Researchers equally concerned for animals

The Feb. 17 article, “U Police arrest animal rights activists protesting testing” — through no fault of the reporter — gave the unfortunate impression that people on both “sides” of the debate are absolutely polarized. While we have yet to meet a biomedical researcher who condones the tactics of animal rights protestors in Diehl Hall and Moos Tower last week, there is a sizable contingent of us who do sympathize with their goals and are working toward them in a different way.
Because we are in direct, daily contact with lab animals, we can’t help but see and acknowledge lab animals’ suffering. Organized protests are just one way of making a difference and are a good way of keeping the public debate going.
Ask researchers if they would prefer to use non-animal models instead of animals, and most would choose the non-animal alternative. In addition to the moral and ethical issues raised in animal research, lab animals are expensive to buy and care for and by nature present many more confounding factors in research than non-animal models. We believe that it is unrealistic to expect animal research to come to an immediate and complete halt. However, we look forward to the day when effective alternatives are available and researchers are able and willing to use them. Toward that goal, a group of University researchers, lab technicians, animal caretakers and veterinary staff are working together to improve the lives of lab animals through education, advocacy, the standardization of the most humane methods available and the integration of non-animal alternatives.
We formed Concerned University Lab Animal Professionals in spring 1998.
The University animal care community has been supportive and we have made tremendous strides with their help. For example, the University is beginning a standardized training program for employees working with animals.
The first phase, an educational orientation program for new employees working with animals, will begin March 1. It will include instruction on ethics, alternatives, anesthesia and euthanasia, compassionate care and use, and animal welfare laws.
We are working on lab-specific training to ensure that people have the proper knowledge before performing procedures and that labs design protocols that use the least number of animals and treat them in the most humane way. We also have introduced a non-animal method of producing monoclonal antibodies that is being tested as we write; we will continue to introduce new methods as we learn about them.
We are not so naive as to believe that animal rights activists and most biomedical researchers will ever agree on all philosophical levels. But it’s time to harness the energy that is wasted on one-upmanship, and use it to work toward what is ultimately the same goal. CULAP welcomes new members who share our agenda and are willing to work for research animals in a positive, collegial fashion. Our motto is a quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead:
“Don’t ever think that concerned people can’t change the world. They’re the only ones who ever have.”
We think both animal rights activists and researchers can agree on that.
Mary Van Beusekom and Liza Moscovice are CULAP co-chairwomen and Department of Neurology laboratory technicians.