A controversial billboard promoting the use of animals in medical research is popping up in major U.S. cities.
The billboard with a smiling little girl on one side and a white lab rat on the other asks, "Who would you rather see live?"
The billboards which have appeared in Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Baltimore and Madison, WI are part of a campaign called Research Saves.
It is sponsored by the Foundation for Biomedical Research, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit group that according to ABC News is "funded by universities, hospitals, advocacy groups, pharmaceutical companies and biotech firms with a stake in animal research."
All of the billboards were strategically placed in cities with "a major medical or primate research center."
The goal of the campaign is raise public support for animal research or to at least get people thinking about the issue. FBR found that a large percentage of the public hasn't made up their mind about the use of animals in medical research.
FBR Director of Media & Marketing Communications Liz Hodge said,
the aim is "to get people to think where the benefits are coming from that we expect when we're sick."
The Foundation also initiated the campaign as a way to stop animal rights groups that are making headway in closing down animal research labs.
Frankie Tull, president of the Foundation explained,
"Without research with animals models, especially rodents, we will not have cures for the many currently incurable diseases afflicting children today including leukemia, diabetes, paralysis, autism, congenital heart disease, cystic fibrosis, Deuchenne muscular dystrophy and malaria."
Ms. Hodge also threw a bone to animal lovers when she pointed out how some of the new treatments which were developed on lab animals are now being used to save the lives of dogs.
PETA's Kathy Gullerimo refuted the campaign and says it sends the wrong message to people. She reminded people that all species"...can experience pain. They all can suffer."
In my opinion the larger question that FBR doesn't ask on its billboard is, "Does this rat have to die in order for the little girl to live?"
For years, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has answered that question with an unequivocal - NO.
Since 1985 the nonprofit organization has promoted replacing animal experimentation with "non-animal techniques" for ethical reasons and because it produces better research.
Studies done by PCRM actually show that researchers get more accurate results when animals aren't used as models. Lab animals become stressed during tests and this can unintentionally alter the outcome.
Their studies show that even rodents who are given "minimally invasive" tests have elevated pulse and blood pressure levels which can skew research results.
Dr. John Pippin, an advisor to PCRM said, "90 percent of drugs that worked on animals failed in human trials."
Ultimately the billboard campaign appears to be a payback to some of the animal activist groups who have attacked and intimidated medical researchers in universities over the past several years. FBR hopes to sway public opinion in their favor.