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Over the last two weeks, a traveling exhibit from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) — a nonprofit that advocates against animal abuse and animal testing — was set up on the Southeast corner of North University Avenue and State Street, calling attention to the use of animals for scientific research at the University of Michigan and other college campuses around the country. The exhibit was open from Sept. 21 to 25 and again on Sept. 28 to Oct. 2, and is now headed to its next stop in Pittsburg.

Featuring over 200 stories of animals used for science, the exhibit was called “Without Consent,” and aimed to advocate for ending animal experimentation. It initially debuted in Washington D.C., featuring two 7-by-7 foot cubes with inscriptions on them. The stories and photos presented in the exhibit were shocking and graphic, with many depicting animals cut open or in distress.

PETA implicated research from the University in several of the exhibit’s stories including a 2018 study that used pigs to model traumatic brain injuries and hemorrhagic shock, another 2018 study on chronic kidney disease which used mice, and a 2019 study using sheep to test prenatal testosterone exposure. In all of these studies, the PETA exhibit claims the University harmed animals irrevocably. 

PETA also took issue with the use of pigs and cats in a course for nurses to learn critical care transport through the U-M Survival Flight program, which concluded in 2011. While PETA alleges that many of the cats in the study were eventually killed, Beata Mostafavi, Public Relations Manager for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, wrote to The Michigan Daily that all eligible cats were successfully adopted at the conclusion of the study.

“As a public institution, we acknowledge the important obligation bestowed upon us to ensure that no animal is used needlessly and that animals are spared all unnecessary pain and distress,” Mostafavi wrote. “We take this responsibility very seriously and have numerous policies and controls in place to safeguard animal health and well-being. We insist upon treating all animals with respect and understand that we have an ethical imperative to refine, reduce, and replace animals in research whenever possible.”

According to Marnie Chambless, a member of PETA who travels around the United States for the “Without Consent” exhibit, the event’s purpose is to confront people with the truth of animal testing.

“We just want people to read the stories, connect with the experience that the animals had and see what results came from those experiments,” Chambless said.

Chambless also said she doesn’t believe many of the experiments referenced in the exhibit substantially advanced human health or justified the distress experienced by animal subjects. She said she thinks there are other alternatives to animal experimentation, such as stem cell-based cultures called organoids or 3D cross sections of human organs called  organs-on-chips.

“If we’re not able to scientifically justify the experiments, we shouldn’t be continuing to fund them when we have so many effective alternatives that are modern and that we could be making more accessible,” Chambless said

In 2021, PETA published the Research Modernization Deal which is the organization’s proposed strategy to phase out animal experimentation around the world. Based on the deal, the organization hopes to advise government organizations such as the National Institute of Health — which supplies 47% of its total grant funding to experiments that use animal subjects annually — on how to reduce their support for animal testing.

The University of Michigan is regarded as being a leader in research and is the number one public university by research volume. In 2019, PETA ranked the University as among the 93 “worst” universities in the nation for animal testing.

The University’s public statement on animal research, last updated in September 2022, states the University supports the humane use of animal subjects to advance health outcomes for humans and animals. 

“The University insists upon the humane and ethical treatment of all animals and is committed to ensuring that any individual who is afforded the privilege of working with animals under university auspices does so ethically, respectfully, and responsibly,” the statement reads.

LSA senior Kassandra Moak visited the exhibit and told The Daily that she thinks animal research policies cannot be universal, and should vary on a case by case basis. Still, she said she imagines there are ways to reduce animal testing.

“If you test on human beings, there are extreme risks involved,” Moak said. “So, I feel that animal testing in some manners is okay, but I do have a big problem with animals that are really cognizant. If they understand that they are a being, that is a big issue for me ethically.”

Daily Staff Reporter Isabella Kassa can be reached at ikassa@umich.edu.

Daily Contributor Grace Long contributed to the reporting of this article.