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I don’t mean for this to be pick on Peter Singer week, but blame him for being so wrong at every opportunity. Singer has a piece in the Guardian decrying the outsourcing of animal research to countries with weak welfare rules.  Great!  We are, for once, on the same page.

But Singer isn’t really after the outsourcing, but religion. From his piece:

Last week, the chief minister of Malacca, Mohamad Ali Rustam, was quoted in the Guardian as saying that God created monkeys and rats for experiments to benefit humans. Activists had been protesting against his approval of an Indian company’s proposal to build an animal research laboratory in his state. They said that Malaysia has no regulations to protect animals in laboratories. His answer was the reference to God’s purpose in creating animals. If it were not for the dire consequences for the animals who will suffer in the laboratory, the chief minister’s remark would be hilarious. Here is the head of a Malaysian state justifying the establishment of a scientific enterprise with a comment that flies in the face of everything science tells us. The belief that the animals exist because God created them – and that he created them so we can better meet our needs – is contrary to our scientific understanding of evolution and, of course, to the fossil record, which shows the existence of non-human primates and other animals millions of years before there were any human beings at all.

Okay, but what about animal welfare?  Not yet:
The chief minister’s comment is yet another illustration of the generally regressive influence that religion has on ethical issues – whether they are concerned with the status of women, with sexuality, with end-of-life decisions in medicine, with the environment, or with animals. Although religions do change, they change slowly, and tend to preserve attitudes that have become obsolete and often are positively harmful.

Yada, yada, yada.  But what about the animals? Finally, at the very end:
Independently of the problems of reactionary religious belief, the trend to establish animal testing facilities in countries with weak or no regulations is an extremely worrying one. As regulations improve in Europe, North America, Australia and other countries, it seems that unscrupulous entrepreneurs are engaged in a race to the bottom. If we are concerned about the exploitation of human workers in countries with low standards of worker protection, we should also be concerned about the treatment of even more defenceless non-human animals. At present, the only hope of reversing this trend seems to be pressure on companies not to test their products in countries without good animal welfare regulations, and pressure on research institutions not to have links with such countries. But to unravel the connections and make them clear to consumers is, unfortunately, going to be a difficult task.

I agree with him on that, but what he fails to mention is one of the most important causes of this outsourcing of ethics (in Bill Hurlbut’s provocative turn of phrase) is the fear generated by animal rights terrorism.  Singer has spoken against violence in the past, but not very robustly.  This piece would have been a good time to bring that crucial point up with ringing clarity.  Too bad he preferred instead to use most of his column as a jeremiad against religion.  Indeed, I think that using that approach speaks volumes about his priorities.

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