A national group trying to stop the use of animals in medical research has
found UC San Francisco to be the nation's worst violator of federal animal
welfare laws, listing 51 federal citations over three years.
A report released Thursday by the nonprofit group Stop Animal Exploitation Now
(SAEN) said the 51 violations ranged from inadequately trained laboratory
personnel to failing to administer painkiller to a monkey after cranial
surgery. Of the total, 30 were repeat violations, and 10 involved direct
misuse of animals.
The animal welfare group based its report, "Breaking the Law: Animal Care in
U.S. Labs," on U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports between 2000
and 2003. The USDA is required to conduct biannual inspections of research
Other institutions cited by SAEN as "major violators" of the federal Animal
Welfare Act include: Johns Hopkins, Emory University, the University of
Pennsylvania, Harvard University, the University of Florida and the University
of Pittsburgh. In all, there were 559 violations by 25 institutions over three
"Dozens of labs across the country are violating federal law, and UCSF is the
No. 1 lawbreaker," said SAEN's executive director, Michael Budkie, standing in
front of the UCSF campus on Parnassus Avenue. "UCSF is first in number of
violations, number of repeat violations and violations that directly affect
UCSF has more than 500 active research studies involving rodents, rabbits,
dogs, cats, sheep, pigs, ferrets, squirrels and nonhuman primates.
UCSF associate vice chancellor for research Ara Tahmassian said in a statement
Thursday that animal research is never undertaken lightly and that many layers
of oversight exist to ensure animals are treated humanely and appropriately.
"The university believes that certain animal activist organizations are
philosophically opposed to animal research and present statistics out of
context and in a way that misrepresents the facts," Tahmassian said.
He said the university tries to minimize the use of animals and seeks
alternatives but believes such research is essential to medical innovation.
UCSF researchers who work with animals have been credited with an array of
One example is a UCSF researcher who spent three decades studying the lungs of
rabbits, dogs, cows and other animals and produced an artificial form of a
substance that coats the interior of lungs and allows them to expand and
contract. The discovery saves the lives of tens of thousands of premature
infants every year who are born without the ability to produce the substance.
In another example, listed by UCSF, researchers working with dogs and other
animals pioneered the development of catheter ablation techniques that cure
heart rhythm disorders, making it possible to treat common disorders by
threading a tiny catheter through a vein and into the heart. Before the
breakthrough, open-heart surgery was the only way to treat many of the
Another UCSF researcher advanced the understanding of HIV. A mouse model
developed 10 years ago allows researchers to test antiviral drugs and explore
the mechanisms of the AIDS virus. The mouse was developed with a human-like
blood-forming system that acts like a human immune system.
SAEN's Budkie said his work focuses on experiments that are redundant and
cause animals to suffer unnecessarily. He believes that animals are routinely
harmed in the name of "scientifically meritless" studies. He earned a
bachelor's degree in animal health technology and trained in a lab at the
University of Cincinnati.
Budkie said some of the worst experiments at UCSF involve primates that
undergo multiple surgeries and are trained through water deprivation. He said
one UCSF researcher, who has been cited numerous times by the USDA, is
studying neural control of eye movement. The researcher implants metal coils
in the monkey's eyes and a hook that protrudes from the skull. The monkeys can
be restrained in a chair for as long as eight hours.
"Animals are not inanimate objects," Budkie said. "They have a concept of
self. They feel pain."
Monkey experiments at UCSF are replicated in labs across the country, Budkie
said. He said he recently searched the National Institutes of Health database
and found 180 similar studies.
He believes in effecting change not through outrageous -- and sometimes
unlawful -- tactics adopted by groups such as the Animal Liberation Front and
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but by gathering records through
legal channels and presenting the findings in reports.
"We get the data, get it right and get it to the public," said Budkie, who has
a second bachelor's degree in theology. "If the American public had all the
facts about what's happening to animals in labs, labs would be closed."
Bob O'Brien, an organizer with the San Francisco group Vigil for Animals, has
spent one day a month for the past year sitting on a bench in front of UCSF,
protesting research practices. He has problems with all of the research, he
said, but finds certain studies unthinkable. Descriptions of the studies,
written by the researchers, were obtained by SAEN, he said.
"The experiments are cruel and unnecessary," O'Brien said.
Jeremy Beckham, another activist who joined the group gathered in front of
UCSF, is spending the summer protesting the use of primates in medical
research. Earlier this week, he protested the use of monkeys in research at
the UC Davis primate center, one of the largest in the nation.
"I read a book about primates who were taught sign language," Beckham said. "I
know sign language and got to visit these chimps who sign. It was amazing to
communicate. I look in their eyes, and it's so much like interacting with
humans. Their awareness is not unlike a child's. Would we do these things to
UCSF is the nation's fourth-largest National Institutes of Health grant
recipient, after Johns Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania and the
University of Washington.
E-mail Julian Guthrie at email@example.com.