Animal rights group releases commercial about University

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Animal rights group releases commercial about University

By Daniel Santoro,, Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In a press release sent out early Tuesday morning, the animal rights activist group Stop Animal Exploitation Now! expressed its intent to air a commercial that would shed negative light on the University’s experimentation practices regarding nonhuman primates.

SAEN founder Michael Budkie said that the commercial would run on multiple networks aimed at the Princeton community — including CNN, Fox News and Animal Planet — for a period of one week to 10 days. After the commercial’s trial period expires, he said, the group will assess its effectiveness to determine if it will continue airing it.

The commercial, which is also posted on SAEN’s website, begins with a voiceover saying, “This is torture.” It then flashes a series of graphic photos, which include primates strapped to restraint chairs, deprived of water and bound with bolts in their heads. The commercial then urges viewers to contact President [Shirley Tilghman] by phone and “express concerns,” while flashing her phone number across the screen.

“Every one of the photos in the commercial is not from Princeton; the Princeton ones were too graphic,” Budkie said, referencing a series of photos that were published to the group’s website in September with an anonymous former employee’s account of the animal mistreatment he supposedly witnessed while working in the University’s labs. “[The photos in the commercial] accurately represent what goes on in this type of lab environment, though.”

The commercial also notes that taxpayer money funds the experimentation at the University.

“We believe the public, especially those who live around the University, have a right to know what is going on at Princeton because it is federally funded,” Budkie said.

This negative publicity marks the latest addition to SAEN’s ongoing campaign against University research misconduct. In mid-October, multiple animal activist groups from around New Jersey and New York gathered at the corner of Nassau Street and Washington Road to protest animal cruelty in labs. The event was organized in large part through SAEN’s website.

In response, the University has maintained its stance on both the importance of animal testing for research and its commitment to strong oversight of animal research through continual review of Princeton’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

“The University certainly takes seriously any reports that draw attention to animal care and protocol issues that we need to address,” University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua said in an email.

“The unfortunate reality is that these groups do not recognize the breakthroughs achieved by leading research institutions, and they have resorted to distortions and sensationalist tactics that mislead the public. Through the misleading commercial, the organization misrepresents facts and refers to unverified allegations from several years ago,” Mbugua said, referring to the anonymous “whistle-blower” account that surfaced on SAEN’s website in October.

However, the University has been accused of a number of animal rights infractions in the past year. Inspection reports by the USDA, which governs animal testing conduct under the Animal Welfare Act, show that the University received six violations in 2011 and 11 in 2010.

In June, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service also sent a formal warning to the University noting that further violations would result in fines of $3,750 each. This warning came after a routine May inspection that found primates having been deprived of water for up to 24 hours, failure to document certain procedures, unapproved anesthetics and an isolated incident of a marmoset escaping its cage.

In September, the University tied Yale for second-worst in lab violations in the Ivy League by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. That report cited “a pattern of deliberate, excessive water restriction” among research primates as well as insufficient veterinary care for a pregnant marmoset.

“For the USDA to warn you of fines, it is a sign that you have willfully, on a repetitive basis, violated the Animal Welfare Act,” report author John Pippin said at the time. “As an Ivy League graduate and former animal researcher myself, it is shameful.”

According to Budkie, SAEN will continue to focus on Princeton because, under the Animal Welfare Act, the USDA is limited in the measures it can take against lab infractions.

“The USDA doesn’t have the power to shut them down; they can only issue fines which are very limited,” he said. “We’ve been told labs are much more concerned about negative media attention than the USDA.”

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