UC Berkeley labs aren’t doing the bare minimum to protect animals

CAMPUS ISSUES: As campus re-evaluates its lab practices, it must prioritize animal rights

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Alexander Hong/Staff

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From burying a dead piglet on city of Berkeley property to covering themselves in manure in front of Trader Joe’s, animal activists in the Bay Area have gone to extremes to show the conditions farmed animals are subjected to. In late May, Direct Action Everywhere, an animal rights group founded in San Francisco, held a weeklong Animal Liberation Conference in the San Francisco area to raise awareness of the inhumane treatment of animals.

Despite their admittedly extreme tactics, these activist groups are doing honorable work by forcing the community, especially the campus community, to re-evaluate its treatment of animals. While it’s not immediately feasible to make Berkeley into the country’s first vegan city, there is a glaring animal rights issue at UC Berkeley that doesn’t have to do with any of the meat-serving restaurants that surround the campus.

It’s a problem that’s crawling around campus laboratories and their practices.

In mid-May, the San Francisco Chronicle first exposed negligent practices in UC Berkeley laboratories that contributed to the deaths of 22 lab animals, in addition to the mistreatment and abuse of 67 animals from 2015-17. These cases of abuse included starving animals, putting animals in hazardous environments and keeping them alive in compromising situations. Of course, every lab runs the risk of experiments not going according to plan, but researchers who go through years of training and work in a top university’s labs shouldn’t be making dozens of abusive and irresponsible mistakes. When negligent behavior like this happens in UC Berkeley labs, it doesn’t just show incompetencies in our research programs — it shows incompetencies in the school as a whole.

What’s even more shocking is that this isn’t the school’s first run-in with animal malpractice. In 2014, the school was fined $8,750 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, for allowing five voles to die of thirst during a 2011 study on circadian rhythms. Roger Van Andel, former director of the Office of Laboratory Animal Care at UC Berkeley, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the office “took very aggressive action to make sure this sort of thing could not occur again” — but four years later, with nearly 90 reported cases of mistreated lab animals, the school shows few signs of learning from its mistakes.

This shouldn’t be surprising, considering that time and time again, labs have shown that an animal’s use as a tool supersedes its existence as a living, breathing creature. In its April newsletter, UC Berkeley’s Animal Care and Use Committee published an update announcing that in an effort to “reduce administrative burden on (principal investigators),” labs will only need to submit a review every three years for most protocols involving “non-USDA species,” such as laboratory mice and rats, birds and amphibians. This movement away from regulation and oversight is what leads to cases like the one in 2011. Even more, it’s unacceptable for the lives and well-being of countless animals to be overshadowed by an investigator’s “administrative burden.”

This isn’t to say that UC Berkeley should completely stop animal testing and experimentation. And while the executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, Michael Budkie, called for all employees responsible for these incidents of mistreatment to be fired, that won’t truly solve anything either. Animal testing has shown to be invaluable in a multitude of fields, from cancer research to space exploration — campus can’t forgo this just to appease animal activist groups.

It should instead work on educating researchers so that these mistakes never happen again. Considering the sacrifices these animals make to better human lives, it’s the least labs can do to make animal well-being their priority.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.