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Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
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Articles and Reports

Primate research again criticized - Animal rights group accuses UW

Anita Weier 6/28/2007

An animal rights group has filed a complaint with federal regulators alleging that the University of Wisconsin-Madison violated the Animal Welfare Act in its treatment of primates used for research.

Ohio-based Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) says necropsy reports from animals that died in 2005 show that a 4-year-old macaque monkey had a foreign body lodged in its intestinal tract, that a 1-year-old marmoset suffered fractures and that another monkey died from sepsis after her uterus ruptured.

Additionally, a female rhesus monkey died in 2005 after a tube inserted for surgery severely injured her throat, reports show.

Other reports indicate that primates died with severe damage to their skin and brains as a result of studies in which they had experimental devices implanted under their skin or in their heads.

Michael Budkie, executive director of SAEN, said such cases show lack of adequate care for research animals.

"It is clear that the documentation for the animals listed above indicate a widespread pattern of negligence, inadequate veterinary care, and deceitful reporting of experimental procedures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison," Budkie wrote in his complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Elizabeth Goldentyer, a regional director for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, responded in a letter that authorities would look into his concerns and "take appropriate action if necessary."

Eric Sandgren, chairman of a UW-Madison committee that oversees animal research projects, told The Capital Times that university researchers welcome USDA inspectors and that their visits often lead to improvement in the research program.

However, he added, Budkie is using old reports about matters that were already dealt with by the university, and he suspects nothing was handled inappropriately.

The examples cited by Budkie are "highly selective and taken dramatically out of context. They represent examples of often spontaneous disease that occurs in any population," Sandgren said.

He also said the university had complied with the requirement to report animals involved in painful experiments.

The USDA is required to follow up on all complaints, Sandgren noted, adding that he also will review the matters in question.

But most of the cases are rare reactions that might occur with humans as well, such as complications during birth, he said.

"A foreign body ingested happens all the time in humans and animals. He found one case of fracture in all the necropsy reports he had," Sandgren said.

"The one on the list that is most likely a medical error was when the tube was put in."

Regarding implants under the skin, Sandgren said that when animals reacted in the case cited, researchers stopped using the implants.

Proper care has been taken, Sandgren stressed.

Budkie sees it differently.

He wants to meet with Sandgren to discuss the elimination of invasive devices, such as spinal implants and head caps, that the animal rights group says cause pain and distress for primates used in experiments. He also wants the right to inspect all housing and experimental facilities for primates at the UW-Madison and the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center.

"I find it very difficult to understand how the UW, while utilizing these devices and procedures, can report to the USDA that no primates experience unrelieved pain and distress" in cases where drugs are not used, Budkie said in an interview.

He further contends that experiments lose value when animals are ill. "The UW is wasting tens of millions of U.S. tax dollars by experimenting on sick animals," Budkie said.

Sandgren said he will not meet with Budkie because "he is not competent to be judging the records he requests."

"Every animal that is euthanized at the end of an experiment is necropsied because we want to know what happened," Sandgren added. "He doesn't understand the material he has."

Animal research is used to try to find treatments for human diseases.

The federally funded National Primate Research Center at the UW has long been a target of animal rights groups.

The Primate Freedom Project plans to build a museum next door to the center to protest the research it considers cruel. The project, strongly opposed by the university, is tied up in court.

That group released internal university records in 2005 detailing a study by a pediatrics professor that led to an unusual number of deaths and illnesses in rhesus monkeys in 2001 and 2002.

In one instance, a monkey died while an attendant went out to lunch during an experiment. The study, which involved research on monkeys' brains, was outlawed. The professor was suspended for two years from doing animal research.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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