The University of Minnesota is illegally keeping secrets about animal testing, according to a lawsuit filed last week by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and resident Isaac Peter filed.
The lawsuit contends that the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) is violating the state’s open records and open meetings laws by denying the public access to meetings and documents and denying public record requests regarding animal research.
“The University of Minnesota tests on thousands of animals in their lab, including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, pigs, sheep, and nonhuman primates. According to its own annual report, many of these animals, including nonhuman primates, are tested on without ‘the use of appropriate anesthetic, analgesic, or tranquilizing drugs.’ Testing on animals not protected by the AWA―which specifically excludes purpose-bred birds, rats, and mice―does not have to be reported at all,” according to the ALDF.
IACUCs are put in place at federally funded research institutions that use lab animals to review proposed research projects and programs and to, in theory, ensure that there is justification for experiments, see that pain and suffering of animals used is minimized and that the minimum standards of the Animal Welfare Act are upheld.
These committees should have a veterinarian and an independent community member, or someone to represent the interest of the animals used. However, the AWA allows for exemptions for research if they are approved by an IACUC and problems with these self-regulating committees abound.
One study conducted this year, the of Animal Research Ethics Committee Membership at American Institutions, analyzed IACUCs at leading U.S. research institutions and found that the “leadership and general membership of these committees to be dominated by animal researchers and the remainder of the committees to be largely comprised of other institutional representatives. These arrangements may contribute to previously-documented committee biases in favor of approving animal experiments and dilute input from the few members representing animal welfare and the interests of the general public.”
“The fact is, IACUCs as they are set up today will approve virtually anything,” said Dr. Lawrence Hansen, a professor of neuroscience and pathology at the University of California-San Diego and author of the study.
The Office of Inspector General also found similar problems, concluding that “the IACUCs are only required to conduct facility reviews on a semiannual basis, (2) IACUCs experience a high turnover rate, and (3) some members are not properly trained. In very few cases, the facilities are resistant to change, showing a general disregard for APHIS regulations. As a result, the facilities are not conducting research in compliance with the AWA or, in some cases, not providing humane conditions for research animals.”
So what does the University of Minnesota not want the public to find out about? Maybe it’s their pointless research, heroine-addicted monkeys, or violations of the AWA.
According to records obtained from the NIH and the USDA by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), violations at the university included failing to properly administer painkillers following painful procedures in multiple incidents, failing to provide veterinary care, failing to properly euthanize animals, and discarding living animals as if they were dead.
Last year the University of Minnesota made In Defense of Animals’ list of ridiculous experiments for its research into how diet affects the sex drive of hamsters, which was paid for by three publicly funded grants. The study didn’t find any relationship between diet and sex drive, but did find that the hamsters hoarded more food after being fed less.
“The public has the legal right to know what the University of Minnesota is doing to animals in the name of research,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of ALDF, in a statement.
“This willful violation of state law and animal welfare law must end.”
Photo credit: Thinkstock