Good morning. It's great to be here with you, and thank you for that very kind introduction. I'd like to make an introduction. It's a woman who's been the driving force in the last year with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine which many of you work with. She is their Director of National Policy and also Public Affairs and she happens to be my wife, Elizabeth.
I appreciate the fact in the introduction that it was noted that I happen to be a vegan. And yesterday, the House Education and Labor Committee passed two amendments to the Child Nutrition Act, which are really landmark amendments, when it comes to introducing a whole new approach towards diet. One establishes a program for plant-based options for school cafeterias. And another one, for the first time, establishes a pilot program for vegan diets. (audience applause) We're finally beginning to bring about a change in the consciousness of the country as a result of the integrity that so many of you have demonstrated over a lifetime of commitment to animal rights. Because at the core of a vegan diet for most people, is a commitment to compassion, is an understanding of the interconnectedness of all life, that we are one with nature, interdependent, interconnected.
I think the central challenge of our times is to effect a reconciliation with nature. The split that occurred after the Industrial Revolution, or during the Industrial Revolution, where we saw a schism between mankind and the natural world has become so pronounced that in the 20th and 21st century, we see a broad-based animal experimentation. We see endless mining, the destruction of rainforests, the ruining of natural habitat, the poisoning of water, the spoilation of land, the pollution of air. All of these are indications of how far we have gone to separate ourselves from the natural world. Indeed the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico is a very powerful exclamation point on that separation, and we see the implications of the poisoning of the sea, the death to aquatic life, the ruining of vegetation. It is urgent that we come to a realization of the essential interconnectedness of all life. That we are one and that this misunderstanding with which centuries of human beings have had to labor, of a separation between ourselves and the natural world, has to be replaced by a deep awareness and eventually an intuitive understanding of our connection with the natural world and of all the species which inhabit it.
So I see your work on behalf of animal rights in a very broad perspective, and I see it as being essential to helping our nation and the entire world come to an awareness that the animal kingdom has within it species which support our life and which we are dependent upon. Not for food, but for being part of that seamless web of life. That animals have inherent rights. They may not be able to articulate them in a way that, let's say, a Thomas Jefferson did so brilliantly when he was drafting the Declaration of Independence. They may not be able to voice them in the way that the founders of this nation did, but they rely on us to be their voice, to act on their behalf and to raise questions whenever we see their rights abused. Over and over again, we've seen the federal government become a vehicle for abusing the rights of animals. But the truth of the matter is, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act arose as a means of protecting university laboratories from any kind of dissent so that they could continue to do the kinds of research in which they abuse animals, and more often than not, this research relates to some government purpose, generally Department of Defense. When you look at experimentations done with squirrel monkeys, NASA uses the squirrel monkeys for cognitive research. There's really no need to do that. There's no connection between the cognitive systems of squirrel monkeys, we would think, and human beings, in the same way that the Department of Defense, or the NIH, rather, sanctions research of great apes for HIV, and yet the great apes express proteins in a different way than human beings. And so, one might assume a result of the research from great apes, would be immediately transferrable to human beings, but it's not.
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