Medical professionals learn trauma surgical techniques on Simulab’s TramaMan. Photo courtesy of Simulab
Medical professionals learn trauma surgical techniques on Simulab’s TramaMan. Photo courtesy of Simulab

In many ways, 2015 was a banner year for animals in Washington state, as voters, activists and government officials made significant strides.

In March, a coalition of environmental, labor and animal rights group spoke out in force and stopped a proposed “ag-gag” bill that would have criminalized the exposure of animal cruelty.

In May, thanks to state legislators and citizen lobbyists, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law new protections for animals, including broader definitions to prevent staged animal fighting and legal protections for police who rescue dogs from hot cars.

Finally, in November, with the support of local institutions like Vulcan and The Humane Society of the United States, Washington voters approved Initiative 1401, effectively banning the sale of ivory and other body parts from endangered animals.

While activism is effective to bring forth animal protection laws, these wins can seem few and far between when we face the realities that animals are abused and killed every day for meat or even medical training.

Yet, experience has shown us that innovation, alongside activism, can be one of the greatest forces for change for animals, and right here in Seattle, two companies are addressing issues of animal use by offering superior alternatives.

More humanlike simulators

Simulab is a Seattle-based company that designs and manufactures human-body simulators, such as the TraumaMan, to provide highly effective medical training and to displace the use of animals used for teaching surgical techniques.

Simulab president and COO Doug Beighle explains that approximately 40,000 doctors each year are trained using the TraumaMan simulator, which substitutes the use and killing of approximately 10,000 animals annually, and simulators are now used in the majority of medical training programs in the United States.

Simulab makes simulators to train for approximately 70 procedures and focuses on providing the most realistic soft-tissue that can be surgically cut and even bleeds. This allows doctors to train on human-relevant, reusable models, unlike training for surgery on animal bodies, which can only be used once for first-time cutting before an animal dies.

Furthermore, improved patient safety is the result of better-trained medical professionals using these advanced tools.

“As a company, we are all about patient safety,” Beighle said, adding that simulation has been clinically validated to be a superior training method.

While simulators are common in the United States, Simulab works in partnership with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to provide TraumaMan to medical programs in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Programs in these countries may not be able to afford the capital costs of transitioning away from animal use, Beighle said, so PETA, in collaboration with Simulab, underwrites the capital and recurring costs to use simulators, which reduces animal use in these countries.

‘Grain meat’

Simulab’s innovative spirit to address human and animal issues is a theme that can be seen in other Seattle companies, as well.

Seattle-based Field Roast Grain Meat Co. is making an impact every day for people and animals by offering the tastiest plant-based sausages, frankfurters, roasts and even cheeses available at most local supermarkets and even at Safeco Field. These replace some of the most common animal products with healthier, plant-based alternatives and spare the lives of countless animals each year.

Field Roast president David Lee, who founded the company in 1997, explained that his goal was not to imitate meat but to make a real-food product acceptable to meat eaters that could go “toe-to-toe” with animal products.

Field Roast makes “grain meat” from wheat, mushrooms, lentils, spices and herbs, and the term “meat” is used in a traditional sense to simply mean “solid food,” he said.

Lee adds that the target Field Roast customer is someone who may still eat some animal-based meats but finds they really enjoy the rich flavor of Field Roast.

Furthermore, Field Roast continues to innovate to offer products that customers find often better than animal products. Last year, the company introduced a line of sliced cheeses, called Chao Cheese, made from fermented and seasoned tofu, and a new wild mushroom roast, the Forager’s Roast, typically served at holiday meals.

With the addition of these two products last year, Lee estimates that approximately 451,143 chickens, 7,713 pigs and 2,256 cows were saved this year alone when customers choose Field Roast meats instead of animal-based meats.

While we always have a responsibility to speak out against cruelty and abuse, it is not the only action we can take. Animal use has a long history, which is often perpetuated by human need.

When companies and individuals can find innovative solutions to meet these needs by providing superior products and services, many of the most abusive forms of animal use will, as they have in the past, simply find their place in the history books.

CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a writer and editor of Living Humane (livinghumane.com), a news site about humane-conscious lifestyles. To comment on this column, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.