Pharmaceutical industry tries to drive stake through the heart of the ghost of Hans Ruesch
ZURICH, Switzerland––Voters in Switzerland on February 13, 2022 crushed a proposed national ban on biomedical research using either animal or human subjects by a margin of 21% for, 79% against.
Switzerland has some of the strongest animal protection laws in the world, including a law specifically protecting goldfish, and had humane societies formed in Berne in 1844, in Balse in 1849, and in Zurich in 1856, all long before the American SPCA was founded in New York City in 1866.
Switzerland was also home of the Center for Scientific Information on Vivisection [CIVIS], a now dormant but once powerful global network of organizations founded in 1974 by former auto racer, novelist, and antivivisectionist author Hans Ruesch (1913-2007).
(See Fauci vs. the White Coat Waste Project: did Hans Ruesch sire the conflict?)
Proposed animal use bans fail by growing margins
Yet Swiss ballot proposals seeking to ban animal testing have now failed four times in 37 years, and have actually lost support overall.
The first such ballot proposal, in 1985, drew 30% voter approval. The second, in 1992, picked up 44% support, but a similar proposal placed on the ballot just a year later, in 1993, polled only 28% approval.
Ruesch and CIVIS were in the 1985-1993 time frame at their height of political, economic, and cultural influence.
Ruesch-led movement imploded
Though CIVIS chapters founded around the world in support of Ruesch were among the most active incubators of animal rights activism, they later lost much of their momentum and leadership to other organizations, as Ruesch himself became embroiled in often one-sided disputes with perceived rivals.
Ruesch eventually lost a protracted libel suit brought by the Italian League Against Vivisection.
CIVIS all but disappeared, but the Swiss antivivisection movement that Ruesch built persists, reconstructed largely by vegan internal medicine specialist Renato Werndli, M.D.
Unlike Ruesch, a sport hunter who ate meat and vehemently distanced himself from vegan animal advocacy, Werndli places vegan animal rights advocacy front and center in his antivivisection efforts, including as co-chair of the campaign to place the 2022 proposition to ban animal testing and testing on humans on the Swiss ballot.
“We will meet tomorrow to plan the next initiative,” Werndli told media after the 2022 ballot proposition failed.
Non-human primates lose in Basel
But as well as the national defeat, Werndli and other Swiss antivivisectionists also suffered a loss in Basel, the third largest Swiss city, where voters rejected a local ballot measure which would have recognized basic rights for all non-human primates in the cantonal constitution.
Historically, most Swiss ballot measures favoring animals have passed, often by lopsided margins. But there have been other votes going in the opposite direction.
In Zurich, for example, the Swiss national capital, votes in 1992 approved appointing legal counsel to represent the interests of animals in neglect and abuse cases.
Thirty years later, that remains the practice in Zurich, but voters nationwide rejected the idea in March 2010, 71% to 29%.
COVID-19 erodes AV support
The overwhelming defeat of the 2022 proposal to ban testing on animals and humans could be attributed to two factors: public anxiety over the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic, which has tended to erode the historically skeptical attitude of many Swiss toward vaccination and vaccine research, and the ever increasing economic influence of the Swiss pharmaceutical industry.
Central to the Rueschian argument against animal use in biomedical research was his contention that animals are so unlike humans that no animal experiment can reliably produce results which can be extrapolated to humans.
Long predating Ruesch, and indeed long predating Charles Darwin’s 1855 publication of The Origin of Species, this argument is the core of so-called “scientific antivivisectionism.”
Anti-vaxxers & creationists
“Scientific antivivisectionists” have historically made common cause with opponents of vaccination, and with creationists, who reject the idea of evolution.
Public opinion research published in 2019, two years before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, showed that while 11% of Americans believed vaccinations are generally unsafe, a high number compared to world norms, 22% of Swiss respondents believed vaccination to be risky, and 33% of French respondents, a surprisingly high number in the nation that was home to vaccination pioneer Louis Pasteur (1822-1895).
The public opinion numbers pertaining to vaccination safety are mirrored both in the Swiss voting on the proposal to ban animal testing and in the U.S., Swiss, and French COVID-19 infection rates.
The U.S., according to Worldometer data, has 238,335 diagnosed COVID-19 cases per million residents; Switzerland has 296,446 cases per million residents; and France has 333,968 COVID cases per million residents.
The U.S., with 38 times the human population of Switzerland and five times the human population of France, is now approaching 950,000 COVID-19 deaths, with a vaccination rate of about 70%; France has had 136,000 COVID-19 deaths so far, with a vaccination rate of about 76%; Switzerland has had 13,000 COVID-19 deaths, with a vaccination rate of about 80%.
As influential as the threat of COVID-19 may have been on Swiss voters’ view of the need for animal experimentation, however, the greatest influence was almost certainly economic.
Summarizes Wikipedia, “The pharmaceutical industry in Switzerland directly and indirectly employs about 135,000 people. It contributes 5.7% of the gross domestic product of Switzerland and 30% of the country’s exports. In 2017 Switzerland was the second largest exporter of packaged medicine in the world, with about 11% of the global total, worth $36.5 billion.”
The pharmaceutical manufacturers Abbott, Bayer, Hoffmann-La Roche, Lonza Group, and Novartis all have global headquarters in Basel.
Another major pharmaceutical maker, Alcon, is headquartered in Geneva.
Lawmakers & even humane societies listen
Leading the opposition to the ballot initiative to prohibit experimentation and testing on either animal or human subjects was, predictably, the pharmaceutical industry lobbying front Interpharma.
Also opposed were the Swiss parliament, including both the right-leaning Swiss People’s Party and the left-leaning Radical-Liberal Party; the National Research Council of the Swiss National Science Foundation; and the highly conservative and traditional Swiss Society for the Protection of Animals, the largest humane society in Switzerland, founded in 1861.
All contended that the existing Swiss national laboratory animal protection law, adopted in 2008, offers animals used in experiments adequate protection from suffering.
Swiss Federal Food Safety & Veterinary Office data indicates that about 556,000 animals were used in Swiss laboratories in 2020, including 346,000 mice, 66,000 birds, and 52,000 rats.
About 60% were used in biological research; the remainder in teaching and product safety testing.
The numbers reportedly peaked in 2015, and are cumulatively down 18% since then.
But at least Switzerland counts mice, birds, & rats; the U.S. does not
Of note is that laboratory use of mice, birds, and rats is tracked and regulated in Switzerland. Laboratory use of mice, rats, and birds is specifically exempted from the record-keeping and other requirements of the U.S. Animal Welfare Act.
Mice, birds, and rats were initially defined as animals not protected by law in the U.S. Animal Welfare Act enforcement regulations promulgated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington D.C. held in September 1998 that the exclusion of mice, birds, and rats violated Congressional intent in passing the Animal Welfare Act, but a 2002 Animal Welfare Act amendment introduced by Jesse Helms, formerly the U.S. Senator from North Carolina, made permanent the definition of mice, birds, and rats as non-animals for Animal Welfare Act enforcement purposes.
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Jamaka Petzak says
Thanking you both for this very timely examination of the “why” and sharing.
This expose is much appreciated.