Physicians Committee Brings Cute Animals, Scientists to Capitol Hill Event
Dania DePas, Colin Schwartz, Jonathan Balcombe, Aryenish Birdie, Martin Wasserman,
and Jamie Berger
This March, rats, mice, guinea pigs, and rabbits descended on Capitol Hill for “Federal Fluffballs,” a briefing jointly hosted by the Physicians Committee and Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA). This event featured animals commonly used in regulatory testing as well as a speaker panel of experts in the fields of public health and animal behavior.
Just a few days before, Rep. Moran introduced a landmark bill to end animal testing in the cosmetics industry. Congress is also considering major legislation that could potentially affect millions of laboratory animals by changing the way chemical testing is regulated.
Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., who has published more than 50 scientific papers and several books on animal behavior and research, spoke alongside Martin Wasserman, M.D., J.D., longtime Physicians Committee member and former public health administrator and pediatric clinician. Dr. Wasserman previously served as State Health Secretary for both Maryland and Oregon. The guests of honor were guinea pigs Tom, Jerry, and Lotus; rabbits Willow, Cleo, and Electra; rats Snow and Angel; and mice Blossom and Mike.
“I want to talk to you today as a scientist,” Dr. Wasserman told congressional staffers. He stressed that moving away from animal testing is in the best interest of human health—not just animal welfare. “Simply stated, can’t we do better than rely on animals to predict human results?” he asked. “Let go of the methods of the past and embrace 21st-century science.”
Dr. Balcombe then described common behaviors of rodents in the wild and in labs, dispelling some of the myths that surround these sensitive and intelligent animals. “They’re remarkably resourceful,” he said; “they’re also highly social.” He highlighted sentience as a baseline by which we judge our treatment of others. “Rodents certainly qualify for that,” he said; “they have lives that have moral traction.”
The well-attended event included a Q-and-A with the experts and allowed staffers plenty of time to interact with the animals and their caregivers.