As oversight specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, I spend a lot of time pouring over records pertaining to the abuse of animals in laboratories — laboratory inspection reports filed by governmental agencies, animal use protocols outlining graphic details of experiments and veterinary records describing the day-to-day lives of animals that have suffered painful and deadly tests in university laboratories.
I am sometimes surprised when I speak with college students and others who imagine that animals are no longer used to test cosmetics (they are), that it’s illegal to use dogs and cats in invasive or painful experiments (it’s perfectly legal), that animals are retired to sanctuaries after they’ve been used in laboratories (most animals either die in the course of the experiment or are killed afterward) and that every precaution is taken to minimize the suffering of animals (this is demonstrably false).
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, experiments conducted on animals are done out of public view, and when animal experimenters do discuss their “work,” they use euphemistic terms that mask the cruelty that they inflict on animals.
More than 115 million animals — including 70,000 nonhuman primates, 72,000 dogs, 22,000 cats and 236,000 rabbits — are used in U.S. laboratories every year. And the treatment of these animals is abysmal. Studies from 2005 and 2009 reveal that 50 to 60 percent of rats and mice who are subjected to painful experiments in which deep incisions are made in their abdomens, chests and skulls receive no post-surgical analgesic pain relief. A 2003 Harvard study found that nearly 90 percent of monkeys caged in laboratories engaged in abnormal behaviors indicative of extreme psychological distress, including self-mutilation and repetitive, neurotic behaviors such as circling madly or incessantly running from side to side in their cage.
Virtually nothing is prohibited in animal laboratories, no matter how redundant, pointless or cruel it is. Animals have holes drilled into their skulls, their spinal cords severed to cause paralysis, their eyes sewn shut and their skin burned off. Even when modern alternatives to animal use are available, experimenters are not required to use them and most of the time they don’t.
There is only one federal law in the U.S. — the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 — that governs the treatment of animals in laboratories, although this law fails to cover mice, rats, birds and fish, who account for at least 95 percent of the animals used in laboratories. That said, according to multiple federal audits, even this law — which deals mainly with caging and husbandry issues and covers only a tiny fraction of the animals used in experiments — isn’t adequately enforced. These audits have also found that the animals’ last line of defense — oversight committees at individual laboratories, called Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs) — are failing at their jobs, functioning as rubber-stamping committees in which anything goes.
At the University, where 350,000 animals are used each year, experimenters have addicted monkeys to every drug under the sun, including cocaine, ecstasy, barbiturates, methamphetamines, nicotine and alcohol. Rats and mice have been used in studies of fear, anxiety, depression and helplessness. One experimenter is using rats to study the benefits of green tea and another uses mice to study the benefits of soy.
It’s not just that the University’s IACUC seems to be happy to approve every scientifically fraudulent or cruel protocol that crosses its desk. The University has also failed when it comes to basic, day-to-day animal care. Mice in University laboratories have died of starvation and dehydration because people didn’t notice that these animals had no food or water for days. In another instance, cases of live mice were placed out with the trash, and the animals were crushed to death in a compactor.
In other instances, experimenters have conducted procedures that had not been approved by the oversight committee, causing animals immense pain and suffering. In fact, over a 6-month period from 2006 to 2007, the University violated federal animal protection regulations and guidelines more than 70 times.
Imprisoning and inflicting harm on other thinking, feeling beings because they are weaker or look different, or because some people believe that our pain is more important than theirs, is cruel and unethical. Students deserve to know what happens inside the laboratories at their school. I encourage all University students, staff and faculty to attend the “Testing … One, Two, Three” forum Thursday, September 24, at 7 p.m. in Angell Hall, Auditorium B. People of all opinions and backgrounds, particularly those who work with animals or may work with animals in the future, are encouraged to attend.
Dr. Alka Chandna is a senior researcher with PETA. She will be speaking at the “Testing … One, Two, Three” forum.