‘Unchecked pain and misery’: PETA files complaint against Berkeley Labs

Gabriel Nuer/Staff
PETA filed a complaint against UC Berkeley laboratories for alleged violations of animal welfare regulations, also alleging that campus has a history of violations.

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday, urging the department to investigate possible violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act in UC Berkeley laboratories. 

According to PETA’s complaint, the treatment of monkeys and guinea pigs in campus labs is out of compliance with standards set by the Animal Welfare Regulations, or AWRs. 

The cases cited include reports of two guinea pigs who died after receiving a fatal dose of eye drops while under anesthesia and another incident where a monkey was found asphyxiated and deceased after becoming trapped in a loop anchoring the enclosure  an incident that PETA claimed violated Section 3.75 of the AWRs, which states that housing facilities for “non-human primates” must be up to date and protect the animal from injury. 

“As an immediate outcome of the complaint, we’d like to see UCB cited for violations of the Animal Welfare Act,” said Alka Chandna, vice president of the Laboratory Investigations Cases at PETA, in an email. “This is a simple matter of accountability, that when an institution runs afoul of laws that reflect the sensibilities of its citizens, that institution should be cited.” 

Chandna alleged UC Berkeley has a history of these violations, which have led to “unchecked pain and misery in sentient animals.”

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the incidents in PETA’s complaint occurred nearly two years ago and were reported by campus to the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare at the time they occurred.

“The campus’s Office of Laboratory Animal Care (OLAC) and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) have a well-established track record of responding quickly and effectively when violations of federal guidelines and/or campus policies are discovered,” Mogulof said in an email.

The complaint also lists five other incidents of animal welfare violations reported by campus in previous years, which Mogulof said occurred over a 10-year period a time period not specified in the complaint.

According to Mogulof, by omitting the time period in which these violations took place, PETA created an “inaccurate and misleading impression” of campus’s commitment to complying with rules and guidelines that support the ethical treatment of animals under the care of campus’s labs.

Chandna said in the email that it is not challenging to comply with federal welfare guidelines, because they represent “very basic” considerations of animals being held and used in laboratories. She added that campus received more than $151 million in taxpayer funds from the National Institutes of Health in 2021, which should make compliance with the regulations easy.

“We should consider that the reason humans use animals in experiments is because we can,” said Chandna in the email. “Animal experimentation is an ugly manifestation of the morally bankrupt principle that “might makes right”—and it must end.”

Mogulof said in the email that unexpected events occur with any living organism, including humans, but said campus remains committed to identifying and mitigating risks to the animals.

To that end, Mogulof said campus opens itself up for criticism because it self-reports incidents of violations to the Department of Agriculture, but that this practice also shows campus’s commitment to ensuring the health and safety of animals used in research.

“We respond quickly when violations of our standards occur and we report them transparently and proactively to the appropriate federal agencies,” Mogulof said in the email. “We do everything in our power to ensure that all of this research—designed to advance and support the health and well-being of humans and animals alike–is conducted in a responsible, respectful and humane manner.”

Contact Anna Armstrong at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @annavarmstrongg.