By Carrie Peyton Dahlberg -
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A1
The University of California has begun withholding public records
that detail how animal research is done and what scientists hope to
learn, saying when people know such things, it leads to crime.
The university contends that recent attacks on the homes and cars of
researchers, including three attempts to set fires in the Los Angeles
area and one doorstep scuffle in Santa Cruz, make greater secrecy
"It would be irresponsible for the university to wait around until
someone goes to the hospital or worse before taking appropriate action,"
said UC attorney Christopher Patti.
Activists suggest that what UC really wants to suppress are the
wrenching details of electrodes and restraints, surgeries and deaths,
that opponents use to argue that animal research must stop.
"It's a way to try to silence dissent and increasing public
revulsion," said Jeff Kerr, general counsel for People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals.
Among the records UC has withheld recently are daily health care logs
for monkeys, postmortem exams called necropsies and research protocols
that describe how studies are designed. One campus, UCLA, is refusing to
disclose how many nonhuman primates it experiments on.
While such documents can be used to inflame, they have other
purposes. The Humane Society relies on public records to expose
violations of cruelty laws. Opponents of tobacco research have used them
to raise questions about whose money UC researchers should take.
UC is also addressing attacks on animal research on the legislative
front. Written by UC with input from the biotech industry, Assembly Bill
2296 originally offered broad protections to employees of virtually any
business that handled animals. It was so sweeping the Humane Society
feared it would imperil its undercover probes, like the one at a
California slaughterhouse that recently triggered the nation's largest
The bill has been dramatically scaled back to apply only to
university researchers, restricting what personal information can be
posted on the Internet. But all involved say the forces behind the
legislation aren't going away.
From farms to labs, Americans are torn over how animals are treated.
Those who wish the society were gentler with other living creatures are
equally torn, with protest strategies ranging from debate to
name-calling to violence.
UC contends the tactics used by animal activists are growing
increasingly disturbing. In October, a window was broken and a garden
hose shoved into a UCLA researcher's home, causing $20,000 in damage. UC
Berkeley has logged six broken windows and three scratched or graffitied
cars among its researchers and staff members since August.
Along with the crimes have come legal actions that many on campus
find offensive: strident e-mails, phone calls to personal numbers, and
the leafleting of at least one child's soccer game because a player's
father does animal research at UC Berkeley.
Dallas Hyde, director of the California National Primate Research
Center at UC Davis, said animal activists protested outside his Davis
home in 2003, and he assumes the vandals who targeted his mailbox in
2007 and his son's truck in 2006 were also against animal research
because vandalism is otherwise unheard of on his street.
Hyde has beefed up home security but said he doesn't know anyone who
has stopped doing animal research because of threats.
He worries, though, about what animal activism might mean for the
future. "The great fear we have is that somehow it's going to interrupt
the level of science done in this country," Hyde said.
That concern extends beyond university researchers. Nationwide,
animals used in education and research, from medical products to pet
foods, are estimated to number more than 25 million annually.
Amanda Carson Banks, president of the California Biomedical Research
Association, keeps a list of lab animals stolen and buildings and cars
spray-painted at California businesses that use animals or work with
those who do.
Banks said she knows of three California researchers – out of a
statewide biotech work force of 267,000 – who have abandoned animal
research in the past few years because they fear attacks.
"If we are not able to make these mental giants feel safe … we may
lose the man who's going to find the way to cure feline leukemia or
childhood cancer," said Banks. She argues that every researcher, not
just those on campus, should get a broader legal shield from the
At UC Davis, researchers into cancer, asthma and basic biological
processes such as inflammation rely on thousands of animals. Experiments
can range from genetically altering mice to injecting toxins in an
infant monkey's brain to giving cats a potentially lethal diet.
Sometimes animals are kept into old age, and sometimes they're killed
shortly after birth or after breeding. The work can lead almost anywhere
– to cures, to dead ends or to greater understanding of healthy bodies
and of disease.
UC attorney Patti said the university system believes people should
know about animal research – but it wants to deliver the message its
way, creating summaries of its work but keeping actual records secret.
Some of the document withholding is only temporary, because UC is in
the middle of creating its new disclosure policy, Patti said.
In the meantime, UCLA and UC Davis both have refused to give animal
rights groups public records, saying in one denial letter that when
"anti-animal research activists" get such information, it leads to
"violent and criminal acts." An anti-tobacco group and two newspapers
did get partial records from UCLA.
Tom Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers
Association, said UC's position is a flagrant violation of California's
public record laws.
"They don't get to withhold documents while they create a new policy.
I mean, come on," Newton said. In addition, he said, UC is not entitled
to do secret research with taxpayer dollars, or to exempt itself from
Michael Budkie, founder of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, is steamed
because he has been asking UC Davis for primate research records since
fall, and because he specifically told UCLA that he'd be happy to take
records with researcher names and site locations blacked out.
"They don't want to be in the news," Budkie said. "They are engaged
in a very serious effort to essentially paint all animal rights
activists as terrorists."
Animal welfare and civil liberty groups nationwide have argued since
at least 2005 that court cases and new laws are shifting the line
between legitimate political pressure and terror. They fear UC may be
spearheading a similar shift in California.
As evidence, they point to how broad AB 2296 was when the university
first brought the draft text to Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San
Francisco, who is carrying the bill.
The bill drew a protective ring around farms, slaughterhouses,
rodeos, pet breeders, researchers and anyone else who uses animals or
It would have given employers greater rights to sue if they believed
employees were being harassed outside the workplace; stiffened criminal
penalties for interfering with anyone using animals for profit or
research; and carved out exemptions to public records laws and laws that
protect people against "SLAPP" suits – lawsuits aimed at shutting down
Associations representing biotech firms, pharmaceutical companies and
hunters, as well as a circus promoter, lined up in support.
The bill didn't reach its first committee hearing before being
drastically pared down.
The current version applies only to academic researchers who use
animals and animal products. It gives them the power to insist that a
Web site take down their home address and phone number as long as they
support that demand with a sworn affidavit saying they are afraid of
Yet lobbying continues on all sides, with biotech companies pushing
for inclusion and conversations ongoing about which public records can
be kept private.
"The Legislature just decided to pare back and to start with a
smaller bill," said UC attorney Patti. "We regard it as a modest but
important first step, and we're hopeful that it will just be a first