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

Media Coverage


UW falls under fire from animal-rights group

by Dylan Lee Lehrke The Daily

A Cincinnati-based animal rights group has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) against 50 research institutions, including the UW. The group, Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), claims that researchers are misleading the U.S. Department of Agriculture by not accurately reporting how much pain and distress animals endure in experiments, and has requested that the laboratories be investigated.

According to federal regulations, whenever a regulated species is used in experiments that are potentially painful or stressful without anesthesia, these procedures must be reported to the USDA. The USDA does not regulate fish, birds and lab species of mice and rats, although wild mice and rats are regulated. SAEN claims that 94 percent of laboratories, including the UW, are not following this requirement.

"I don’t think that is correct," said Dr. William Morton, director of the Regional Primate Research Center at the University. "We do report very accurately."

However, the founder of SAEN, Michael Budkie, pointed to the research of Dr. Albert Fuchs, Dr. Chris Kaneko and Dr. Michael Shadlen as examples of experiments at the UW he believed were not reported accurately.

The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) at the UW is the group that approves all experiment protocols, including those of the researchers cited by Budkie. To get an experiment approved, the researcher must file a project-review form that explains what research they are doing and why. The committee spends a significant amount of time ensuring USDA paperwork is properly filled out, according to IACUC executive secretary Dr. Nona Phillips.

The USDA defines "painful" as more than momentary pain or discomfort. The USDA’s pain and distress categories are C, for no pain or distress; D, for pain or distress relieved by drugs; and E, for pain or distress without relief. The UW does not conduct any category E experiments according to Morton, but the UW also uses pain and distress categories that predate the USDA categories.

The UW’s category 1 experiments are not painful. By this definition, vaccinations are not considered painful. However, the UW sedates all animals for vaccinations and blood samples.

Category 2 experiments have the potential for pain. This includes most surgeries and the capture of any wild animals. Most animal experiments at the UW fall into this category, including the research of Shadlen, Fuchs and Kaneko.

Category 3 experiments presume that there is going to be some degree of pain without relief-form anesthesia. The UW approves only one or two new category 3 experiments each year and category 4 experiments, which involve significant pain, are never done at the UW, according to Phillips.

"We work with the faculty to modify a plan so it is not a category 3 anymore," said Phillips. Mel Dennis, chair of comparative medicine and UW attending veterinarian added this was one of the primary reasons for maintaining the IACUC at the UW.

"When reviewing a protocol, the basic thing is that if it is painful in a person, it is presumed to be painful in an animal," said Dennis. But, while pain is measurable, Dennis admits determining when stress becomes distress is more difficult.

Dennis pointed out many students experience stress when they are about to take a test, but very few of them are distressed. The USDA is also having difficulty defining distress, since tolerance is variable, not only between species but also among members of the same species.

Brain-mapping was one area in which the UW was accused of causing pain and stress in animals without relief. Most brain-mapping is done in a non-invasive way using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and poistron emission tomography (PET) imaging, according to Morton. In order for the IACUC to approve invasive mapping with unanethesized primates, researchers provide scientific justification for the procedure.

Shadlen’s project-review form cited the fact that the resolution of MRI and PET imaging is coarse, and it is impossible to observe activity in detail. In addition, the experiments require awake, behaving monkeys to observe the links between physiological activity and behavior.

Brain-mapping requires that primates have recording cylinders and restraining bars attached to their skulls during multiple surgeries. The primates are kept under anesthetics during the procedure and receive analgesics during recovery. The implanted hardware does not cause any discomfort, according to Shadlen’s protocol. After the implants have healed, primates are put in restraint chairs and electrodes are inserted into their brains. Since the chairs are individually adjusted for each monkey and there are no pain receptors in the brain, this experiment is considered painless by project-review forms. The protocols of Fuchs and Kaneko are similar in nature.

"I don’t know how this type of experimentation can be classified as anything but category E," said Budke. "It at least puts the animal in distress."

According to SAEN, 41 of the 50 institutions that had a complaint filed against them use some form of intensive restraint. During one instance at the University of Wisconsin Madison, primates were confined to restraint chairs for 104 consecutive hours.

The UW does not have a policy pertaining to the use of restraints, but according to Morton, the maximum time an animal will spend in restraints is two-three hours. Shadlen’s protocol sets the maximum limit at five hours. The UW uses a standard-type restraining chair with a fixed collar, which maintains the animal in the chair while still allowing movement in the rest of the body.

"The animals are being forced to do things they don’t naturally do," said Budkie. "Otherwise they wouldn’t need restraints." Budkie points out primates are wide-ranging, social animals and the lab environment cannot be anything but very stressful.

SAEN also claims that 20 out of the 50 institutions examined are routinely depriving primates of food or water in ways that violate the Animal Welfare Act. The complaint cited a number of cases of extreme water deprivation that lasted 22 hours at the UC San Francisco and 19 hours a day for five consecutive days at the University of Arizona.

To conduct brain-mapping experiments, primates must be trained to perform certain tasks. Training is termed "operant conditional," involving fluid rewards such as water and juice.

Although Morton first stated animals were not deprived of food or water, he later amended his statement. The protocols of Shadlen, Fuchs and Kaneko all deprive animals of food or water at some point. Shadlen’s research, for example, controls water intake so the monkeys begin an experiment session thirsty.

"Access to food and water may be restricted before testing procedures to help with motivation of the animal while in the testing booth," said Morton, "however, animals receive additional supplements of food and water following the testing procedure if they have not already met their daily requirements."

The IACUC has extensive guidelines to ensure that animals are maintained in a healthy state and most protocols, including those Shadlen, state explicitly that an animal will never go a full day without water. Fuchs and Kaneko use food rewards to train the primates, and restrict their diets while they learn the task.

SAEN said experiments besides brain-mapping were also reported inaccurately, including the purposeful affliction of infectious diseases on otherwise healthy animals.

The mission of the Washington Regional Primate Research Center is "to pursue and support basic and clinical biomedical research utilizing nonhuman primates with emphasis within the areas of AIDS-related research."

Some animals are simply given a vaccine, but others are challenged with a virus such as Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, the primate equivalent of AIDS. One of the major goals is to create disease models and create vaccinations. If a vaccine fails and an animal gets ill, it is treated or euthanized if necessary, according to Morton.

"We do not allow the animals to suffer," said Morton. "We do not need to."

The final complaint made by the SAEN was the issue of inadequate veterinary care during experiments, which it believes should be addressed by the USDA investigation. There are over 25 veterinarians on the UW Medical Center staff whose job is to ensure the animals receive proper care, according to Dennis.

According to Morton, the conflict with SAEN and other animal -ights groups arises in the interpretation of what is painful and when an animal is in distress.

"Nobody would do an experiment that would intentionally cause pain," said Morton.

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