Yale’s Burned Baboons, Harvard’s Dead Goat Make Ivy League Lab Abuse List

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Yale’s Burned Baboons, Harvard’s Dead Goat Make Ivy League Lab Abuse List

By Patrick Cole, Bloomberg.com, Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cows at the University of Pennsylvania had to stand in their own feces while eating in a barn.

At Harvard University, a primate died in its cage after going through a mechanical washer, and a goat succumbed to an overdose of anesthesia.

Baboons at Yale suffered burns and blisters after an experiment.

Because Ivy League schools get substantial funding from the National Institutes of Health for research, Dr. John Pippin focused on them when he started looking into the abuse of laboratory animals.

“The University of Pennsylvania with its number of violations has demonstrated an utter disregard for the Animal Welfare Act,” said Pippin, the director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and a trained cardiologist.

His committee found that Dartmouth College, Cornell, Brown and Columbia also on some occasions hadn’t complied with the animal-rights law. Pippin ranked the eight prestigious institutions of the Ivy League based on violations.

Pennsylvania had the worst record, followed by Princeton and Yale (a tie), Harvard, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth and Columbia.

The abuses sparked concern and outrage by animal-welfare advocates. Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, a Milford, Ohio-based nonprofit, started a television ad campaign last month in the Princeton area. The 30-second spot shows photos of caged and severely restrained primates in lab settings. At the end, it lists the office number of Princeton President Shirley Tilghman and encourages the public to complain.

‘Minimal Standards’

“Princeton should stop using primates because they can’t even follow the minimal standards that are part of the Animal Welfare Act,” said Michael Budkie, who founded SAEN in 1996, by phone.

Under the 45-year-old Animal Welfare Act, the Department of Agriculture monitors research labs at about 1,100 universities in the U.S. to ensure that they are providing ethical and humane care of warm-blooded animals.

Dave Sacks, a spokesman for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the unit makes unannounced visits to university research labs about once a year. The institutions are then notified if they aren’t complying with the law.

“It’s a snapshot of how the schools are treating their animals on a given day and how they’re following federal regulations,” Sacks said by phone. “We don’t rank universities, but we take every noncompliance citation seriously.”

No Answers

The rankings by Dr. Pippin’s committee are based on such inspections. The University of Pennsylvania, which has thousands of animals at its medical-school and research facilities, had 11 “severe violations” and 17 repeat offenses between 2008 and 2011, Pippin said.

“We sent copies of our reports to the universities, and only three out of the eight Ivy League schools answered,” Pippin said.

Since his committee published the report on its website this autumn, some of the universities responded to inquiries from Bloomberg News with statements saying that they recognize the Animal Welfare Act’s standards and have tried to correct noncompliance issues.

Harvard Medical School said in an e-mailed statement that it’s committed to the “ethical treatment of animals used in research” and recognizes that it’s “incumbent upon us to continuously strive to improve our program.”

The University of Pennsylvania said it takes all reports of “deficiencies very seriously and with each reported incident,” it modifies its programs “to do whatever is necessary to eliminate these deficiencies.”

Not Enough Water

At Princeton, lab primates weren’t getting enough water this year and in 2010, according to USDA inspections records. The university received another warning in June about its failure to comply with federal rules, which include “daily observation of animals” to assess their well-being.

Princeton spokesman Martin Mbugua said in a statement that a “miscommunication” caused the primates to go without water for more than 24 hours.

“Measures to avoid such miscommunication were promptly put in place and were in effect by the following weekend,” Mbugua wrote in the e-mail.

Pippin said instead of using animals, universities should conduct human-based research with people who have the diseases being studied.

“That’s the only way to end this animal abuse,” he said. “The system isn’t working.”

Doug Levy, a spokesman for Columbia University’s Medical Center, said use of animals is a “necessity if we are going to continue to do research” and produce cures.

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