Animal Rights a-go-go.
I believe it was a stand-up comic who said "I'll respect animal rights the day they sign the constitution." I think the animal rights activists are a wonderful example of a group barking up the wrong tree. As a mass hysteria society we tend to choose our battles very poorly.
(For example, everybody is terrified of waste from nuclear power out of "fear of the unknown". If a few people had a good look at the scenario, they'd see that the containers we dispose of our nuclear waste in are good for the next ten thousand years *at least*. Glancing back to the human condition ten thousand years ago, that's so far ahead it's impossible to conceive. We won't be suffering radiation poisoning from nuclear power in our lifetimes. However, thousands of people each year die prematurely (prematurely being defined as before the age of sixty-five - the figure is around 7000 deaths) from electrocution. If the standard voltage of power was reduced, electric shock could be much less harmful and fatal in turn. I don't see groups lobbying for the decrease of household voltage to save lives. Oops.)
I was thinking deep thoughts while up to my elbows in gerbil shit today at work. (Alright, not quite my elbows, I buzzed the solution of turds in water with a handmixer, poured it off into a number of testubes, and was underlaying with 1M sucrose when these thoughts struck.) An article appeared in a scientific journal about how the animal rights folks were antsy over the use of lab animals. Upon sharing this (with my coworker who was playing with beaver bits) there was much smirking and "yeah, whatever's". The animal rights people could stage a mouse liberation strike and free the critters - causing a major public health risk and killing most of them anyways. Many of the animals used in labs are specialized in some way - immunodeficient, for example. Perhaps we could use *humans* to produce more parasites, innoculating a few volunteers so they can suffer the cramps and runs, shitting through a wire mesh over water for a week. (For the record, we give the gerbils a break so that they can rest in a normal cage once a day.) It's not a nice experience for humans *or* animals to have giardiasis/cryptosporidiosis, but we all get sick, and this is the only disease our lab animals get. Here's the kicker - when we're trying to produce a specific antibody, we could use humans again! Get you sick, some light drugs, then we'll put you down and cut out your spleen! Recent alternatives exist - the culturing of human cells to produce antibodies has been proposed. The process is inconvenient, unreliable, and very expensive. It also pisses off yet another bullshit politically active group who would rather not reap the benefits of science.
When animals are transported from country to country, they are held at customs, quarantined, observed, medicated. We ensure that an animal is disease free and will not communicate diseases to other animal populations. Why do we do this? Because animals are valuable. They are worth something. Humans are free to get off an airplane, walk straight out of the airport with whatever malady they might have, and interact with other humans as they wish. Why? Because humans aren't worth much at all. We are plentiful, fiscally insignificant, easy to replace... (These are the trappings of a capitalistic society.) I'm sure one could imply that animals are held in airports to prevent rampant disease in crops/stocks that might somehow harm the human population. Which is indeed a purpose - but if we were so worried, wouldn't there be more environmental controls to protect the humans as well?? Also, the number of diseases causing discomfort that can be moved from animal to human are fairly small - AIDS and Mad Cow Disease are exceptions, but involve doing intimate things with critters. Sadly, it's the profitability that controls policy before calculated risk to human life.
Animals generally have it fairly well. Heck, our lab animals get to live in little communities, they are fed, watered, and bedded, generally left alone to live and reproduce as they'd like. I don't think it's fair to *abuse* animals for profit or convenience (ie: the battery of egg laying hens situation) however, exploiting them is another matter. As humans, we are exploited for profit and convenience every day, our health compromised by standards, our abilities directed towards our own demise for someone else's gain. The differences between a wage-slave in a cubicle or a woman in a Nike sweatshop and a battery hen are few - one may walk away from it's condition to face questionable fate, the other will eat regardless of it's productivity. My body releases an egg every 28 days or so and I don't get room and board in exchange for it, now do I... I think there are better causes to fight for than the cute furry critters.