Earth Day celebration manifests disparate views

In the afternoon heat on Monday, speakers emitted Dave Matthews Band music while a cougar named Jayla licked her paws. Tables displaying fish tanks and hats made of recycled soda cans cluttered the sidewalk while petitions were thrust in front of students.

It was all part of the annual Earth Day celebration sponsored by the Life Sciences Club. But what made the celebration special, club president Sarah Barry said, was the variety of viewpoints represented at the event.

“I think it’s good to have two conflicting sides,” Barry said. “You learn a lot more when you find out from both sides.”

One presenter was emotional when she realized a man advocating raising fish for consumption was at the celebration.Gael Murphy, a representative for Florida Voices for Animals, moved her presentation several tables away from Hans Geissler, the founder and president of Morning Star Fishermen.

“What (fish farmers) do is grow fish in tanks and load them with hormones,” Murphy said of Geissler. “(Fish farmers) even put dye in water to make salmon look more red.”

Geissler said his organization, which is not for profit, simply teaches people in impoverished areas, such as Haiti, to raise fish. Geissler said he instructs people to feed fish vegetables and said he doesn’t feed fish hormones.

“We are raising fish to feed people. Without food, people are going to die,” Geissler said. “Why should I feel guilty? We should be concerned with people dying of malnutrition and the children in Africa who walk around like skeletons.”

To further support his position, Geissler referred to a story in the Bible about Jesus feeding fish to a crowd of people.”It’s good enough for Jesus,” he said. “Not everyone is a vegetarian. This is just the food chain.”

Lea Banks, a senior majoring in biology and president of USF’s Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, distributed snacks completely free of animal products and by-products.

Banks said SETA attempted to convince Sodexo-Marriott, the company that provides meal plans to students living on campus, to offer a vegan alternative.

“We collected hundreds of signatures last year,” Banks said. “But Marriott has such a monopoly over food plans.”

Banks said the company offers a salad bar, but meat alternatives, such as soy, should be available.

“You can’t just leave off the meat,” Banks said.

In addition, Banks said, by-products including butter, should not be used to cook vegetables. Margarine or vegetable oil make better alternatives, she added.

Banks said SETA didn’t make much progress in obtaining a vegan meal plan but is focusing on another environmental issue at USF – an undergraduate biology requirement involving the dissection of such animals as crayfish and clams.

Although Banks is focusing on animal biology, she said she was forced to take a course in microbial biology because she refused to participate in or observe dissections.

“I was ethically opposed to giving my money to watch cruelty,” Banks said. “I had to take a course in microbes even though it was totally unrelated to my curriculum.”

Banks said the university should use electronic programs and illustrated lab manuals in place of dissections.

SETA, Sarasota in Defense of Animals, and Florida Voices for Animals will be protesting the use of animals in classroom experiments at USF this Saturday. The demonstration is planned for noon to 2 p.m. under the overpass that connects the USF Medical Library and Veteran’s Hospital.

Calling the event the ideal opportunity to discuss exotic wildlife legislation, Judy Watson, executive director for Survival Sanctuary for Wildlife came to the celebration with Jayla, a five-year-old cougar.

“We need to develop a better understanding and appreciation of our natural resources and improve protection of wild animals,” Watson said.

“There is a close relationship between animals and people.”

Contact Rachel Pleasant at