PETA protests at Yale during meeting of trustees
NEW HAVEN — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals supporters on Saturday protested experiments on house sparrows by a Yale University postdoctoral student, holding signs outside Woodbridge Hall while the university’s board of trustees met inside.
The demonstrators decried experiments by Christine Lattin, whose studies on the stress response of sparrows include adding crude oil to bird feed and creating small wounds on the birds.
PETA has known of Lattin’s research since she first started experimenting at Tufts University. The organization in May called for a formal investigation by a district attorney’s office in Massachusetts.
Ashley Byrne is an associate director for campaigns at PETA and one of the primary organizers of Saturday morning’s protest, which included at least 13 participants. PETA also held a rally against Lattin’s research in August, the same month it released a report saying Yale had the fourthworst record of mistreatment of rats and mice used in research.
“She’s tormenting these birds in her lab and doing so for no reason,” Byrne said. “The results don’t benefit human beings. They don’t benefit other birds. They’re not applicable to human beings or other animals.”
Yale Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor briefly met with protesters Saturday after stepping out of Woodbridge Hall. She notified them the trustees’ meeting had no set end time, since demonstrators sought to protest while trustees exited the building. O’Connor said the university stands by its previous statement on the matter, which indicates the university’s laboratories comply with federal regulations and independent accreditation standards.
In an email Saturday, the university said Yale “takes seriously its responsibility for the appropriate care of animals; our laboratories comply with or exceed all federal regulations and independent accreditation standards. As we continue to advance scientific knowledge and modern medicine, providing hope for millions of patients and their families, Yale scientists will sustain their commitment to the appropriate use of animals in research. Our faculty members employ animals only when there are no alternative models for advancing their research.”
“Dr. Lattin’s research represents a valuable contribution to a growing body of knowledge that will help advance, among other things, veterinary medicine, animal conservation and animal model development,” the university said. “Those individuals who have responsibility for the oversight of animal care at the University have found that all of her research activities were approved and there was no evidence of non-compliance or inappropriate care.”
As to the medical value of the research, the statement said “Virtually all medical advances of the last century would have been impossible without animal research.”
According to her website, Lattin’s research focuses on “understanding how different neurotransmitters and hormones help animals successfully choose mates, raise young, escape from predators, and survive harsh winters and other challenging conditions.”
In an emailed response to the Register, Lattin said the situation with PETA has been a “source of a lot of frustration.”
“I care deeply about animal welfare — I actually worked at a wildlife rehabilitation center for several months before starting graduate school,” Lattin said in the email. “Understanding more about how stress affects wild animals may allow us to save some species that might otherwise go extinct.”
Lattin said PETA “consistently misrepresents” her work, adding the organization has made “misstatements” about her research. She discredited claims from PETA suggesting her research is not relevant for humans or other animals.
“That claim shows a real misunderstanding of how biology works — the hormonal and brain systems that underlie stress are very similar across different groups of animals,” Lattin said. “I don’t know why PETA has decided to target me in particular, except that Yale is a high-profile institution, and perhaps the fact that I’m an early career researcher (a postdoc) has made me a more appetizing target for activists.”