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

Media Coverage

 

Medical school cited in largest-ever U.S. animal testing complaint
Cincinnati animal rights watchdog accuses 50

Student Life Newspaper 12/2/2001
By Rajas Pargaonkar


National animal rights watchdog Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN) has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture after compiling an audit report of 50 of the nation's leading research institutions, including the Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM).

The complaint stems from SAEN's allegations that primates involved in the institutions' studies, mostly rhesus and squirrel monkeys, were being denied adequate food and water in addition to being held in painful restraints.

It is the single largest animal testing complaint in U.S. history, alleging violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

Michael Budkie, author of the report and executive director of SAEN, argued that the invasive nature of primate experimentation has resulted in universities under-reporting on the number of these projects.

"If [laboratories] are using painful or stressful techniques without the benefit of anesthesia—it has to be reported as such—that's not something a lot of these laboratories want to do, and as a result, this kind of experimentation is under-reported," said Budkie.

Budkie stated that SAEN came to this conclusion after investigating many of the reports published by researchers who were involved with aspects of primate research such as brain mapping, drug addiction tests and primate vision tests.

"When we started cross-referencing all of the information from USDA inspection reports and [the National Institutes of Health] databases with the reports universities were filing, we found that 94 percent were not reporting accurately," said Budkie. "We also found out that at least 40 percent of these laboratories are routinely depriving primates of food and/or water."

Budkie additionally claimed that an "insider" photograph was smuggled out of a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that demonstrated researchers using painful restraints on primates during experiments.

"We went through the process of verifying that these pictures could be accurate. We then checked with research projects going on at MIT and found that this type of research could be going on [at MIT]," said Budkie.

Budkie stated that many primate experiments used highly invasive implants. He cited the procedure of WUSM researchers in a primate experiment, during which they implanted a plate directly under the skull.

"Juvenile rhesus monkeys were chronically implanted with a circular, molted, acrylic ring that was anchored by a T-bolt under the skull," said Budkie.

He noted that the research being performed might not be useful in studying animals due to the highly stressful conditions they are placed under during experimentation.

"[The research] may not be relevant to primates for a number of reasons. Having the animal confined in a lab is very stressful and when you take added steps of bolting devices into their skulls…doing this puts the animals under stress and modifies their body chemistry," said Budkie.

When asked why universities would continue to perform such experiments if there was no benefit to the canon of medical knowledge, Budkie cited financial reasons for their persistence.

"I think they are being done to keep money coming into the universities. A tremendous amount of money comes into the university in the form of federal grants," he said.

But the vice chancellor for research at WUSM, Dr. Henry Cicero, expressed surprise at the inclusion of WUSM in the SAEN report.

"I was a little distressed particularly since we didn't participate in any survey. The survey itself looks as if it was conducted by looking at what was available as free information as a part of the Freedom of Information Act," said Cicero. "I was a bit surprised to see us listed there."

Cicero stated that the university does conduct experiments which involve the skull implantation technique SAEN noted, adding that such experiments were rare and done only with the animals under full anesthesia.

Most of the research involving primates at WUSM, according to Cicero, deals with mapping the brain, particularly the functional areas that control cognition and memory.

Cicero dismissed SAEN's claim that institutions would deprive primates of food and water for hours or even days, stating that food and water deprivation were done sparingly.

"They are often withheld water overnight for training purposes. They learn to press a bar for water or food. They may be deprived for eight to ten hours [maximum] but then they are fully allowed to feed and take water on," said Cicero.

In response to SAEN's allegation that researchers often used painful restraints, Cicero commented that restraints were used at WUSM, but not for the extended lengths of time as SAEN claimed in the report.

"The only restraint would be for procedures during the day for one or two hours. The animals would be taken out of their cages and put into a chair that just keeps them from interfering with the experimental equipment. The animals are immediately released and spend twenty-two hours a day living free in a cage," said Cicero.

SAEN believes that all animal experimentation was unbeneficial, and that the country at large would be better off with a comprehensive ban. Dr. Cicero noted that the researchers would disagree.

"Most of us would ascertain that the use of animal models in particular help us understand human diseases and human function. We have a very stringent review process, and protocols are only approved under the supervision of strict veterinary care," said Dr. Cicero.

The SAEN report also accused research institutions such as WUSM of carrying on animal experimentation to keep employees paid and in general by keeping federal funding flowing into the institutions.

"That's simply not true. We get as much money doing research with humans as we do with animals," said Cicero.

Cicero added that animal rights groups like SAEN were too critical of medical research and were attacking what he believed was a very limited use of animals.

"With all the causes one can go after with respect to animals such as food consumption, furs, and those type of things, they focus on a very small use of animals, and I stress how small this use of animals is for medical research," he said.

Cicero stated that in general WUSM and similar institutions were not abusing the rights of animals, and that claiming such was a gross misstatement.

"I think that there is always a position for us to debate in an open forum. We are very much for the welfare of animals. At the same time we have to balance the welfare of animals with the welfare of people," he said.

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