John Hopkins Reaches $25K Settlement with USDA

Stop Animal Exploitation Now issued a press release in August claiming that, back in February, John Hopkins University reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to settle a number of complaints over alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Most of the alleged violations occurred between 1998 and 2003.

In the settlement agreement, a copy of which was also obtained by the Chronicle of Higher Education, John Hopkins did not admit any wrongdoing.

According to the Chronicle, John Hopkins was by far the top recipient of research grants from the National Institutes of Health, receiving $599 million in 2004 for 1,300 projects.

The various complaints filed by USDA inspectors included failure to provide anesthesia or veterinary care, to inappropriate housing for 37 primates at the university’s Krieger Mind/Brain Institute.

In the SAEN press release, Michael Budkie said,

In April of 2004 we labeled Johns Hopkins one of the worst labs in the nation for violating the Animal Welfare Act at least 31 times in three years. Apparently the USDA agrees with our investigation, which uncovered a wide array of illegal activity at Johns Hopkins.

Presumably if the USDA really felt that way, it wouldn’t have settled for a relatively small $25,000 settlement fine.

For its part, John Hopkins University spokeswoman Joanna Downer told The Chronicle,

[John Hopkins University] has been making great improvements in the processes in place to oversee animal research and to maintain and improve the quality of our research and care program. If our animals aren’t doing well, it doesn’t contribute to excellent research.

Source:

John Hopkins U. Agrees to $25,000 Settlement Over Animal-Care Allegations. Jeffrey Brainard, The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 10, 2005.

Johns Hopkins University labs slapped with hefty $25,000 USDA fine after watchdog group files complaint. Press Release, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, August 9, 2005.

Activists In Monkey Suits Turn in Anti-Primate Research Petition

On August 2, several animal rights activists dressed in monkey suits showed up at Number 10 Downing Street along with Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker to turn in the 163,000 signatures they had gathered on a petition asking for a ban on primate research in the UK.

The Next of Kin campaign, organized by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, argues that medical research with primates is cruel and should be abolished.

Most British newspapers wrote bland summaries of the event, typically with a short quote from Simon Festing of the Research Defense Society saying,

BUAV are right to highlight the similarity of primates to humans – that is why they are so useful. But they are only a fraction of the number of animals used in research, around 0.1%, and they have been essential in a number of areas, including hepatitis vaccine, fertility studies, the modern contraceptive and research into Parkinson’s disease.

The Manchester Evening News, however, ran a story which was read like BUAV itself had drafted the story. That included this odd claim,

Less than 20% of medical primate use is for medical research, with 70% for the profit of pharmaceutical companies.

. . .

Research suggests toxicology procedures, to benefit pharmaceutical companies — the majority of primate use (70%) — can lead to loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, lethargy, unsteady gait or loss of balance and even death.

Just accepting the figures for now, toxicology research isn’t medical research? Does Manchester Online believe that pharmaceutical companies should start selling drugs without first having performed toxicological assays?

Sources:

Total ban on primate testing plea. Manchester Evening News, August 2, 2005.

Petition calls for end to testing on primates. Matthew Tempest, The Guardian, August 2, 2005.

SAEN Not So Sane

The Davis Enterprise ran an interesting article about a protest organized by Stop Animal Exploitation Now directed at the California National Primate Research Center at the University of California at Davis.

According to The Davis Enterprise,

Protesters chanted and held signs reading, “Stop your animal torture,” “Animal research is scientific fraud” and “Better ways exist” in front of the primate center west of the main campus, at Hutchison Drive and County Road 98.

“Animals at this laboratory are sick and suffering needlessly,” said Michael Budkie, executive director of SAEN.

But just how accurate are SAEN’s claims about what goes on at the research center? According to the Enterprise (emphasis added),

Aside from ongoing arguments over whether animal research is necessary, SAEN alleges staff negligence leading to stress, suffering and death of test animals at UCD’s center. The group examined necropsy reports for 583 animals that died from May 2002 through April 2003, obtained through freedom of information requests.

Budkie said many of these reports simply list the deceased animal as “found dead in cage” with no clinical history, “which tells me they didn’t even know the animal was sick.”

Capitanio said allegations of staff negligence are “categorically false,” noting that the center has six full-time on-site veterinarians, two veterinary residents, one clinical fellow, 13 animal health technicians, four enrichment coordinators and 85 animal care workers focused on the health and well-being of the animals.

Capitanio said necropsy reports only include a pathologist’s observations during an exam of the deceased animal and SAEN has “drawn a series of inferences based … on a lack of information.”

In one example of alleged neglect, SAEN cited a January 2003 necropsy report of a primate that lost 40 percent of her body weight in 22 days. However, Capitanio said this animal’s quick weight loss can be attributed to giving birth. He said the animal then developed intestinal problems that were unresponsive to treatment, so she was euthanized to end her suffering.

Or consider another complaint that Budkie brought up — apparent discrepancies in the number of primate deaths and total animals reported by the primate center to different agencies. This is a common canard that Budkie recycles regularly,

Capitanio said discrepancies in the number of deaths, as cited by SAEN, is simply a difference between calendar year and fiscal year totals.

“It’s basically a timing window issue,” Capitanio said. “They (animal rights groups) use whatever means they can to try to discredit researchers and in some cases, harass researchers.”

A difference in the number of animals reported to various agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health, he explained, is due to those agencies’ requirements. Only the number of animals involved in studies funded by a particular agency are supposed to be reported to that agency, he said.

Its not his fault — that fiscal/calendar year difference is probably too difficult for Budkie to grasp.

Source:

Protesters picket primate provisions. Sharon Stello, Davis Enterprise, July 18, 2005.

India Considers Streamlining Animal Research Guidelines

The Express Pharma Pulse reported in March that the Indian government is considering eliminating a number of obstacles in that country’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act which have seriously hampered animal research in that country.

The Ministry of Environment is currently examining recommendations made by an expert group to streamline and alter the existing procedures. According to Express Pharma Pulse,

According to the proposed amendments, such experiments using animals that will bring significant gains in the wellbeing of the people of the country will be allowed. This will be incorporated in the Section 14 of the PCA Act. While under the current Act animal experiments are allowed only for medical molecules study, the proposed amendment will allow genetic modification experiments, nutraceuticals study, experiments for genetically improved food, etc., said sources.

Not only that, penalty for major and minor offenses will be separated, the Act will be amended to enhance the fine to Rs 3000. For minor offenses corrective measures will be taken and licenses will not be canceled arbitrarily.

. . .

The Rules also will be changed to relax the norms related to import of animals and DGFT will be authorized to clear imports. If animals required is not available from a registered breeder or alternate legal sources within the country, genetically defined animals could be imported with permission from DGFT, except that non-availability will not apply for genetically defined rats and mice. Further, the Rules are proposed to be amended to recognize contract research under the law and such projects need to take due approval from CPCSEA sub committee for animal experimentation.

This would represent a major change for a country where animal rights influence has pretty much strangled biomedical research in the past few years.

Source:

Government to amend PCA Act to facilitate animal experiments. Jayashree Padmini, Express Pharma Pulse (India), March 31, 2005.

Activists Angered by Researchers Plans to Test Stun Gun Safety on Pigs

With the ongoing controversy in the United States over the safety of stun guns manufactured by Taser International, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison plans to use an animal model with pigs to test whether or not illegal drugs may be playing a role in the high profile deaths of individuals who have been tasered.

According to the Associated Press, since 70 people have died in North American since 2001 after being shot by Tasers (though that’s a pretty useless statistic, since it does not give any indication of how frequently Tasers are used by police).

Taser International maintains its devices are safe for use on human beings. The media, including the Associated Press, make much of the fact that the Tasers pump out about 50,000 volts of electricity, but typically fail to note that this electricity is delivered with only 0.04 amps.

Fifty thousand volts is certainly going to be extremely painful, but its difficult to see how a mere 0.04 amps could cause the death of an otherwise healthy person. Generally, fatal electrocution is believed to require 0.1 to 0.2 amps in otherwise healthy people.

So one of the possibilities is that those being shocked and killed by Tasers share some other factor that it is increasing their vulnerability to low-amp shocks.

Enter University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher John Webster. Webster has received a two year $500,000 grant from the Justice Department to study whether or not cocaine might make people’s hearts susceptible go going into fibrillation even from the sort of low-amp shock present in a device like the Taser.

Webster plans to conduct experiments shocking 150-pound pigs with a device to simulate the effect of a Taser in a human being. Webster will use three groups of pigs, one that will be administered cocaine but not receive the shock; another that will not be administered cocaine but will receive the shock; and a third that will be administered both cocaine and the electrical shock.

Webster told the Associated Press,

If the hypothesis is correct that Tasers do not electrocute the heart, then why are people dying in custody after they have been shot by Tasers? The people on our team have hypotheses why that’s true and we intend to answer that question. Our goals is to save lives.

Of course activists, especially People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, were out in force urging calls and letters to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to stop the experiments.

But in doing so, PETA once again revealed its scientific illiteracy. As Webster mentions above, his group’s working hypothesis is that Tasers alone are not capable of causing the human heart to stop. Webster states that hypothesis in his grant documents, which leads PETA to conclude,

But rather than designing a study that would utilize information available from humans who have been stunned with Tasers, they elected to revert to cruel and antiquated tests on animals. John Webster was the perfect person to satisfy their safety claims, as he is already convinced that Tasers do not cause fatal cardiac arrest.

In another press release, PETA quotes from Taser critic James Angelo Ruggieri, who claims that,

The information conveyed in many other of Dr. Webster’s slides is also problematic. For instance, in one slide, Dr. Webster asks the question:

“Is 50,000 volts from the Taser the problem?”

Dr. Webster then answers his own question:

“No … the current, time duration and charge are too small to cause electrocution of the heart.”

This unsupported conclusion serves to undermine his hypothesis and appears to be an attempt to predetermine the outcome of future experiments Dr. Webster proposes to undertake–demonstrating an unprofessional research bias and violating the basic precepts of equipoise.

Wow, give that man a Nobel Prize. Ruggieri and PETA have single-handedly reduced the work that scientists will have to carry out by denying that stating or testing a hypothesis is a necessary part of scientific research. Instead, scientists from now on will simply make bald assertions without any sort of evidence or investigation — a lot like PETA and Ruggieri already do.

Perhaps someday Ruggieri will bother to learn why real scientists like Webster perform experiments with control groups and varying levels of blindedness.

University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Eric Sandgren, who heads the university’s animal use committee, told the Associated Press,

I think this is an outstanding example of one of those questions that can only be answered using animals. Boy, there’s been a lot of deaths frmo this. If the altenrative is to go back to using bullets, let’s find out how to make this safe.

Sources:

Professor to test stun gun theories on pigs. Ryan Foley, Associated Press, March 28, 2005.

UW-Madison and John Webster—a Lethal Combination. Press Release, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Undated.

He Wants to Do What? Press Release, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Undated.

Jarrod Bailey Is No Animal Rights Activist?

I had to laugh out loud after reading the first couple paragraphs of a fluff piece on Dr. Jarrod Bailey that reporter Paul James wrote for The Newcastle Journal. Here’s James’ take on Bailey,

A Newcastle scientist is spearheading a campaign to end medical research on animals.

But Dr. Jarrod Bailey is no animal rights activists and his argument is founded entirely on the belief that it simply does not work.

As scientific director of Europeans for Medical Progress, Dr. Bailey, 34, said “archaic” animal methods have either harmed humans or set research back by decades.

Of course, Bailey is an animal rights activist.

Bailey is a regular consultant with U.S. animal rights group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and Europeans for Medical Progress is simply a British clone of PCRM.

According to PCRM, Bailey is the project development coordinator in the School of Population and Health Sciences at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne in England.

The Europeans for Medical Progress web site demonstrates that PCRM’s British counterparts are well-school in PCRM-style deception. For example, as proponents of animal research regularly note, most Nobel Prizes award in biological sciences were the result of animal research. EMP just dismisses this argument,

Yes, most did. But it doesn’t follow that the discoveries would not have occurred without animals. It only means that the market for lab animals was thriving and accessible.

From the second half of the 19th century onward, experimenting on animals became part of all medical curricula. Therefore researchers were obliged to perform animal experiments to earn their degrees.

In the instances wherein animals were used for the Nobel Prize-winning results, they were not necessary. Though animal tissue research was the convention, human tissue was available and more viable – as many Nobel Prize winners have since remarked.

I would love Bailey or EMP to explain how, for example, Walter Hess could have demonstrated how the brain functionally organizes the workings of the internal organs, for which he shared a Nobel Prize in 1949, by restricting himself to just tissue samples (Hess used cats).

Source:

Scientist: Animal tests don’t work. Paul James, The Journal (Newcastle), February 24, 2005.