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Wednesday, May 05, 2021
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UW-Madison responded to a complaint filed by PETA in addressing spurious claims of mistreatment at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. 

Chronic animal welfare violations at UW-Madison demonstrate need for animal testing alternatives

Following the most recent complaint of animal welfare violations, the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WNPRC) has established a pattern of violating federal standards. Their growing history of offense throws into question the effectiveness of primate research given its parameters and invites transition to more innovative, morally sound alternatives.

On Sept. 2, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed complaints of guideline violations that took place from March through Sept. 1. According to their complaints, research monkeys suffered from persistent diarrhea, traumatic injuries that sometimes required the amputation of fingers or toes, inadequate cleaning and psychological stress caused by the separation of infants from their mothers, the Wisconsin State Journal (WSJ) reported. 

Prior to these complaints, Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! filed a complaint in August about four incidents involving injuries to five primates that escaped their enclosure or fought with other primates, which violated the Animal Welfare Act, according to WSJ. 

WSJ also reported that The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) fined the University of Wisconsin-Madison $74,000 in July for 28 violations of federal animal research treatment standards occurring between March 2015 to April 2019. 

Additionally, in 2014, the University had to pay more than $35,000 in fines to the USDA for animal research-related violations, according to WSJ. 

While these are just the most recently reported violations, they illustrate a chronic indifference to federal law regulating animal research, despite the University’s claims to “take seriously [their] responsibility to care for animals in research” and to “thoughtfully” examine each of the allegations. 

In their statement responding to the most recent complaints, the University seemed to deflect accountability by focusing more on PETA’s “agenda” than their own repeated downfalls. 

By writing about “an individual who did not disclose they were working on behalf of PETA while employed in a UW-Madison animal facility,” the university seemed to be more sorry for being caught than for their actual violations by placing blame on that individual’s mere presence and failure to disclose their allegiance to PETA.

Even if PETA’s complaints were completely false, the WNPRC’s long history of violations, as illustrated above, speak for themselves. 

This is not to say that primate research hasn’t led to important discoveries that have improved countless lives, including the development of treatments for HIV, hepatitis and cancer, to name a few. Instead, it is to say that the center has demonstrated that they are unable to fulfill their mission to increase understanding of basic primate biology and to improve human and animal quality of life through research while in compliance with the most basic standards of animal treatment and care: the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 is the only federal law that regulates animal research and it sets “the minimum acceptable standard,” according to the USDA.

The numerous complaints of animal mistreatment undermine the center’s claims of being dedicated to “balancing the health and safety of animals in research.” Further, having proved time and time again that they cannot carry out their operations legally, the center has illustrated a larger need to shift towards a different kind of research. 

For instance, they could consider using the in vitro method — which involves tests done outside of a living organism through the use of isolated animal or human cells — provides an opportunity to avoid cruelty altogether. According to a study by Henrik Johansson et al. that used a human cell line in vitro to predict sensitization in response to chemical haptens, using a human cell line in vitro “has the potential to completely replace or drastically reduce the utilization of test systems based on experimental animals.” Additionally, because the cells are based on human biology, the method “is proposed to be more accurate for predicting sensitization in humans, than the traditional animal-based tests.”

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Advanced computer-modeling techniques have also been found to work as an alternative to animal testing. Wyss Institute researchers at Harvard created “human organs-on-chips” by adapting “computer microchip manufacturing methods to engineer microfluidic culture devices” that emulate the “microarchitecture and functions of living human organs, including the lung, intestine, kidney, skin, bone marrow and blood-brain barrier, among others.”

The Wyss Institute cites the innumerable and unnecessary loss of animal life to research that often fails to predict human responses as “traditional animal models often do not accurately mimic human pathophysiology.” 

As a university that prides itself on focusing on the future and being “a haven for people whose creativity changes the shape of reality,” their dependence on “traditional” animal research sends a conflicting message — after all, what is “forward” about the age-old practice of animal testing when there are better known alternatives and when its regulations are repeatedly violated?

Haley is a senior studying Journalism, with a certificate in French. Do you think the WNPRC should pursue alternatives to primate testing? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com. 

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