An animal rights group is demanding the firing of researchers at a Louisiana university who killed laboratory rats with scissors and a blunt blade – and used out-of-date anesthetics for pain relief.
The episodes are detailed in separate, self-reported notices of violation to the federal Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (Olaw), which were sent by Tulane University in New Orleans and obtained by the Stop Animal Exploitation Now advocacy group.
Two adult rats were beheaded by the unnamed Tulane researchers using scissors, instead of a guillotine under anesthesia, a “significant deficiency” of globally recognized Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) protocols, the notice states.
When the guillotine was used, to euthanize eight other rats, the blade was found to be blunt; and anesthesia administered to more than 200 other rats was already beyond its expiration date.
All violations were marked as “corrected” in the notifications, dated March and June of this year. But that is an inadequate response, according to Michael Budkie, executive director of the animal rights group, who has written to Tulane president Michael Fitts demanding a full inquiry and dismissal of those involved.
“This isn’t a single issue with a single employee,” he said. “Tulane research staff have committed multiple serious violations of federal regulations.
“Tulane has a long history of serious violations, and if their staff can’t even kill animals correctly, then why should we believe they can do science? If they’re serious about this, they need to draw a line in the sand and say we will not allow this, these people are gone.”
In August, Budkie’s group filed a federal complaint against Tulane for a previous episode in which a three-year-old macaque monkey at the university’s national primate research center was found dead in its cage with its head trapped.
Tulane was cited for using an enclosure that failed to protect the primate from injury, and together with more minor violations – including a failure to produce documents in a timely manner – it led to the IACUC temporarily suspending protocols at the university.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) has long campaigned for the closure of all seven national primate research centers, including Tulane’s.
“These primate centers have served as breeding grounds for diseases as well as places of immeasurable pain, misery, and death and have been a total failure in advancing the health and wellbeing of humans,” Peta says on its website.
Louisiana is home to 13 federally registered animal laboratories, including two of the largest primate laboratories in the US, the group says.
Budkie, meanwhile, questions the validity of Tulane’s research.
“All these projects are federally funded with the goal of generating information that will be published in scientific journals,” he said.
“The problem with that is that for information and articles to be published, protocols have to be followed in compliance with federal regulations. These documents clearly indicate that none of that was happening, so any information generated in proximity to these violations is useless because it can’t be published. It’s junk science.
“The general public really needs to be concerned about this because even if they don’t care about the situation of the animals or that they’re essentially being illegally decapitated, it’s federal money that’s paying for it. The public deserves better.”
The Guardian has contacted Tulane University for comment. On its website, the university insists its animal research is humane.
“Responsible scientists know that good science and good animal care go hand-in-hand and would not tolerate cruel or inhumane treatment of any laboratory animals,” it says.
“Tulane requires that research animals be treated in an ethically responsible way and with compassion and dignity. The university respects and accepts the moral and ethical implications of using animals in research, and it is committed to being compliant with all government regulations pertaining to animal research.”