ALDF: U of M animal research suit about "right to know what's being done with taxpayer money"

Carter Dillard (bottom right) on the U of M: "What are they hiding?"
Carter Dillard (bottom right) on the U of M: "What are they hiding?"
Image by Tatiana Craine

Last Friday, City Pages connected with Carter Dillard, director of litigation at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in hopes of learning more about why his organization has filed a lawsuit against the University of Minnesota's demanding more information about the school's animal research practices.

-- University of Minnesota responds to animal testing secrecy lawsuit: It "lacks merit"

-- University of Minnesota graduate student defends controversial hamster sex drive study

"Nothing we're talking about here involves stopping particular experiments or the ALDF telling researchers what to do," Dillard said. "This is simply about the right to know what's being done with taxpayer money."

Early this month, the ALDF sued the U for allegedly restricting access to public meetings of the university's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, a body charged with making sure animals used in research don't undergo unnecessary distress. The lawsuit also accuses the U of refusing to release public records pertaining to the school's animal research.

But in a statement provided to City Pages on November 15, U of M General Counsel Mark Rotenberg argues that the meetings in question are not in fact public, and that university staff is still in the process of compiling and reviewing the documents requested by the ALDF.

Dillard thinks ALDF's argument will carry the day in court.

"I think considering the lack of prior case law, these types of meetings will be considered public," Dillard said. The point of the Animal Care Committee meetings "is to discuss the need for experiments on animals, the ways to eliminate unnecessary pain and suffering, and really, those are issues of public concern," he added

But Dillard's broader worry is about why the U is unwilling to open up meetings and turn over records in the first place.

"I think the real question is why the U -- let's forget the justification the U is using -- why do they want to close those meetings? What are they hiding?" Dillard said.

Asked what sorts of things he suspects the U might be concerned to keep under wraps, Dillard said, "I don't think they want the public to see the extent to which they are considering all alternatives and taking into account animal interests in the decision-making process."

"They don't think the public would agree with some of the analysis and decision making -- that's my speculation," he continued, adding that he believes some of the animal research happening on campus "has little utility for humans."

To take an example, in April, the U of M made In Defense of Animals' Real Ridiculous Research list for a study investigating the sex drive of hamsters. That study "found that putting hamsters on a diet had no significant impact on their abilities to perform or enjoy sexual intercourse, although they appeared less motivated to initiate it" -- a conclusion that prompted In Defense of Animals to quip, "big surprise."

Asked for specific examples of U of M animal studies he personally finds objectionable, Dillard demurred.

"I don't have examples where the U has conducted particular experiments that we would've said were objectionable," Dillard said. "Part of our lawsuit involves records that the U refuses to disclose, records they haven't turned over... We need to have more information."

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