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Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
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Media Coverage

Animal Testing

Animal Group Scrutiny Leads to Reminder On Pain, Distress Reporting at U. Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin has reminded its researchers about U.S. Department of Agriculture rules for reporting lab animal pain and distress after an animal welfare group complained to USDA that the school was underreporting such information for its primate research center.

In an Oct. 24 letter to USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service--the part of USDA charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act in the nation's research laboratories--Michael A. Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, accused the school of massively underreporting pain and distress in its primate lab, one of eight National Institutes of Health-funded primate labs in the country.

Each year schools are required to report to APHIS the number of animals they house--excluding rats, birds, and mice--and how they are being used. If animals are experimented on without anesthesia or pain killers, the school is required to list them in "category E" on the annual report and explain why that approach was used.

Mining grant applications, necropsy reports, and other publicly available materials, Budkie said he found incidents in which primates were bolted into chairs for 100 hours or more, began self-mutilating and showing other signs of profound distress after being held in isolation for days, and died of encephalitis and traumatic injuries related to experiments.

Not one of the 109 primates involved was reported in category E, Budkie wrote to USDA. By not reporting the animals as having experienced unrelieved pain and distress, "I believe the University of Wisconsin, Madison has violated the animal welfare act," he said.

Dr. Tim Mulcahy, University of Wisconsin associate vice chancellor for research policy, disagreed. What to report in category E is, he told BNA, "a difference of opinion between the research community and animal rights groups."

However, the complaint caught the university administration's attention--especially after it was covered in the school's newspaper, The Cardinal. Mulcahy and his colleagues launched a universitywide campaign to tell investigators "that animals in pain or distress--regardless of the reason--that is not alleviated right away have to be put into category E," he said.

There was no change in policy. The school simply reiterated USDA requirements, Mulcahy noted.

Definition Dispute.

There remains considerable disagreement among researchers over what pain and distress mean. Regulations "do not say that any time an animal is in pain or distress it has to be reported in category E," Mulcahy said.

He estimated that the University of Wisconsin has about 4,500 reportable animals in its labs. From October 2001 to September 2002, 15 animals (dogs) were reported in category E. No animals were reported in category E from October 2002 to September 2003.

Researchers, regulators, and animal welfare groups have been working for years to clearly define pain and distress to take the ambiguity out of the reporting process, Mulcahy said.

But conflicting interests have made agreement difficult. Category E reporting, Budkie explained, is problematic for schools because the annual inspection reports are available to the public.

Experimenters must explain and justify why they did not relieve animals' pain or discomfort, "and in doing so, you usually have to explain what the experiment is," he said. The potential public scrutiny is an incentive to keep animals out of category E.

Behind the underreporting, Budkie said he fears animals are suffering needlessly.

In a response to the Cardinal article, the Humane Society of United States--a leading animal welfare group--noted the University of Wisconsin in the past "opposed USDA's attempts to define distress when comments were solicited on this very topic."

Hopkins and Harvard.

Budkie, who trained as an animal lab technician before becoming an activist, said he suspected underreporting at schools across the nation. His Oct. 24 letter to USDA included similar complaints about misreporting of 605 primates at Harvard University's NIH-supported primate center.

He estimated that there are about 25,000 primates in NIH's eight centers. Despite thousands of invasive experiments performed on them each year, Budkie said he is aware of only a handful of primates being reported by the centers in category E.

"It strains credibility when you see the numbers they are reporting in [category] E versus the number of animals used in experiments," he said.

On Dec. 3, Budkie filed a complaint with APHIS against Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for failing to report in category E primates overdosing on or withdrawing from methamphetamine.

USDA has cited Hopkins animal labs repeatedly for underreporting or undertreating pain and distress in animals whose limbs had been paralyzed, whose heads had been implanted with mechanical devices, and whose stomachs were permanently cannulized to the outside of their bodies. In one experiment, Hopkins was cited for not reporting in category E dogs whose induced congestive heart failure was allowed to progress to the point of "severe edema," far past the point when they should have been euthanized, according to USDA inspection reports obtained by BNA.

Neither Hopkins nor Harvard has responded to Budkie's complaints.

By M. Alexander Otto

Budkie's report on the state of primate research in the United States is available on the Web at http://www.all-creatures.org/saen/fact.html.

Copyright 2003, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington, D.C.

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