Federally-Funded Laboratories Getting Away With Murder

By Kate Turlington

If you believe that researchers only experiment on animals when absolutely necessary, and are governed by strict laws, please read this carefully.

As an undercover investigator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, I took a job working with rats and mice at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) from October 2001 to April 2002. With the aid of hidden cameras, I documented UNC's violations of federal laws and guidelines-failures that resulted in tremendous animal suffering. In good faith, PETA filed a formal complaint with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which provided UNC with $397 million in federal money last year. At the end of its investigation, NIH agreed with PETA and found that UNC had committed serious violations, including failure to provide veterinary care to sick and injured animals.

Even though UNC promised that it would redesign its animal care program, provide training and improve oversight, I was skeptical. So PETA conducted a follow-up undercover investigation, which lasted from January to November 2003. Documentation from our second investigation, which was recently released to the public (see www.stopanimaltests.com), proves that UNC continues to treat animals cruelly.

The problem is that NIH took no disciplinary action against UNC. NIH relies on the grossly inadequate practice of permitting UNC and all federally-funded laboratories to police themselves, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence that they are playing fast and loose with our tax dollars and the health and lives of animals and people. NIH doles out a whopping $8.5 billion of our taxes every year to animal experimenters in more than 1,400 laboratories all over the country. It's way past time for the government institution to take responsibility for enforcing laws and regulations at UNC and all federally funded laboratories.

Now NIH must spend time and money on another investigation of UNC because the university is not responsible enough to provide the minimal care required for animals in laboratories.

The violations I documented were serious, including failure to provide sick and injured animals with veterinary care, severe overcrowding leading to animals' deaths by suffocation and cannibalism, failure to provide animals with food and water, and cutting off animals' toes only for identification purposes.

Our second investigator witnessed an experimenter decapitating fully-conscious rats using a guillotine blade so dull that animals' necks had to be chopped more than once before their heads were severed. This was eerily reminiscent of what I witnessed two years before, when the same researcher slowly snipped the heads off conscious mice with dull kitchen scissors.

During our follow-up investigation, one experimenter with a reputation for disregarding rules was found to have killed mice by breaking their necks, an illegal method for killing animals under her protocol. Two years earlier, I reported that this experimenter's staff routinely killed mice by breaking their necks and that in the cooler where dead animals' bodies were placed, I found a mouse with a broken neck who was paralyzed, but still alive.

In a recent news article, UNC vice chancellor for research and economic development Tony Waldrop defended this experimenter in part by saying that she "is very well funded." This is precisely what PETA feared–that UNC fails to enforce federal regulations for fear of angering experimenters and losing the prestige that comes with their funding and publications. (At UNC, some studies were conducted-and animals' lives taken-only so experimenters could submit articles for publication.) Add to that NIH's failure to hold institutions accountable for treating animals inhumanely, and we, as taxpayers, are left to fund unchecked cruelty.

Taxpayers don't have much choice about how their hard-earned dollars are spent, and university laboratories have reaped the benefits of a public that won't challenge research because it has somehow become sacrosanct. If you could walk a mile in the shoes I wore during my investigation, you just might discover that a lot of what the public is afraid to analyze critically is just smoke and mirrors. We have a moral obligation to question the use of our money to make animals sick for results that are not applicable to humans. And since NIH gives our money to institutions like UNC that swear to abide by federal guidelines, it should revoke the funding when those assurances prove to be lies.

Kate Turlington now trains other investigators at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, guiding them on their often isolated journeys through laboratories, puppy mills and circuses.

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