Drivers on Shreveport's North Market Street have something new to look at: a billboard from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals denouncing the March of Dimes for its support of animal testing.
This, the second billboard PETA has put up in the Shreveport area in the last six months, depicts a pregnant monkey with wires cemented into her back. The caption reads, "March of Dimes Helping or Hurting." Similar billboards will go up, or have gone up, in several other cities nationwide.
Brandi Valladolid, a spokeswoman for PETA, said the group chose Shreveport based on data she claims came from the March of Dimes and that lists the top 10 cities in the country with instances of birth defects.
March of Dimes Louisiana director Memrie McDonald said the March of Dimes does not make lists by cities. Even if it did, she doubts Shreveport would be named to such a list.
But "it's a very poignant billboard," said Dr. Samuel Jacobs, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group that is trying to steer the medical community away from animal testing.
The latest billboard highlights the debate surrounding the use of animal testing to further medical research for humans.
PETA's Valladolid called animal testing "dangerously misleading in many cases," pointing to the biological and physiological response differences animals and people have. Humans have been put in danger by many drugs such as Phen-Phen "because animal testing cleared them as safe for human consumption when in fact they are not," she said.
The March of Dimes' McDonald counters that argument by citing advances in treatments for cancer, AIDS and epilepsy.
"Biomedical research is a cornerstone of medical progress," she said.
It is "critical to have good animal testing data in order to both guide public health research as well as develop (effective) drugs for humans," said Robert Meyer, who holds a doctorate in epidemiology and is president of the National Birth Defects Prevention Network. The network is made up of representatives from several states, including Meyer's North Carolina.
The billboard against the March of Dimes is not the first time PETA has rallied for animal rights locally. Last November the group introduced a billboard featuring former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke with a milk mustache and the caption "Got (lactose) intolerance? The white stuff ain't the right stuff."
In May 2001, three women representing PETA were arrested while demonstrating against an upcoming Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus show in Bossier City. The charges against the women were eventually dropped, but the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in the name of the women.