Student group defends using animals for research purposes

Mike Wereschagin

Kristin Schreiber says she does not hate animals. She says she harbors no deep-seated vendetta against laboratory mice and her animal-research techniques are not malicious.
However, she does conduct neurological research on them.
Schreiber, a third-year neuroscience graduate student, is president of Focus on Animal Contributions To Science, a University student group dedicated to disseminating accurate information about animal research.
“We do not promote the use of animals in research,” Schreiber said. “We don’t say that it’s right or wrong. What we do is try to correct the misinformation that is out there about how animals are used.”
Much of the on-campus misconceptions come from animal-rights activists, especially the Student Organization for Animal Rights, she said.
“A lot of the information out there on animal research is simply wrong,” Schreiber said.
University students began FACTS 10 years ago to set the record straight.
“No one talks about why animal research is done,” Schreiber said. “We don’t just tell people about the benefits of using animals. We try to raise public awareness of (animal-testing) regulations, too.”
The Federal Animal Welfare Act is the main regulatory legislation on animal testing. Passed in 1966, the act has been amended four times since.
The act regulates “the care and treatment of most warm-blooded animals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited in public,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Web site. It requires animal researchers to meet certain standards with animal testing as well as having all research labs subject to surprise inspections.
Provisions in the act mandate animal enclosures be cleaned daily. Also, animals housed together must not display overtly aggressive behavior toward one another. If transportation is necessary, the act makes it illegal to cause harm or distress to the animal.
Rodents are not covered in the act’s official language. The University, however, requires its researchers to treat rodents with the same respect as other animals.
The legislation might have increased the quality of animal care in laboratories, but it has not been able to sway perceptions of the legitimacy of animal research.
The answer is unavoidably a personal morality question, Schreiber said.
“I think everyone has their own opinion on the use of animals in research,” she said. “What you believe about animal testing is based on your philosophical or religious beliefs. It comes down to a question of animal welfare over animal rights.”
But meaningful discourse on the issue with SOAR has been difficult, Schreiber said.
FACTS is trying to organize a symposium with SOAR, but the group is having trouble getting noted researchers and professors to participate.
One reason is SOAR’s possible ties to terrorism. SOAR endorses People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a nationwide animal-rights group. PETA, in turn, endorses the Animal Liberation Front, a radical group suspected of terrorist acts.
Many scholars said they feel engaging in a debate with supporters of ALF, even though the “support” is indirect, would add legitimacy to the terrorism, Schreiber said.
SOAR has denied endorsement of terrorism, despite its support of PETA. Representatives of SOAR could not be reached for comment Monday.
Paul Wacnik, a FACTS officer and fourth-year pharmacology graduate student, said SOAR’s affiliation is unfortunate.
More could be accomplished if FACTS could trust animal-rights activists enough to organize discussions and symposiums with noted academics, he said.
Though Wacnik and Schreiber said they never feel personally threatened by SOAR or other animal rights workers, there is always concern.
“Groups like the ALF have laid a groundwork of using fear as a means to get their message out,” Wacnik said. “I know of a lot of graduate students who have lost much of their work because of attacks on their labs. It is a concern.”
Even more detrimental to establishing a debate are people’s attitudes.
“Our greatest difficulty is just getting people to do something,” he said. “It’s sad to say, but apathy is our biggest threat.”
Mike Wereschagin welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3226.