University Lab Cited for Violations


Princeton University cited for violations of USDA rules for lab animals

What would Peter Singer do?

As author of the landmark book, Animal Liberation, Singer described the industry supporting the continued use, and horrible abuse, of uncounted millions of laboratory animals around the world. As Princeton Professor of Bioethics in the Center for the Study of Human Values, what is Peter Singer thinking now, and what will Peter Singer do about his own institution's practices?

Following a routine USDA inspection of its facilities in late June, Princeton University was cited for 11 "procedural" violations of federal guidelines for treatment of animals in laboratories, as detailed in the Animal Welfare Act of 1966.

All violations noted occurred with primates who are used in research at the university. These reportedly consist of 15 macaques and 10 marmosets. The other animals used in research are guinea pigs, rats, mice and salamanders.

The violations had to do with withholding water to use as a reward for the animals' participation in experiments, administering post-surgical painkiller medications only "as needed" instead of routinely, and performing more surgeries than had been spelled out in research proposals.

Emily Aronson, a spokesperson for the university, pointed out the institution's high scores with the USDA for cleanliness of Princeton's labs and good health of the animals. She mentioned oversight and documentation procedures "we were already aware of and in the process of correcting."

"Oversight" alludes at least in part to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), a group legally required to exist where such research occurs. At Princeton, this committee includes a veterinarian, a practicing scientist experienced in animal research and a member from the Princeton-area community.

As one report had it, Aronson also indicated that the university is in the process of "strengthening" this committee.

Referring to "significant discoveries that benefit humankind" as the result of its "highly regulated research activities" using non human primates and other animals, Aronson said the general public will gain from the university's animal research.

An anonymous Princeton "researcher" was quoted in Friday's Daily Princetonian — which also reported that 13, not 11, violations were cited in the USDA report. According to this person, most modern surgical techniques and medicines are first tested on animals, which reduces the need for and risk to human subjects.

The USDA report initially came to the attention of the media through an organization called "Stop Animal Exploitation Now," or SAEN. Its executive director, Michael Budkie, reportedly said "You can't have it both ways." He pointed out that on one hand, researchers claim the animals are similar enough to us that the research would have some sort of validity, but on the other, they say that doing these [violations] to them would not cause them any unrelieved pain and distress.

A number of unanswered questions remain and may follow in subsequent coverage. For instance, what's the difference between "research" (the word most often used in the Princeton context) and "experimentation"?

And, how does Princeton's IACUC operate — what does it check? how often? to whom does it report? is it advisory only? who is the community representative? what is the university's "action plan" to strengthen its IACUC and how soon will it be implemented?

Finally, are Princeton's researchers and administrators sufficiently aware of the growing movement against use of animals in research or experimentation? or of the options for research without animal involvement?

By Pat Summers


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© Keith Mann