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Monday, January 30, 2023
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(Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

Animal rights group appeals decision dismissing lawsuit against UW’s primate research lab

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an appeal on behalf of a former caretaker alleging the university improperly censored her criticism of its primate research center.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an appeal challenging the dismissal of a lawsuit brought on behalf of a former employee of one of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s primate research centers Dec. 2.

Madeline Krasno, a part-time student caretaker at the Harlow Primate Laboratory from 2011 to 2013, alleged in a lawsuit that UW-Madison removed comments critical of the research center from its public social media accounts. The lawsuit argued that because the university receives public funding, its removal of the comments violated Krasno’s First Amendment rights. 

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in November, ruling that the university had the right to remove comments from the pages because the comments were unrelated to topics discussed in the posts.

Krasno said she will continue to challenge the university’s speech policies. 

“The lawsuit uncovered evidence of blatantly discriminatory censorship practices when it comes to commentary related to animal research, and I believe this needs to be more closely examined,” Krasno said. “The judge's decision is very disappointing, but it will not hinder my efforts to tell these monkeys' stories and share my experiences as a primate lab worker at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.” 

Chris Barncard, science writer and communications manager at UW-Madison, said the university’s animal research is ethical and responsible.

“UW-Madison remains committed to conducting ethical and responsible research with animals,” Barncard said. “It is the only way to answer some vital questions about human and animal biology, and about the origin, progression, treatment and hopefully cures for human and animal diseases that cause so much suffering.”

The university would not comment further on a pending legal matter, Barncard said.

Caitlin Foley, staff attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said Krasno’s comments criticizing the treatment of primates at the research center were hidden from others who visited the university’s social media pages. 

“Her comments were hidden and her account was soon after restricted, meaning any comments she made on the university’s Instagram posts were invisible to any other visitor to the page,” Foley said. “Her comments criticizing animal testing were similarly hidden from the university’s Facebook account, removing them from public view.”

Krasno alleged to have witnessed mistreatment of the primates while working at the research center. 

She said she saw infant primates separated from their mothers, infants clinging to each other in fear in the presence of humans and primates overgrooming themselves from boredom or stress. In one case, Krasno said she cared for a primate who had a hole drilled into its head, causing it to become agitated. 

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“The life these animals lead — we wouldn't wish upon anyone,” Krasno said. “Animal research is inherently cruel and it's time we have some serious conversations about it.”

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