Budding physicians at the University of Toledo are learning valuable surgical and emergency skills from pigs, a practice that has come under scrutiny by The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a DC-based animal activist group.  Claiming that simulation provides better training than the use of animals for practical training in these techniques, the group has reportedly asked the United States Department of Agriculture, the government agency responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, to investigate.

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The medical school responded “that the USDA audited its research-animal programs in August and found they were in compliance with federal law. The university cited research that showed using its methods was better for training than simulation.”

USDA is reviewing the request and will investigate further if warranted.

The use of animals for research and teaching, while legal, and in many cases required, has come under increased scrutiny by activists.  In addition to filing complaints with the USDA, some groups, like Stop Animal Experimentation Now (SAEN), routinely post personal contact information about researchers online, encouraging its audience to contact the scientists directly.

The use of primates in biomedical research is most vehemently opposed.  Dr. Ruth Decker attacked research at the University of Wisconsin, circulating a petition urging the university to discontinue a study on the impact of early life stress on young rhesus monkeys.  The University’s response questioned the truthfulness of the information Decker distributed.

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“The truth is of little concern to activists who wish to end animal research, no matter the benefit to humans and animals. We don’t share that sentiment. We prefer people make their judgments on animal research with a fuller understanding of the research — of both its costs and potential benefits.”

“[W]e don’t appreciate the way petition’s author, Dr. Ruth Decker, misrepresents the research. By piling up mistakes, myths and exaggerations, and omitting important information, she asks well-meaning people to speak out with little understanding of the real science and the long, deliberative process through which it was approved.”

“This isn’t fair to the people who signed the petition, or to UW–Madison psychiatry professor . . . and the scientists involved in the work, or to the millions of people who suffer from mental illness for whom available treatment methods offer little relief.”

The University corrected several misrepresentations of the research in question, including:

•“This is not a repeat of experiments.”

• “There is no ‘solitary confinement.’”

• “The animals in the study are not ‘terrorized,’ and do not experience ‘relentless torture.’”

Instead of being “needless” and “unnecessary” this type of research will benefit hundreds of thousands of people suffering from mental illness.

Research involving animals for the benefit of humans or animals is highly regulated, and approval from each institution’s animal care oversight committee is required before research can begin.

Stay tuned for an explanation of how these committees work, and when animal research is required by FDA for drug approval.