Few things in the current political debate ruffle my feathers like the GOP’s insistence that fewer government regulations would be better for business and the economy. The argument always ends with the demolition of the EPA and Department of Education. But this story from today’s “Morning Edition” on NPR illustrates exactly how non-black and white the issue of government regulation can be.
Basically, there are new guidelines coming from the National Institute of Health that would require all laboratories to provide more space for lab mice and rats to breed or else their funding will be cut. This means the laboratories would have to spend lots of money upgrading mouse houses. At a time when funding for science is hard to come by at best and blocked by flat-earthers at worst, one has to wonder whether this is the kind of regulation that does anybody any good.
Let me start by saying that I’m an animal lover. I’m all for animal rights. I have had pet rats and I have had big pet snakes to whom I have fed rats. When I was in high school, I worked at a fantastic pet store and I saw on a daily basis what rodents are capable of. They are cute and, no doubt, very smart. They are also capable of cannibalism. Many a morning, I arrived at the store to find scenes of horror in one or more of the rodent cages. And if one of them gave birth overnight, the odds were pretty good the babies would be eaten. Then again, when the babies did make it, there were often sold as reptile food. So choose your outrage.
But at what point does the question of animal rights serve less as something beneficial to the animals involved than as soothing salve to the anthropomorphizing PETArds? Who is better served if laboratories across the country have to stop what they’re doing and spend lots of time and money retrofitting animal enclosures? What is the big picture benefit to seeing to these rodents getting a bigger bedroom before they are sent off to have ears grown on their backs?
Science has used and abused the lowly lab mouse to the extraordinary benefit of humans for decades. All the medicine you’ve taken in the last year was likely tested on rodents long before it ended up in your body. Any chance we have of curing cancer will likely come from trial and error using rats and mice first. We as a species should be grateful for their unwitting participation. They should be treated as well as possible. But there comes a point where the greater good must be considered. And this animal lover thinks the greater good is served when the money is spent on scientists doing science, not a government-mandated Extreme Home Makeover: Lab Rat Edition.