UCLA Distorts Animal Testing, Activists Allege
Animal rights activists accused UCLA officials Tuesday of painting a distorted picture of animal testing on campus and questioned its relevance.
At a news conference in front of the administration building, Michael Budkie, head of a nonprofit group called Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, said that test animals are “so stressed they are mutilating their own bodies” and that UCLA sponsors research to attract grant money.
Budkie, whose Ohio-based organization provides research for animal rights activists, made public several pages of what he said were handwritten lab observation notes on primate subjects at UCLA. University officials would not confirm the authenticity of any of the documents.
Budkie also handed out what he said was researcher Dario Ringach’s 2003 application to UCLA’s Animal Research Committee in which the applicant explained why primate testing was necessary. Ringach, a neurobiologist, has been studying the brain and the ways it receives information from the retina.
Budkie, who said he got all of the documents under California’s Public Records Act, was followed by half a dozen local protesters chanting “UCLA is an institution of higher torture” and other catchphrases.
Budkie’s news conference comes at a time when UCLA officials say their primate researchers are under intensifying harassment from animal rights activists. Ringach, whose work made him a target of radical animal rights activists, last month gave up his primate research, citing concern for the safety of his family.
Budkie said Tuesday that the point of UCLA’s animal research is to enrich itself with grant funds. “This not about science. This is not about research. This is about bringing money to the university.”
University spokesman Lawrence Lokman would not comment on Budkie’s charges, but said, “We are fully behind our research program, and it leads to lifesaving medicines.”
Other UCLA officials, who quietly watched the activists speak, passed out a statement noting that animal research at UCLA is “heavily monitored.... All requests to use animals in research, teaching or testing undergo rigorous review by well-informed scientists, veterinarians and members of the general public not affiliated with UCLA.”
In the documents provided by Budkie, building locations and names of researchers had all been redacted. But there are detailed descriptions of procedures to be performed on animals -- under anesthesia -- finally concluding with the animals being “sacrificed at the conclusion of the procedure.”
One document laid out in detail how monkeys would be used clinically and monitored for pain. “After induction of anesthesia the animal’s head is mounted in a stereotaxic headholder, designed especially for visual experiments. A small craniotomy is made over the brain region of interest and electrodes are attached to the skull.”
Eventually the monkey’s pupils are dilated and fitted with contact lenses for the research, and eyelids retracted. The monkey is also given a paralytic agent and is continually physiologically monitored. At the end of the experiment, while still anesthetized, the animal is “given an overdose of sodium pentothal in accordance with” American Veterinary Medical Assn. guidelines.
In a Sept. 1 letter he sent to UCLA Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams, Budkie asked for a meeting to talk about animal research. Abrams said in an interview Tuesday that he received the letter Friday and was still studying it.
UCLA senior Kristy Anderson, the president of the school-sanctioned University Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said Tuesday that Roberto Peccei, vice chancellor for research, has agreed to meet with her about her group’s concerns.
Times staff writer Rebecca Trounson contributed to this report.