- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

Picture this: a researcher using scissors to cut the heads off conscious, unanaesthetized animals before removing their brains. The researcher then admits that this violates his research protocol, but ignores it for convenience. Another experimenter at the same facility has been injecting tumor cells in animals without authorization, then allows the tumors to grow so big they exceed size limits permitted by the facility.

No, these aren't mad scientists in a late-night horror movie; it is actual video documentation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill research department taken earlier this past year.

In California, at the world's largest independent biotechnology company, Amgen, inadequately anesthetized animals were sliced open and had their organs cut out by a research assistant despite protests from veterinarians and a technician. The research assistant performing this barbaric act had twice been cited for causing pain and distress to animals. At the University of Connecticut laboratory animals were housed in a room without proper air circulation, and suffocated. At experimental laboratories across the country, animals that had not been killed have been disposed of in trash cans or stored in freezers while still alive. At the University of Hawaii, an animal in the freezer who was discovered had attempted to chew his way out.

I am not opposed to research. I am appalled that these atrocities occurred in U.S. laboratories, which happened in part because the overwhelming majority of animals used in research have been denied legal protection. There is a federal law, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which sets minimum standards for the care and treatment of laboratory animals. Unfortunately, earlier this year, outgoing Sen. Jesse Helms, at the behest of the National Association for Biomedical Research, sponsored an amendment to the highly contentious farm bill to exclude 95 percent of the animals used for experimentation from this law first passed in 1966 and amended to include all warm-blooded animals in 1970 that's 25 million animals a year. As a courtesy to a departing Mr. Helms, Congress did not prevent his detrimental proposal, and it became law.

The animals used in the experiments described above being denied the modest protection of the AWA are birds, mice and rats. One doesn't have to be their fan to feel they shouldn't suffer unnecessarily simply because they are birds, mice and rats. I don't believe that's asking too much of our esteemed scientists. But the association has a different agenda. It represents the "business" of animal research: selling the maximum numbers of animals for experimentation, conducting experimentation with as little oversight as possible, and duping the public into believing that all laboratories provide the best in animal care. The association, which has opposed every piece of legislation to protect animals used for experimentation, uses misinformation and hysteria to take advantage of people's inherent trust in scientists and their institutions.

While claiming to represent the scientific community in its support of the Helms Amendment, the association failed to disclose the only scientific survey conducted on the subject. The study, by scientists Harold Herzog of Western Carolina University and Scott Plous of Wesleyan University, showed that 73.3 percent of those involved in animal research supported the inclusion of mice and rats under the AWA and 69 percent supported inclusion of birds. It was also reported by a number of attendees that, by a show of hands, the majority of those attending the association's own conference in May 2001 supported inclusion of these species. Naturally, the association quickly denied any such survey took place.

How do we know what is going on in most laboratories? The Freedom of Information Act allows anyone to request copies of government forms about research facilities, which identify any failure by the facility to meet the requirements of the AWA and information on the numbers of animals used (except for birds, mice and rats). This information can prove embarrassing for those places not ship-shape, like Johns Hopkins University (home to one of the most vocal critics of protecting birds, rats and mice). Johns Hopkins was cited last year for allowing a primate to suffer and die and for failure to obtain approval before using animals in experiments. Not surprisingly, the National Association for Biomedical Research is leaping to the rescue of these scofflaw institutions by attacking the very laws created to prevent such abuse. The association has even attached an amendment to the House Agriculture Appropriations bill denying public access to information in the future. Topping it off, the association has the audacity to take advantage of the public by using the threat of terrorism as the excuse for its agenda.

There is no excuse and no need for such disgraceful procedures. There is, however, time to correct them when Congress comes back in September.

Christopher J. Heyde, a former Republican senatorial staffer and U.S. Army veteran, is currently with the Society for Animal Protective Legislation.

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