PETA: University of Delaware continues to abuse rats
The University of Delaware continues to draw criticism from PETA for its treatment of laboratory rats.
The advocacy group recently acquired correspondence between the university and the federal Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare that shows three incidents between March 2016 and September 2017 that resulted in the harm and death of rats being used in experiments.
The criticism involves research conducted by several professors and researchers at the university.
“All three events mentioned by PETA in a recent press release were reviewed and reported by the University of Delaware to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW). In all instances, OLAW deemed the university’s actions appropriate with no further action required,” UD spokesman Peter Bothum said in a prepared written statement.
Though the university selfreported the incidents, the situation is concerning, said Alka Chandna, vice president of Laboratory Investigations Cases for PETA.
The letters show that in March 2016, an experiment using 23 cages of rats to study therapeutic motor training and fetal alcohol effects, an unnamed researcher violated experiment protocol by food-restricting the rats for nine days. In experiments, researchers are required to have their protocol approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee; food restriction was not originally part of the experiment parameters.
According to the documents, the researcher immediately submitted an amendment to the protocol, which was approved by IACUC.
In another incident in October 2016, a rat drowned during Dr. Anna Klintsova’s experiment studying a process that can be used to treat excessive fear in rats. The documents state that the individual administering a forced-swim behavior test failed to monitor the rat. Forced-swim behavior tests place small animals, like rats, in a beaker or tight enclosure with steep walls. The experimenter times how long it takes before the animal begins floating, at which point the animal is removed from the water.
The final incident came in August 2017 when a fire damaged McKinly Laboratory, where 75 rats were being used in Dr. Tania Roth’s experiment testing the effects of stress on neurodevelopment. Although they weren’t harmed in the fire itself, the rats were euthanized because the experimenter determined they could no longer be used for the study.
In each case, the university explained to OLAW how it plans to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. OLAW responded to all of the university’s letters and stated that “the actions taken by the institution comply with [Public Health Service] Policy.”
Because OLAW rarely inspects facilities, the system of self-reporting is built on trust, Chandna said.
She noted that, often, institutions are motivated to selfreport because, as they’re reliant on federal funding, “if they don’t self-report and NIH somehow finds out, there’s going to be hell to pay then.”
Even still, Chandna said PETA’s findings are “problematic.”
“If a person, an experimenter, is not adhering to IACUC protocol, that’s concerning,” Chandna said. “The fact that a rat drowned to death makes me wonder are the workers being trained properly? Are they not being trained to know that they have to be concerned about animal welfare? Is there a culture of disregard? These are three serious violations over period of seven months.”
PETA’s campaign concerning the university began in April and has manifested in several ways – including a billboard stating, “Curiosity abused the rat,” on Elkton Road leaving Newark, and a protest outside of McKinly Laboratory in July. Chandna said PETA plans to attend the university’s board of trustees meeting to apply more pressure.
Following the findings, Chandna said that a vet from PETA contacted NIH regarding the grant money to ensure that no tax dollars are being used for experiments that result in the harm or death of animals.
“People will say, ‘But they’re only rats.’ That’s something we hear a lot,” Chandna said. “That’s sort of a sad comment, that our empathy seems to be so limited that we can’t extend that empathy to small animals. I want to remind people that rats are mammals like we are; they feel pain, they suffer, they feel lonely .... There’s a lot more going on there than we give them credit for. We shouldn’t dismiss their suffering just because we don’t understand them.”
In its statement, the university said that it conducts “various experiments that lead to advancements in science and greatly benefit human health, both physical and mental” and that PETA is “misleadingly accus[ing] the University of not following [NIH] guidelines.”
“The university takes extreme care and performs due diligence in those trials involving animals, following policy guidelines set forth by the National Institutes of Health,” Bothum said. “Additionally, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service routinely conducts inspections of animal research spaces at the University. During an inspection earlier this year, UD was found to be in full compliance with USDA regulations.”
A group of protesters, led by PETA, organize outside of McKinly Laboratory in July to protest the research techniques of a University of Delaware professor.