PETA: University of Minnesota ranks high in animal abuse

The University of Minnesota is known for its world-renowned medical research, but PETA claims "the U" also ranks high in animal abuse.

The claim centers around a new PETA study of federal reports on the mistreatment of mice and rats at top universities.

According to the study, presented Monday in Seattle at the Tenth World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences conference, PETA scientists analyzed animal-welfare violations at universities that in 2016 received $6.1 billion in grants from the National Institute of Health.

The study focused on federal animal-welfare guideline compliance over the course of the 27 months between Jan. 1, 2015, to April 1, 2017.

“We were really horrified by the number of incidents that indicated violations of the federal animal welfare guidelines,” Dr. Alka Chandna said via Skype.

According to PETA, mice and rats make up 95 percent of animals used in U.S. laboratories but have no protection under federal law. And the course of the last two years, the University of Minnesota is unveiled as the study's worst offender, with a whopping 60 animal welfare violations.

“In just one incident there were 75 rats who were not given any pain relief after being used in a surgery,” said Dr. Chandna.

Other violations include deviating from welfare protocol, subjecting mice and rats to unapproved procedures, and administering expired anesthetics.

“Remember, [mice and rats] are mammals and in a lot of senses they’re very much like us,” Chandna insisted.

“Billions of tax dollars are going to universities that are in flagrant violation of their animal-care agreements with the government,” said Dr. Frances Cheng, one of the study’s authors. “Yet the NIH imposes no penalty for drowning, starving, suffocating or denying pain relief and veterinary care to mice and rats.”

“These are sensitive beings. These are beings who feel pain and distress... they suffer and yet they’re being subjected to unchecked pain, unchecked distress, in the U of Minnesota laboratories,” Dr. Chandna added.

In response, Communications Director Dan Gilchrist statement wrote:

The University of Minnesota takes its responsibility to maintain the highest standards of ethical treatment for animals in research as seriously as it does its role in advancing health and knowledge. Nearly every medical treatment, medical device, or diagnostic tool we have today was developed with the help of animals in research, and such research remains critical to the University’s work developing new cures and treatments—for both people and animals.

When problems are reported, either as part of regular inspections by the U of M or federal regulators, or by investigators themselves, the involved researchers are required to provide responses to all findings and concerns to outline how they will address these issues in the future. To be clear, the reports in question have all been reported previously to University officials and addressed with researchers. All animals in research are observed at least once a day by the University’s animal care team.

Furthermore, research with mice and rats at the University of Minnesota is already subject to a high standard of federal regulation under the PHS Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals by the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, and the University voluntarily goes above and beyond those standards of animal care through its accreditation by AAALAC international, the gold standard for institutions dedicated to providing the best possible animal care.

To date, there is no comprehensive substitute for animal models in research. Computer models and cell cultures are excellent avenues for reducing the number of animals used. But the ability to fully simulate a whole, living system does not yet exist. Without research with animals, we aren’t going to find the cures or treatments we seek for diseases like breast cancer, AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, depression and brain cancer. The cures many of us are waiting for rely on the work of scientists who are studying these diseases in animals right now. At the University of Minnesota, researchers have recently made important findings using mice models in research into Alzheimers’ disease and opioid addiction, and have created mouse models that more closely imitate the human immune system.”

Gilchrist said the U has "slightly different fiscal years than the federal government. We were awarded $257 million in grants by NIH by our count for our FY 2016 (July 1-June 30). The federal fiscal year is Oct. 1 to September 30."

Overall, the U of M is the eighth-ranked public research university, according to research expenditures.

Yet because "the U" ranks as the top animal welfare offender, in this regard, Dr. Chandna says that alone calls into question the integrity of its claims.

“The University may talk a good game, but at the end of the day they’re failing the animals, they’re failing the public that pays their bills, and they’re failing science,” she nodded.

Among other animal welfare offenders cited in the study are the University of Pittsburg, the University of Michigan, Yale University and the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.