The University of Washington: Failing Animals and Stunting Science

Lab Rat | Urban Hermits

Animal research is an area of controversy that we have given some attention to here on our site. While some important scientific findings have stemmed from this research, it is important that we ask, “at what cost?” New scientific developments as well as ongoing ethical discussions have forced us to reevaluate our need to exploit animals for research. One particularly noteworthy development is the NIH’s recent decision to defund all chimpanzee research. For this reason, I am shocked by the University of Washington’s decision to construct a large underground research laboratory to house their 650-plus primates, along with tens of thousands of other research animals.

The rationale behind the development of UW’s new animal research laboratory is to consolidate where their research animals are kept, improve conditions for humans and nonhumans, as well make it easier for proper oversight. This oversight is primarily provided by IACUC’s, or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees, the Institutional Review Board equivalent for animal research at universities. Through my monitoring of these groups and my experience as a student at Penn State University, I have found that IACUC’s consist of researchers who experiment on animals and are sympathetic to those who do, willing to approve any project as long as the harm to the animal is not egregious. What they will not reject, however, is research that has minimal scientific value but is harmful to the animals. For example, a researcher could easily get a project approved that examines fear responses in mink, holding captive and harassing animals with little benefit to society. Such studies are simply ploys to produce sparsely read academic journal articles.

With animal research in the spotlight, UW’s new lab has received a lot of media attention, both in opposition and support of it. Animal rights activists argue that the underground lab is to keep the facility out of the public eye while animals are tortured and killed. Proponents counter by stating that the facility will improve welfare and will allow for beneficial scientific advancements. They also argue that researchers have been wrongly stereotyped as callous and insensitive to animals because of a few high-profile cases of abuse.

I argue, however, that it is difficult to respect life when it is encapsulated in a sterile, controlling environment. Where rats live in transparent drawers by the thousands, stacked up to the top of walls. Where primates only leave their enclosures for surgeries.

UW decides to live in the past while other universities and institutions look for ways to move beyond animal research.

Other sources: http://www.democracynow.org/2016/1/20/headlines/new_york_animal_rights_activists_target_construction_firm_over_seattle_research_lab

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World Week for Animals in Laboratories

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Look for the “Cruelty Free” logo

Hey all,

Hope everyone had a good Earth Day! As the week comes to a close, however, I would like to mention another important set of dates that is coming to an end: World Week for Animals in Laboratories. This is a week for us to think about and act on the behalf of millions of animals that we often take for granted. Animal Legal Defense Fund says it best, “They are hidden from view, but animals in labs suffer by the millions each year, and we can all do something about it”. Explore their site if you would like to hear a bit more about the significance of this week.

While it is often argued that animal research is necessary for the development of cures for diseases (which there is some truth to), a lot of animal research does not work towards such a cause. For example, in the United States, many animals are subjected to testing for household cleaning products as well as cosmetics. The questionable ethical nature of these tests has led to an European Union ban on such nontherapeutic testing.

Regrettably, the institution who I work for (obviously not as an animal researcher; although I do research “about” animals) has over 13,000 mice present on its main campus, among others such as tamarin monkeys. Some are used for “life saving” therapeutic research. Others are experimented on for testing general knowledge or simply to result in publications of questionable utility (such as a study I recently read about fear and boredom in caged mink at the University of Guelph).

Regardless on what you believe to be the role of animal testing in society and whether it is justified or not, take some time as this week comes to a close to reflect on how the decisions you make as a consumer can have an impact. If you are like me and are trying to reduce your unnecessary impact on animals, there are some easy things you can do such as look for the Cruelty Free certification on hygiene and cleaning products, among others.

If you are interested in learning more about animal research and some of the current ethical musings on it, check out a book I recently read to review for the open source journal Between the Species. The book being Animal Rights without Liberation: Applied Ethics and Human Obligations by Alasdair Cochrane

Sources:

http://aldf.org/blog/world-week-for-animals-in-laboratories/

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/sectors/cosmetics/animal-testing/index_en.htm

http://www.gocrueltyfree.org/shopper

Images: Cruelty Free logo downloaded from http://www.seabuckthorninsider.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Leaping-Bunny-Cruelty-Free.jpg