Dear Mr. & Mrs. Smith:
I just sent an update a few weeks ago, but I wanted to share some great news.
First, as you know, we have long been working to stop the use of animals in medical schools. When I was a
medical student at the George Washington University, I refused to participate in a required “dog lab,” and I
vowed to end these laboratories. Well, the last two hold-outs—Johns Hopkins University and the University
of Tennessee—have both made the decision to end the use of animals in their medical schools, which means
that all medical schools in the U.S. and Canada are completely free of animal laboratories in teaching. We
have won this fight.
We wanted to stop these labs for two reasons: first, the cruelty to the dogs or other animals was
unconscionable. Second, when medical students are trained using animals, they come to believe that killing
animals is somehow essential to science. That had to stop.
When we started, most medical schools required students to experiment on live dogs and then kill them in
the course of the experiment. At many schools, students who refused to participate were penalized or even
expelled. At the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, students could be court martialed for
refusing. We had extended negotiations with Harvard, protests at Yale, litigation at the University of
Colorado, and many, many other battles, Most schools switched from dogs to less popular animals to try to
mute the protests. As time went on, though, required labs became optional, and optional labs started to be
Johns Hopkins was particularly resistant. The people in charge of the course felt that the fatal laboratories
conveyed a sense of the “sanctity of life,” if you can believe that. However, working with our friends in the
Maryland legislature, we introduced a bill to prohibit any use of animals in medical education for which an
alternative was in use at another medical school in the state. At a hearing, the Johns Hopkins folks were
pretty well shellacked, and they quickly asked, behind the scenes, that the bill be withdrawn in exchange for
them simply dropping their animal laboratory on their own. And that is what happened. Once Hopkins quit,
we pushed Tennessee to follow suit, which it did.
I should clarify that this is the end of animal use in medical school courses. That’s a great thing. But animals
are still used in more advanced training (in surgical and emergency medicine residencies, for example), and
there is an enormous amount of animal use in basic research, unfortunately. We are continuing to work in those
areas as well and are steadily winning those battles. But as of now, at every medical school in the U.S.
and Canada, students will get their MD or DO degrees without ever even being allowed to harm animals.
Item two: We won a huge battle on animal testing, with the passage of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical
Safety for the 21st Century Act. For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency and chemical
manufacturers will be required to use available nonanimal alternatives first before conducting or requiring
any animal tests. And EPA will have to create a strategic plan to reduce and replace animal tests and report to
Congress on its progress. The new law requires the EPA to justify any animal testing requirements and to
outline ways it has tried to avoid those tests. And it requires it to use tiered testing, computational methods,
and other strategies to make decisions without animal tests.
This was a tough ten-year battle. When this bill was first proposed, it called for more animal testing, not less.
Our toxicology team, headed by Kristie Sullivan, convinced Members of Congress and our colleagues that
animal tests were both cruel and inaccurate and that we had to use better methods. Working with our allies,
we got a good bill through the Senate, while the House passed a not-so-good bill. In the ensuing negotiations,
there were lots of sparks, but also a great deal of support on our side. Finally, Congress came to agreement,
and new provisions to minimize animal testing and implement alternatives became law. This will mean many
thousands of animals will be spared from experiments. Senator Udall thanked the Physicians Committee by
name from the Senate floor, and the President signed the bill last Wednesday.
Item three: We’re celebrating some new diabetes research. Back in 2003, NIH gave the Physicians Committee
a grant for a head-to-head test of a vegan diet and a conventional “diabetes diet” for their effects on type 2
diabetes. The results were decisive. The vegan diet led to better weight loss, better blood sugar control, and
better cholesterol lowering. Over time, we did more and more studies that showed more or less the same
But what really makes results catch fire is when other researchers validate our findings in tests of their own
in different populations. A few years ago, researchers in the Czech Republic confirmed the power of a vegan
in their diabetic population. And on June 2, a group of Korean researchers reported the same thing in a
country where plant-based foods are already fairly well known. Then on June 14, 2016, Harvard researchers
reported new results from their cohorts showing that, indeed, plant-based diets cut the risk that diabetes will
occur. Together, these studies make the case very strongly that getting animals off the plate is good, not only
for them, but for us, too.
Not that we don’t face plenty of challenges in the future. But I wanted you to know about these great steps
Thank you, as always, and all the best!
Neal D. Barnard, MD, FACC
PACS receives many heartfelt thank-you notes from pet owners and like-minded animal organizations. See more letters and notes here.