SAEN LogoSheep death at UW-Madison fuels new attack from animal rights group - Stop Animal Exploitation Now is seeking a federal investigation
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Please levy the MAXIMUM FINE against University of Wisconsin, Madison, for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act when their ineptitude carelessly killed a pregnant ewe. Their behavior should NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Sheep death at UW-Madison fuels new attack from animal rights group - Stop Animal Exploitation Now is seeking a federal investigation
By Pat Schneider, The Capital Times, October 19, 2015

On April 13, a pregnant ewe involved in a research program at UW-Madison died from respiratory issues while being moved back to her pen following surgery.

UW animal research officials reported the “adverse event” to the National Institutes of Health in a June 12 letter, which also cited a protocol violation in the same lab a week earlier in which a researcher who had not completed required training participated in surgery on a sheep.

Allyson J. Bennett, faculty director of the UW-Madison Animal Program, described such incidents as rare events occurring as part of important research with implications for human health. Corrective actions are quickly taken, she said.

“We report and correct errors,” Bennett said. “They are rare, they are regretted, and we take action to fix them.”

Such incidents are the focus of Michael Budkie, founder of the Ohio-based organization Stop Animal Exploitation Now.  Budkie seized on the April events involving the sheep — along with two February incidents in what is characterized as a continuing problem of monkeys being injured during handling — to mount a complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture seeking up to $500,000 in fines for what he calls UW’s “staggering negligence.”

The diametrically opposed takes on what occurred in the UW-Madison laboratory are typical in the heated arena of animal research, yet they may provide the basis for an informed public understanding of research using animals, says UW-Madison bioethicist Robert Streiffer.

UW-Madison has faced criticism for its treatment of research animals in the past. A Dane County supervisor last year sought to halt a proposed study on maternal deprivation that would have taken newborn monkeys from their mothers. The university also was fined $35,000 in 2014 for unrelated violations of federal law governing treatment of research animals. And SAEN has made accusations and demanded regulatory action against the university in the past.

In SAEN’s most recent attack on UW-Madison, Budkie detailed the research animal care violations in press releases sent to media, a tactic that has made him a burr in the hide of animal research lab officials at universities across the country.

Budkie uses the federal Freedom of Information Act to access self-reports on lab animal care violations by research facilities in the files of the National Institutes of Health — funder of the research — and then reports the incidents to the USDA, which is required by law to investigate.

Bennett alleges Budkie’s activities don’t promote animal welfare because that is not really his goal.

“SAEN’s position is that animals should not be used by humans for any purpose — for research that benefits humans, animals or the environment, for food, for clothing, for entertainment. That does not mirror the philosophy of many people in the U.S. and certainly doesn’t mirror the philosophy of those of us involved in research,” Bennett said. “They are interested in stopping research, period.”

“The real question is how to make decisions about the kinds of purposes we use animals for,” she said. “In the case of research we do a risk-benefit analysis and we find the potential benefit outweighs the risk. We’re very careful to treat animals humanely and have protections in place to protect the animals’ welfare.”

SAEN’s goal is generate publicity, but the focus on animal care infractions alone doesn’t foster a thoughtful dialogue about the issue as a whole, she said.

But Streiffer believes the adversarial system can, with care, lead to thoughtful discourse.

“We have interested parties such as the UW and other institutions who are very motivated to explain why what they do is justified and how the harm to animals is as minimal as it can be consistent with achieving the scientific ends in question,” he said.

“But we also have animal rights groups, local and national, who present a very different picture. Neither picture is complete,” he said.

“If you look at both sides of the story with a careful, skeptical eye you will in general end up with a better picture of what is going on than if you just look at news releases from one group or the other,” he said.

In the research involving sheep at UW-Madison, part of the ewe’s uterus was sutured closed to test how gestation in a restricted space effects nutrient flow to developing organs and the risk of developing hypertension as an adult, Bennett said. Sheep are frequently used in research of prenatal influences in humans because their reproductive physiology is similar to that of humans, she said.

The sheep in the research program were fully anesthetized for the surgery to restrict the size of the uterus, Bennett said.

Researchers can tend to speak in abstract terms about procedures that are very unpleasant for the animals, Streiffer noted. But it’s also important to learn whether the animals were anesthetized.

That and other details are not always clear from the public statements from either researchers or their accusers.

“We have two groups who have a tendency to oversimplify in a way that favors their view. We all tend to do that to some extent, which is why a diverse set of participants in these discussions in general is a good thing.”

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