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Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
S. A. E. N.
"Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation"

Media Coverage

Animal rights group lodges new charges

Asks USDA to investigate more; NU says practices under control

By Mindy Hagen
May 27, 2003

An animal rights watchdog group has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand its investigation into Northwestern's research practices, calling for an inquiry into the projects of seven NU researchers who work with primates in a complaint filed last week.

The Cincinnati-based Stop Animal Exploitation Now charges that the seven researchers -- Mark Segraves, Roger Ratcliff, James Baker, Barry Peterson, Lee Miller, Ronald Kettner and James Houk -- perform experiments on primates that involve extensive surgical procedures, such as screwing restraining bars and recording cylinders into skulls, and and limiting access to water.

Although those practices are not unusual, Michael Budkie, the animal rights group's executive director, said in a letter to the USDA that NU failed to categorize the research as "potentially painful or stressful." Failing to disclose the nature of the experiments would violate the Animal Welfare Act, Budkie said.

"Northwestern is being dishonest about the type of research they are doing," he said. "Using bolting devices and limiting access to water does cause pain and distress to the primate. If we did that to a human, we would assume they were suffering from pain and distress. There is no reason to assume it would affect a primate any differently."

Stop Animal Exploitation Now's complaint comes on the heels of a turbulent year for NU's Office of Research.

The USDA and National Institutes of Health are in the middle of investigating some of the university's research practices, including mistreatment of pigs and monkeys, insufficient training and faulty record-keeping. In February, NU paid $5.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the federal government for allegedly misreporting the amount of time spent on federally funded projects.

One of the professors named in the letter -- who maintained that his projects never have been investigated before -- said he thinks Stop Animal Exploitation Now only chose to examine his primate work because of the recent media attention surrounding NU's research.

"It's a shame, but it's not unexpected given the news story," said physiology Prof. Barry Peterson, who is based in the Feinberg School of Medicine. "The actual problems were minor and only involved paperwork, but now I'm going to have to keep my eye out for the USDA."

The other six researchers, as well as officials in NU's Office of Research, did not return phone calls made last week. Vice President for University Relations Alan Cubbage was out of town and unavailable for comment.

Research administrators have taken steps in recent months to ensure researchers do a better job of complying with the federal standards.

The university set up a committee to oversee research reporting, allocated $1.8 million to the effort and hired an outside consulting group to oversee the changes. In a May 8 interview, David Johnson, associate vice president for research, told The Daily that problems plaguing the university have been corrected.

"I don't think the feds were concerned that we had an operation that had systemwide problems with animal issues," Johnson said. "The scale of it was not such that they shut us down immediately."

"If the USDA came in today, there wouldn't be anything like the issues last year," he said. "Northwestern has been very responsive, and the criticism has been very constructive."

An official with the USDA said his organization isn't required to investigate the new complaint from the animal rights group. But the USDA has dealt with Stop Animal Exploitation Now in the past. In 2001 the group filed the largest official complaint in USDA history, accusing 50 nationally-known laboratories of animal research abuses.

"When we receive complaints from everyone, we examine it and follow it up, but that doesn't mean anything will come of it," said Jim Rogers, a USDA spokesman. "We get a lot of letters from watchdog groups. But anytime we open an investigation, we have to first gather our own evidence."

Budkie said he realizes a USDA investigation might only result in a monetary fine, but he hopes even a small punishment would help bring NU in line.

"The USDA power in this area is very limited," he said. "To fine a laboratory out of existence would be a long and drawn out process. But it is our opinion that NU has violated the law by not reporting their experiments correctly. I would like to see these (primate) research protocols at least temporarily suspended, if not formally terminated."


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