Campus News

UW-Madison rebukes PETA claims of animal mistreatment

UW-Madison responded to a complaint filed by PETA in addressing spurious claims of mistreatment at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. 

UW-Madison responded to a complaint filed by PETA in addressing spurious claims of mistreatment at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. 

Image By: Courtesy of UW-Madison/ Bryce Richter

Following an earlier complaint against one of its animal facilities, the University of Wisconsin-Madison released a statement claiming the accusations misrepresented a UW lab in its treatment of primates. 

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) — an international activist group focused on ending all animal research — filed the complaint against UW-Madison, alleging the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center violated federal guidelines against animals. 

PETA alleges six animal welfare violations at the research center after one of the group’s investigators went undercover at the lab from March through Sept. 1.

This is not the first series of complaints UW-Madison has seen. In April, the USDA fined UW-Madison $74,000 for 28 violations of federal research treatment standards from March 2015 to April 2019. In August, the activist group Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN) filed a complaint with the USDA claiming four additional incidents qualified as federal violation, according to the State Journal. 

PETA submitted the complaint on Sept. 2 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Health. Nadine Connor, UW-Madison’s associate vice chancellor for research policy and compliance, received the complaint on Sept. 15.

According to the complaint, UW-Madison research monkeys suffered from diarrhea, traumatic injuries — sometimes requiring amputated fingers or toes — and psychological stress, which could be seen due to the separation of infants from their mothers and the monkeys pulling their own hair out, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

The university responded by mentioning that events listed in PETA’s letter had been taken out of context from notes and reframed to fit PETA’s agenda. The episodes were picked from years of notes, featuring only approximately 100 of the 1,600 animals present in the facility.

In the statement, the university also said its extensive record-keeping “speaks to the diligent care provided by specialized staff and veterinarians in UW-Madison’s animal facilities,” including daily observation of the monkey’s health, as well as diagnosis, treatment and recovery of any ailments.

Alongside the filed complaints, PETA also posted a video entitled “Workers Electroshock Monkey Penises in Depraved Lab” composed of lab footage, undercover clips of conversation and a voiceover outlining the alleged violations.

The university responded to the video and said it had been “edited to present a misrepresentative view,” pointed out the clip aired less than four minutes and did not provide full context.

The statement further asserts that the undercover PETA employee who took lab footage may have “induced anxious behavior in the animals” by being too close to the cages in order to conceal that they were recording.

“It is easy to play on the animals’ natural defensive reactions to intruders and elicit nervous or fearful behavior in order to deliver a video PETA can use to their ends,” the statement said.

A significant tool in the medical community, animal studies have aided scientists in their efforts in cancer research, developing vaccines and treatments for HIV and hepatitis and most recently, advancing a vaccine for COVID-19.

“[UW-Madison researchers] are bound by the responsibility to balance the potential benefits of their research to people, animals and the environment against the potential risks to the animals involved,” the university’s statement concludes. “It would be unethical to ignore the many ways animal research can help.”

UW-Madison undergoes regular, impromptu inspections of their animals, facilities and records. The university agreed to fully participate in any investigation resulting from PETA’s claims.

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