cricketers receive and the revenues that the game generates remains unacceptable. This gap has fed the recent match-fixing scandal surrounding the disgraced South African team captain Hansie Cronje. Match fixing has become an immense temptation, given that in India alone $2.75 billion in bets is placed annually on the details and results of international cricket matches. That's equal to half the annual sales in India's thriving information-technology industry.

    Bicker, Bicker

    I vehemently object to the impression that George Johnson would leave with your readers in his article "The Jaguar and the Fox" (July Atlantic). He would have people believe that Murray Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman behaved like bickering schoolboys most of the time, and that is just not true. Gell-Mann's office was "just down the hall" from Feynman's, but my office was in between, and over a period of sixteen years I saw very little evidence of the kind of animosity to which Johnson refers.

    Helen J. Tuck

    Helen Tuck's observations are very much at odds with the impressions I gained from interviewing many of the two physicists' colleagues for Strange Beauty, my biography of Gell-Mann. In an interview in 1994, for example, the late Fred Zachariasen, who worked with Feynman and Gell-Mann for years at Caltech, described the tension in their relationship to me as "terrible": "Murray hated Dick, and Dick, I think, sort of ignored Murray -- which of course annoyed Murray a lot.... There was a conflict always between them because Murray never liked to accept this idea that Dick was fundamentally smarter, but he knew it in his heart, I'm sure."

    Advice & Consent

    Regarding William Langewiesche's "The Shipbreakers" (August Atlantic): The solution to the growing glut of obsolete ships is not to encourage an almost pre-industrial craft but to develop a modern ship-scrapping process that can competitively recycle a ship in a clean and safe manner.

    Shipbreaking, with its reliance on raw human labor, is inherently inefficient. South Asian shipbreakers currently handle 500 to 700 mostly small vessels a year. Although that figure represents more than 90 percent of the world's scrapping activity, it does not represent the world market. Approximately 75,000 maritime vessels will have to be scrapped over the next thirty years. That means roughly 2,500 ships a year. The South Asian breakers have resisted looking at a process improvement because they are entrepreneurs, not industrialists. This is not to say that India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are incapable of changing, but change will have to come from an infusion of domestic or international capital and government incentives for industrial enterprise growth. Although none of the South Asian governments in question has deemed the shipbreaking sector important enough for this kind of attention, the Japanese government has. In the late 1990s Japan's Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund committed $66 million in official credit to India's port of Pipavav to construct two docks and berths for the scrapping of Japan's tankers. The endeavor, which plans to use water-jet technology for cutting, has been resisted by the rest of India's shipbreaking sector.

    Although on a smaller scale, the model for Pipavav is the last efficient ship-disposal process conducted by the East Asian cartels in the 1980s. At its peak, in 1985, Taiwan, the People's Republic of China, and South Korea were scrapping nearly 70 percent of the world's tonnage, which amounted to 2,360 vessels worldwide. Although South Asia's market share amounted to 90 percent in 1996, only 711 vessels were scrapped worldwide that year.

    Though many in the industry hoped that the U.S. Navy Ship Disposal Project would lead to an advanced ship-scrapping process, that was not its mission. The Navy was to ensure that scrappers met U.S. environmental and occupational-safety regulations. Faced with a moribund domestic industry, the Navy decided to outsource rather than to subsidize a sector, to become competitive in the world market. Consequently, the Navy's solicitation did not require bidders to address macro-process or market issues. The Navy also did not provide incentives for capital investment in innovative technology or to achieve economies of scale. Although most of the awardees used some innovative approaches anyway, the Navy has been unable to guarantee a steady stream of ships, which has made it difficult to quantify savings of time or cost thus far. This is in part because the Navy retains ownership of scrap proceeds and remits that "profit" to the U.S. Treasury, not to reinvestment in the ship-disposal project. To turn this state of affairs around will take congressional action.

    Two issues must be resolved to achieve safe, clean ship disposal over the next thirty years. First, an advanced industrial process must be developed -- one that meets environmental and safety standards and is geared to the limited space in modern ports for scrapping operations. Second, to guarantee capitalization costs, investors will undoubtedly require subsidies or levies from states or the shipping industry to compensate for the effect that vacillating scrap prices have on enterprise stability. Industry circles are already discussing the latter issues. The process development will undoubtedly be resolved in the near future, because it is a technical problem, not a philosophical conundrum.

    Polly Parks

    Peter Schrag ("'High Stakes Are for Tomatoes,'" August Atlantic) shouldn't be permitted to have it both ways, objecting to standardized testing and then objecting to the "embarrassingly low benchmarks" on which "the 'Texas miracle' and other celebrated successes are based."

    The Texas standards are about to be increased for 2004-2005 under current law -- the fifth or sixth time since the 1970s that Texas testing standards have been revised upward. Other states, such as Illinois and Colorado, are mulling over using the ACT as the de facto high school exit exam, which raises this question: Why not just use the SAT or the ACT exam as the de facto test and use the suggested Delaware approach of different diplomas to reflect particular score and other achievement ranges? Let's forget egalitarianism and just make it more like the track system of Europe and Asia.

    Actually, the Texas standards make sense. The local public water supply is certified by regulators as meeting minimal public-health standards, but you are not guaranteed Evian when you turn on the tap. Likewise, public schools should be turning out kids who can at least meet a minimum literacy and numeracy standard, but should not be expected to make every kid a Nobel Prize winner.

    Thom Prentice

    There is something peculiar about the tone and content of James Fallows's article "An Acquired Taste" (July Atlantic). As a former debater, I offer the following observations: (1) The purpose of debating an opponent is to win. (2) Tactics that unsettle the opponent are perfectly valid. (3) Turning the opponent's mistakes to one's advantage is par for the course. (4) Selecting data and sources that validate one's views (while ignoring facts and quotations that don't help) is also standard operating procedure. A debate is not a linear, unemotional, and balanced exploration of facts. It is a competition, in which the debater's skills in language, strategy, and tactics (attack, response, and counterattack) are tested through adversarial exchange. I don't know that winning a debate correlates with being an effective politician, but surely the point of holding a public debate between politicians is to see who wins. Fallows seems distressed that Gore plans and uses effective strategy and tactics and then wins his debates. Isn't that the point?

    Sheila Quinn

    The Atlantic Monthly; November 2000; Letters - 00.11; Volume 286, No. 5; page 8-13.