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Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
S. A. E. N.
"Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation"

Media Coverage

UC holds back details on animal research

By Carrie Peyton Dahlberg - cpeytondahlberg@sacbee.com 
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A1

The University of California has begun withholding public records that detail how animal research is done and what scientists hope to learn, saying when people know such things, it leads to crime.

The university contends that recent attacks on the homes and cars of researchers, including three attempts to set fires in the Los Angeles area and one doorstep scuffle in Santa Cruz, make greater secrecy crucial.

"It would be irresponsible for the university to wait around until someone goes to the hospital or worse before taking appropriate action," said UC attorney Christopher Patti.

Activists suggest that what UC really wants to suppress are the wrenching details of electrodes and restraints, surgeries and deaths, that opponents use to argue that animal research must stop.

"It's a way to try to silence dissent and increasing public revulsion," said Jeff Kerr, general counsel for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Among the records UC has withheld recently are daily health care logs for monkeys, postmortem exams called necropsies and research protocols that describe how studies are designed. One campus, UCLA, is refusing to disclose how many nonhuman primates it experiments on.

While such documents can be used to inflame, they have other purposes. The Humane Society relies on public records to expose violations of cruelty laws. Opponents of tobacco research have used them to raise questions about whose money UC researchers should take.

UC is also addressing attacks on animal research on the legislative front. Written by UC with input from the biotech industry, Assembly Bill 2296 originally offered broad protections to employees of virtually any business that handled animals. It was so sweeping the Humane Society feared it would imperil its undercover probes, like the one at a California slaughterhouse that recently triggered the nation's largest beef recall.

The bill has been dramatically scaled back to apply only to university researchers, restricting what personal information can be posted on the Internet. But all involved say the forces behind the legislation aren't going away.

From farms to labs, Americans are torn over how animals are treated. Those who wish the society were gentler with other living creatures are equally torn, with protest strategies ranging from debate to name-calling to violence.

UC contends the tactics used by animal activists are growing increasingly disturbing. In October, a window was broken and a garden hose shoved into a UCLA researcher's home, causing $20,000 in damage. UC Berkeley has logged six broken windows and three scratched or graffitied cars among its researchers and staff members since August.

Along with the crimes have come legal actions that many on campus find offensive: strident e-mails, phone calls to personal numbers, and the leafleting of at least one child's soccer game because a player's father does animal research at UC Berkeley.

Dallas Hyde, director of the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis, said animal activists protested outside his Davis home in 2003, and he assumes the vandals who targeted his mailbox in 2007 and his son's truck in 2006 were also against animal research because vandalism is otherwise unheard of on his street.

Hyde has beefed up home security but said he doesn't know anyone who has stopped doing animal research because of threats.

He worries, though, about what animal activism might mean for the future. "The great fear we have is that somehow it's going to interrupt the level of science done in this country," Hyde said.

That concern extends beyond university researchers. Nationwide, animals used in education and research, from medical products to pet foods, are estimated to number more than 25 million annually.

Amanda Carson Banks, president of the California Biomedical Research Association, keeps a list of lab animals stolen and buildings and cars spray-painted at California businesses that use animals or work with those who do.

Banks said she knows of three California researchers out of a statewide biotech work force of 267,000 who have abandoned animal research in the past few years because they fear attacks.

"If we are not able to make these mental giants feel safe we may lose the man who's going to find the way to cure feline leukemia or childhood cancer," said Banks. She argues that every researcher, not just those on campus, should get a broader legal shield from the Legislature.

At UC Davis, researchers into cancer, asthma and basic biological processes such as inflammation rely on thousands of animals. Experiments can range from genetically altering mice to injecting toxins in an infant monkey's brain to giving cats a potentially lethal diet. Sometimes animals are kept into old age, and sometimes they're killed shortly after birth or after breeding. The work can lead almost anywhere to cures, to dead ends or to greater understanding of healthy bodies and of disease.

UC attorney Patti said the university system believes people should know about animal research but it wants to deliver the message its way, creating summaries of its work but keeping actual records secret.

Some of the document withholding is only temporary, because UC is in the middle of creating its new disclosure policy, Patti said.

In the meantime, UCLA and UC Davis both have refused to give animal rights groups public records, saying in one denial letter that when "anti-animal research activists" get such information, it leads to "violent and criminal acts." An anti-tobacco group and two newspapers did get partial records from UCLA.

Tom Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said UC's position is a flagrant violation of California's public record laws.

"They don't get to withhold documents while they create a new policy. I mean, come on," Newton said. In addition, he said, UC is not entitled to do secret research with taxpayer dollars, or to exempt itself from public scrutiny.

Michael Budkie, founder of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, is steamed because he has been asking UC Davis for primate research records since fall, and because he specifically told UCLA that he'd be happy to take records with researcher names and site locations blacked out.

"They don't want to be in the news," Budkie said. "They are engaged in a very serious effort to essentially paint all animal rights activists as terrorists."

Animal welfare and civil liberty groups nationwide have argued since at least 2005 that court cases and new laws are shifting the line between legitimate political pressure and terror. They fear UC may be spearheading a similar shift in California.

As evidence, they point to how broad AB 2296 was when the university first brought the draft text to Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, who is carrying the bill.

The bill drew a protective ring around farms, slaughterhouses, rodeos, pet breeders, researchers and anyone else who uses animals or animal products.

It would have given employers greater rights to sue if they believed employees were being harassed outside the workplace; stiffened criminal penalties for interfering with anyone using animals for profit or research; and carved out exemptions to public records laws and laws that protect people against "SLAPP" suits lawsuits aimed at shutting down public participation.

Associations representing biotech firms, pharmaceutical companies and hunters, as well as a circus promoter, lined up in support.

The bill didn't reach its first committee hearing before being drastically pared down.

The current version applies only to academic researchers who use animals and animal products. It gives them the power to insist that a Web site take down their home address and phone number as long as they support that demand with a sworn affidavit saying they are afraid of being harmed.

Yet lobbying continues on all sides, with biotech companies pushing for inclusion and conversations ongoing about which public records can be kept private.

"The Legislature just decided to pare back and to start with a smaller bill," said UC attorney Patti. "We regard it as a modest but important first step, and we're hopeful that it will just be a first step."

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