Commentary: A rat by any other name

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How’d I miss this one?

Even casual followers of the whacked-out stunts dreamed up by PETA are well aware that the group has famously lobbied to “save the rats.”

Urban areas—especially coastal cities, such as New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.—that are overrun with the rapidly-breeding vermin have used various methods to control their rat populations, while PETA has argued that such programs constitute cruel and unusual punishment and must be stopped to spare the poor rats from further suffering and abuse.

Left unsaid was the fact that rats are serious disease vectors (does the Black Death ring a bell?), a major nuisance in sewer systems and subway tunnels and oh, yes—responsible for physical attacks on children and infants living in substandard urban housing.

As usual, PETA takes a contrarian stance that defies common sense; who knows if it’s even genuine?

Last year, though they went ’round the bend with a project that is a mind-bending mixture of brazen chutzpah, depraved indifference and utter hypocrisy.

“Sticking up for rats—who are sensitive, intelligent, and nurturing—has always been high on our agenda,” PETA announced last year, “although not everyone understands that these dear little mammals are worth caring about … yet.”

Here’s how the sickos at PETA plan to make sure you care about the little dears: By breeding genetically engineered rats with fluffy bunny-like tails.


“For the last 14 months, we’ve been funding two scientists at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) who are formulating a hybrid species that will make rats less despised,” the group’s news release stated. “Using the same zygote microinjection process (to which we still object!) that was used to create a glow-in-the-dark rabbit, these geneticists isolated the gene responsible for bunnies’ cottontails and then insert[ed] it into fertilized rat egg cells.”

“The results are truly phenomenal,” PETA’s news release gushed, producing what the activist group called “a genetically engineered rat who no one will want to harm.”

Why not? Because this new rat features a fluffy, bunny-like tail, replacing the “old, unappealing long pink tail,” the group’s statement noted in a story titled, “Genetically Engineered Rats: 10 Percent Rabbit, 100 Percent Cute.”

“People are almost certain to be kinder to a tiny mammal with a powder-puff tail,” PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk was quoted in the statement. “Not only would this pay off in cities that kill these animals with gut-wrenching poisons, it would also make it harder for lab assistants to force-feed toxic chemicals to them or for homeowners to watch them struggle in cruel glue traps.”

Personally, I prefer the good old spring-loaded, neck-snapping conventional traps to eliminate rodent infestations. But that’s beside the point.

Non-native and nasty

PETA’s claim is that once a viable population of “fluffy tail” rats is created, they can be released to breed with rats in New York City, Washington, D.C., and other major cities.

That is so wrong on so many levels.

First of all, wherever non-native animals have been released into a foreign ecosystem—deliberately or otherwise—the results have been spectacularly disastrous. Examples include the unchecked hordes of rabbits and cane toads that have destroyed thousands miles of habitat in the Australian Outback, the sea lampreys and zebra mussels that have decimated native fish in the Great Lakes and the feral pigs in Hawaii that are destroying the remnants of the island’s native songbirds.

Oh, you hadn’t heard about that last one? Seems that wild pigs descended from early white settlers’ animals—who are living the “natural” existence PETA always promotes, by the way—create wallows that fill with rainwater, allowing exponentially greater populations of a tropical mosquito that carries the deadly avian malaria to reproduce and kill off native birds.

Second, whenever artificially bred animals are “released” into a wild habitat—especially if it happens to be a New York subway tunnel—they almost always die off in massive numbers.

So PETA’s basically advocating the release of what amounts to a lab rat genetically handicapped by the lack of a normal tail to swarm into city sewers and tenements, only to die of starvation or be killed off by the same set of predators, poisons and traps that currently keep good old city rats in check.

And that’s PETA’s idea of “just leave the animals alone?”

Of course, there are thousands of legitimate research projects underway using genetically modified animals, such as rats, mice and rabbits. Rats have been bred to develop certain cancers so that various treatments can be perfected, specially bred rabbits are used to develop a treatment for people with a hereditary tendency toward hypercholesterolemia, a prime risk factor for heart attack and stroke and cloned lab animals that carry various different human disease genes are used to further research on genetic diseases.

As essential contributors to humanity’s quest to conquer disease, rats have a useful and important role in furthering scientific research.

Standing in for cottontail bunnies isn’t part of the deal.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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Washington, DC  |  March, 13, 2012 at 03:08 PM

Though I agree with the stance presented in this commentary, I do believe PETA wrote this as an April Fools joke a couple years ago.

Norfolk  |  March, 14, 2012 at 05:12 PM

Yes, PETA staffers have a healthy sense of humor (to go with our healthy vegan diets and it was an April Fools joke. Apparently the joke is still on Mr. Murphy. But PETA is thinking about working with scientist to create talking cows. It might open some farmers eyes if cows could say "does your wife know where your hand is? every time a farmer artificially inseminates them.

Florida  |  April, 03, 2012 at 01:18 PM

It would seem that Mr. Murphy, (as well as all cattlemen), is so far behind the times that he can't even research something and realize that it was an April Fools joke TWO years AGO. If he can't be bothered to do his research on something like a simple April FOOLS joke, I wonder what else he hasn't researched. What a moron.


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