Stop animal mistreatment in UC Berkeley labs

Illustration of gloved hands holding two lab rats
Cynthia Shi/File

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Asphyxiated monkeys. Overdosed guinea pigs. Neglected bats. These are just a few of the unfortunate examples of alleged animal mistreatment that have occurred in UC Berkeley labs in the past decade.

About two weeks ago, UC Berkeley labs were cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, for the dehydration of macaque monkeys after a formal complaint filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. The monkeys were allegedly found to be listless with sunken eyes, among an assortment of other symptoms.

If true, this would be just one specific instance of campus’s violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act, or AWA. And unfortunately, UC Berkeley has a history of failing to comply with the AWA.

It is incredibly disheartening and disappointing that a research institution as long-established as UC Berkeley is still being cited for gross neglect — if not mistreatment — of its laboratory animals.

Campus does currently have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, or IACUC, which reviews and approves of all research involving animal use. They should, however, establish stricter protocol and harsher penalties, as well as conduct more frequent investigations, to avoid animal welfare incidents.

Campus representatives claim that school labs have held themselves accountable in reporting such events in the past, and that governmental investigations found that campus acted appropriately.

However, even if campus acted appropriately, it is still a significant moral issue that animals are being mistreated in the first place. Unexpected animal deaths and mistreatment represent oversights that must be prevented in the future.

While it is perhaps beneficial or even necessary for the advancement of science to test on live animals, there are regulations that campus should put into place to protect these living beings.

For example, the USDA investigates labs with varying frequencies, which is perhaps to be expected, given that it is such a large federal body. Thus, the IACUC should naturally conduct more inspections on its own. While campus has said that labs undergo regular inspections, these alleged abuses indicate that inspections should be even more frequent and stringent.

Perhaps the reason for so many violations is because people aren’t aware of or simply dismiss the potential repercussions. We hope that labs do, in fact, properly educate their staff on proper animal care. However, if there is no formalized process of onboarding staff members to the physical and moral importance of proper animal care, campus should formalize this training process beyond a simple talk with a graduate researcher or an online module.

The rules set by the federal welfare guidelines simply ask that laboratories respect the animals that they are testing on. It is completely immoral, unacceptable and frankly embarrassing that a well-respected research institution like UC Berkeley is still being cited for these violations.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the summer 2022 opinion editor, Manya Zhao.