It’s been a tumultuous couple of weeks for the University of Wisconsin following an aggressive media campaign by PeTA suggesting photos of animal studies are “proof” of abuse, while the university responded point-by-point. Now that both sides have had their say, how does the university move forward? In a recent article, the student newspaper, The Daily Cardinal, suggested that PeTA’s involvement might be helpful.
Normally, Speaking of Research would agree to the idea of bringing two opposing sides together to collaborate and compromise. But that’s not always a good idea. In this case, the newspaper fails to recognize that PeTA isn’t an animal welfare organization dedicated to ensuring animal care practices meet the highest standards. Instead, they hold an extreme view. PeTA is opposed to any and all animal studies despite the fact that this research has saved millions of lives to date and will save millions more in the future. In the words of PeTA’s Ingrid Newkirk “Even if animal tests produced a cure for AIDS, we’d be against it.”
It’s disappointing that an organization with the well-meaning goal of advocating for animals takes such a careless and extreme stance, which ultimately places public health at risk. Therefore suggestions that PeTA can play a helpful “role” in ensuring the responsible use of animals in medical research are naive.
For those unfamiliar with PeTA, the kind of campaign they’ve launched against the University of Wisconsin is nothing new. We at Speaking of Research have seen PeTA target countless well-respected universities throughout the country. The animal rights group has used dishonest propaganda to attack the integrity of well-regulated research that benefits countless patients. Their tactics also include targeting renowned medical scientists and portraying them as monsters who must be stopped by any means possible.
PeTA has also placed undercover “investigators” in research labs and then held press conferences to make claims of abuse and mistreatment. Other than the fact that PeTA is by no means impartial, there is one significant problem with this tactic: follow-up investigations often reveal no instances of abuse. The end result is that reputations are wrongly damaged and more importantly, the public has been misled. PeTA walks away from these instances without assuming any responsibility.
When we assess the value of any research, one must recall what medical science was like merely a few generations ago: a visit to a physician might have resulted in a recommendation to induce vomiting, diarrhea or, more commonly, bleeding. Years ago, diphtheria, mumps, measles and polio were common and untreatable. Life expectancy in the United States was less than 50 years; it is now close to 80 years. Animal research was an integral part of these achievements. Our generation benefits from treatments and medicines that our parents and grandparents only dreamt about.
If the goal is to truly move forward, we must all work hard to promote an atmosphere where civil and open dialogue can occur. The news media can play key role as a neutral party providing serious reporting on the harms and benefits of research. In contrast, PeTA has nothing to offer but their absolute rigid stance and their promotion of harassment of scientists, veterinarians and animal care staff that work hard to advance the well-being of humans and non-human animals alike.
Speaking of Research
Addendum October 11, 2012 : The USDA inspection report has now been published and confirms that no non-compliant items were identified during the focused inspection at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in late September and early October. In his story “Feds Clear UW of Wrongdoing Following PeTA Complaint”, Capital Times reporter Todd Finkelmeyer posts the USDA inspection report and this summary: “’This officially closes this matter for us,’ USDA spokesman David Sacks said in an email to the Cap Times. Sacks added that this was a ‘focused inspection — not a full facility inspection,’ and was designed to look specifically at the allegations leveled by PETA.”