University of Minnesota sued for animal testing secrecy
The U of M's animal research oversight committee has allegedly refused to release its records.
Yesterday, the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund and Minneapolis resident Isaac Peter filed a lawsuit against the University of Minnesota for violating the state's open meeting and open records laws.
At issue are the records of the University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which is charged with making sure animals used in research don't undergo unnecessary distress. Records of Animal Care Committee meetings are supposed to be public information, but according to the Defense Fund's lawsuit, the university has repeatedly refused to release records of Animal Care meetings.
Here's some more information about the lawsuit from a Defense Fund press release:
The federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requires that all research facilities have an [Animal Care Committee, or IACUC]. These IACUC's review all projects involving animals in research to ensure compliance with the AWA. The University's IACUC is a public body, whose meetings are required to be open to the public. Yet, in violation of Minnesota state law, the University of Minnesota's IACUC continues to refuse public access. Likewise, the University has a duty to provide records to the public upon request. However, the University has delayed providing documents to ALDF for months, even after receiving payment for those records.
The lawsuit seeking greater transparency at the publically-funded research university comes on the heels of a recent high-profile investigation of animal abuse in research conducted on cats at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The University of Minnesota tests on thousands of animals in their lab, including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, pigs, sheep, and nonhuman primates. According to its own annual report, many of these animals, including nonhuman primates, are tested on without "the use of appropriate anesthetic, analgesic, or tranquilizing drugs." Testing on animals not protected by the AWA--which specifically excludes purpose-bred birds, rats, and mice--does not have to be reported at all.
ALDF's lawsuit is also filed on behalf of Isaac Peter, a resident of Minneapolis, Minnesota. From 2006-2009, Isaac led the Minnesota Primate Freedom Project, which focused on raising public awareness about laboratory experiments performed on primates. In 2007, Isaac requested access to the University's IACUC pursuant to Minnesota's Open Meetings Law and was denied. In addition, Isaac's request for public records has been denied.
"The public has the legal right to know what the University of Minnesota is doing to animals in the name of research," says Stephen Wells, executive director of ALDF. "This willful violation of state law and animal welfare law must end."
This is the second time this year the U of M's animal research has generated bad publicity. In April, a U of M study investigating how dieting affects the sex drive of hamsters was singled out by In Defense of Animals as one of the most ridiculous animal experiments of 2011. After we reported about that, Christy Willoughby, a graduate student pursuing a PhD in neuroscience at the U of M, wrote us and argued that "Without animal models, we would not have most of the medicines that exist today."
Willoughby also defended the U of M's record of treating research animals humanely, pointing out that the university has an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
Unfortunately, if the Defense Lund's allegations can be believed, thanks to the U of M's unlawful secrecy, animal rights advocates haven't been able to figure out whether the U's Animal Care Committee has been fulfilling its mission or not.
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