Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Party Line

It’s part of the script. When the public questions a lab’s use and treatment of animals, lab spokespersons intone a litany of internal committees, federal and state agencies, and private accrediting bodies as evidence that any concern is based on ignorance, probably as a result of fabrications and brainwashing (by people like me.)

For instance, Chris Coe, director of the Harlow lab testified at the Dane County Executive committee in opposition to Resolution 35. This is a transcript, beginning at about 51:08. (I know it’s not all on point, but it’s interesting, and I can't resist the opportunity to comment, so I’ve included his entire statement here.)
My name is Chris Coe. I’ve been a resident of Madison for twenty-five years. I’m a professor at the university. I raised my family here. I consider myself to be a compassionate and ethical individual [as have many villains], and I am also a biomedical researcher who happens to study both animals and humans. So I can bring to the table the perspective of why one might study some questions, some problems in humans and find it advantageous to study other questions and issues in animals. I do both.

It was of interest to me that the first speaker tonight felt so kindly disposed to Sterling Johnson and the gerontology researchers, because I too know Sterling Johnson, and I work with him, and we collaborate on animal research using neuroimaging, studying the biology of aging, in ways that we can’t do the same type of research on autopsy tissue. As beneficial as that may be, when one is interested in mechanisms, in our case the benefits of certain types of diets for slowing down brain aging, delaying dementia and Alzheimer’s [Alzheimer's is a uniquely human disease], it can be better done in a study with animals than in a case example of a single person. [The "first speaker" is involved in a long-term epidemiological study of victims of Alzheimer's and their families backed-up by postmortem studies of their brains, research that actually has the potential to make a difference.]

I’m here to ask you to table and set aside this motion because there is more implicit, hidden in it than meets the eye. Just even the text, the words used, as you’ve heard tonight by half, from half the people in the audience, they see this not as an exploration, a winnowing and sifting of facts. They are advocates of a certain position. They see this as an opportunity not to just explore the issues but to advance their particular point of view. [Coe etal are arguing their very biased position. Supporters on the other hand are arguing that a panel of citizens should consider arguments and evidence from both sides.]

This is a thinly veiled attempt to have a propaganda coup. Let’s be realistic. You guys are being manipulated. [By Coe.]

As you’ve heard from many of the speakers tonight, today it is primates, but most of them are abolitionists, they do not endorse the study of any type of animal research. Will we be sitting here next year with a different sort of resolution advocating that we end research on farm animals? On dogs and cats? [This is classic misdirection. Resolution 35 would create a panel to consider the issue. Coe misleadingly or erroneously implies that the question before the committee was whether or not the research is ethical.] Lots of the research at the university is focused not solely on monkeys, but involves cows, horses, and the improvement of the health and well-being of our pet animals as well. [And if you question research on monkeys, what's next, questions about research on cows? Why wouldn't that be a reasonable question?]

I do animal research; I do human research; I do them simultaneously. I study the relationship between nutrition and health. I study iron deficiency, one of the leading nutritional deficits worldwide. It is true that there are one billion people worldwide who are anemic, but there are still questions that need to be understood better through animal studies. [Coe's funding would help more people if it was redirected into iron supplements for the poor.]

Since I do both animal and human research, I can tell you first hand that the regulation and oversight of my animal studies is greater than of my human research. [He really bore down on this.]

There are questions I can learn of the epidemiology research as one of the speakers here tonight suggested, but those are just associations. If I’m interested in mechanisms, pathways, that type of research is better done in an animal model. [Who gives a hoot what he is interested in? If the idea is to help people, then his interests come in a very distant fourth place.]

Yes, sometimes the animals are like us and other times they are different than us. One of my early professors taught [misled] me that we can learn as much sometimes from how animals are different from us as they are the same. In many cases, as in the study iron deficiency, my topic area, the biology of iron is the same in a monkey, and a rat, and a human, and one can learn a lot from it. [Hum... that will require some looking in to.]

I could attempt to wow you with all of the great findings from stem cells, from vaccines, and convince you that there have been major discoveries and advances from that type of work, but that’s not the issue tonight. [And he would have failed.]

The real issue tonight is what will the formation of this committee accomplish, and as several have suggested, I don’t think it will accomplish very much; it will not facilitate the dialog; instead it will put a line in the ground that further separates half of this room from the other half when in fact we need greater communication and dialog and discourse rather than a committee that in a sense codifies the difference between the two camps. [Over the years, Coe has repeatedly been asked to participate in public discussions and debates about the use of animals at the university and has consistently and flatly refused.]

Thank you for your attention.
Dr. Coe makes many misleading and confused statements above, but he is emphatic on a particular point: the regulation and oversight of animal studies is greater than of human research.

Now read this (you have to follow the link):

Regulation and Review of Animal Research
Eric Sandgren, VMD,Ph.D., Director, UW–Madison Animal Care and Use Program

Now consider what Sandgren says when he’s not writing to convince the public that all is well:
Academic Staff Ad Hoc Committee on the Research Enterprise White Paper January 21, 2010

Charge To assess whether the present UW-Madison Research Enterprise structure is capable of addressing current and future issues, or whether an alternative organizational structure such as that proposed by the Chancellor and the Provost is needed.

Members Sandra Austin-Phillips (Biotechnology Center)
Richard Brown (Research Animal Resources Center)
Jenny Dahlberg (Neuroscience Training Program)
Deborah Faupel (Genome Center of Wisconsin)
Sarah Mason (Wisconsin Center for Education Research)
Alice Pulvermacher (Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies)
Noel Radomski (Chair, Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education)

APPENDIX K
UW-Madison Animal Care and Use Program Needs
Eric Sandgren, VMD, PhD
Associate Professor of Pathobiological Sciences
Acting Director, UW-Madison Animal Care and Use Program
The request for support of the UW-Madison Animal Program is outlined in detail in the document submitted by Dr. Bill Mellon. Key aspects of this request and my analysis of risk are summarized below....

..... Risk analysis...

Should we fail to correct deficiencies that have been identified at the campus level, and that also have been identified by USDA, OLAW, and AAALAC, we risk additional USDA fines, an OLAW investigation, loss of AAALAC accreditation, and loss of PHS research funding. The bad publicity that accompanies Program failures is intense and nation-wide. We also have an ethical responsibility to establish and maintain a strong program.

Examples of failures are available from other institutions. The University of Connecticut had 43 USDA citations over 3 years, paid a $129,500 fine, and had to commit $20 million to upgrade its animal Program. They also agreed to pay $25,000 for additional violations. Other institutions cited and fined from $2000 to $11,400 by the USDA include New York University, Columbia University, University of Nevada-Reno, Northwestern University, and UC-Davis. UCSF received a USDA warning in 1999, was fined $2000 in 2000, then legally challenged the USDA’s most recent citation and settled after much legal maneuvering by agreeing to pay a fine of $92,500. Each incident was accompanied by extensive press coverage.

UW-Madison received a USDA warning in 2004, was fined $6,875 for 24 violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 2005. This reflected a discount of 75% applied to research institutions, currently allowed by USDA regulations. In September 2005, the Inspector general’s office audited the branch of USDA responsible for enforcement of the AWA. The auditors concluded that the USDA has not been aggressive enough in enforcing actions against violations of the AWA. One recommendation of the IG is to increase fines to $10,000 per violation for research institutions; another is to abolish the 75% discount. If the UW-Madison receives a similar fine in the future, it could total $240,000. The cost in bad publicity will be far higher.

We are under close scrutiny by USDA, OLAW, and AAALAC. We must finish implementing our Animal Program reorganization so that we establish the means to prevent additional violations. We do not want to find ourselves in a position of being forced to do so from the outside.


Clearly, even Sandgren, who usually cites the many agencies as evidence that all is well, knows that all isn’t well. He seems as worried, maybe more worried, by the potential negative publicity than he does about complying with the spirit of the very weak laws and regulations at play.

The claim that the public can be confidant that the animals are being well-cared for because of the regulations is false, apparently knowingly so, as Sandgren's (partial) recitation of problems around the country makes clear.

1 comment:

Timothy said...

Seems to me that Sandy is more concerned about saving money and face then he is about the welfare of the animals.

And if these were humans, there probably wouldn't be any violations to begin with.
There are violations because
1) Research on non-human animals is being done just to make money and not for real legit reasons.
2) These are non-human animals so why should they care about them? Right? Right.