People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued a press release last week naming the University of Michigan as one of the “worst” universities for animal testing. PETA’s “Failed Tests: Campus Cruelty Report” investigated hundreds of universities across the country and ranked them as “bad,” “worse” and “worst.” PETA ranked U-M as one of the 93 schools categorized as “worst,” a distinction given to only about 14 percent of the 657 collges investigated.
The scores were determined by a point system from three categories, which included the number of animals from regulated species held in a school’s labs and the level of funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as the number and severity of USDA violations.
Under the federal Animal Welfare Act, only specific animals are required to be inventoried, while others, such as mice, rats and other small animals, are not. Therefore, violations in the treatment of the aforementioned animals are not required to be included in a school’s annual report to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
PETA used the amount of funding each school received from the NIH to estimate the budget of each laboratory and predict how many undocumented small animals the laboratory uses to experiment on. The University of Michigan received approximately $552 million in funding from the NIH in 2018.
The University reported zero violations in 2018, but PETA claims the ranking is valid through their independent investigation and the records they obtained from an unidentified source.
“Records obtained by PETA reveal numerous incidents of neglect and incompetence in the university’s laboratories.”
Laboratories at the University are primarily investigated internally, therefore it is difficult to determine the validity of PETA’s claims without knowing exactly how their records were obtained.
In the statement, PETA explained their findings regarding the University’s treatment of the animals used for testing.
“Painful tumors in mice weren’t adequately monitored and were allowed to develop past protocol limits, several mice died of dehydration when a water system malfunctioned and no one noticed, and numerous mice and rats died after experimenters failed to follow procedures used to prevent contamination during experimental surgeries,” the statement reads. “Living mice and rats were found in coolers after workers failed to ensure that the animals were dead before discarding their bodies.”
In regard to PETA’s allegations against the University, Mary Masson, director of public relations at Michigan Medicine, wrote in an email interview with The Daily the concerns were remedied.
“These issues were corrected immediately upon discovery by our animal care team,” Masson wrote. “In the interest of full transparency, the U-M also self-reported each event to the National Institute of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) and our accrediting body, AAALAC International. Both OLAW and AAALAC reviewed these matters and found that U-M took all necessary steps to self-report and correct these isolated incidents.”
Additionally, PETA advocates for alternatives to animal testing, such as human tissue and cell-based research methods as well as computer simulations, claiming these methods provide equally applicable results.
“NIH has noted that 95% of all drugs that are shown to be safe and effective in animal tests fail in human trials because they don’t work or are dangerous,” PETA wrote in their report.
Jim Newman, director of strategic communications for Americans for Medical Progress, wrote in a statement to The Daily animal testing is both ethical and necessary.
“Groups like PETA frequently claim that animal studies are no longer necessary,” Newman wrote. “This is simply not true. No alternative including tissue samples, organs-on-a-chip or computer models can mimic a living, breathing organism. Nor can any alternative fully mimic the countless diseases that can impact humans and animals. By suggesting otherwise, animal rights groups are ignoring basic facts and logic. More importantly, making these claims endangers public health because doing so causes well-meaning people to reject a crucial scientific method that saves both human and animal lives.”
At the University, students have the opportunity to work in laboratories that perform animal testing. Students are required to go through numerous online and in-person trainings before they are permitted to participate in these laboratories.
Johanna Buschhaus, Engineering Ph.D. candidate, has been working in laboratories at the University since she was a sophomore in high school and has been doing cancer research for four years involving mice and rats.
“My experience has been super positive,” Buschhaus said. “I have my own animals, so it’s really important to me that the animals I work with are never going to be hurting.”
Buschhaus also explained for the past year in her laboratory, they have had a veterinary resident also working to identify ways to improve the treatment of the animals. For example, once a tumor is discovered in a mouse, they are required to examine that mouse three times a week.
Ultimately, in the press release, PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo called students at U-M to action.
“Students live and work on university campuses for years without knowing that animals are being neglected, burned, poisoned, crippled, blinded, and tormented in a host of other ways right under their noses,” Guillermo said. “As the school year begins, PETA is asking caring University of Michigan students to speak out against the abuse of sensitive, sentient beings in their midst.”