PETA Hopes to Stop Helms Amendment

But it remains unclear what effect the video could have on the Helms amendment, which would permanently exclude laboratory rats, mice and birds from U.S. Department of Agriculture oversight of animal treatment under the Animal Welfare Act.

The Animal Welfare Act requires that the USDA regulate the use of warm-blooded animals in research, but the act has never been applied to rodents or birds, which compose 95 percent of all research animals.

In an out-of-court settlement with animal rights groups in October 2000, the USDA agreed to write new guidelines that would include mice, rats and birds. But the Helms amendment, which was attached to a federal farm bill that has little relation to animal research, would block any new guidelines.

The video released Thursday, shot by a member of the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who worked at a UNC animal research lab, comes on the heels of last week's U.S. Senate passage of a farm bill version that included Helms' amendment.

The farm bill, which passed the House with no such amendment, now goes to a conference committee for revision.

In a February Senate floor speech preceding the amendment's passage, Helms accused activists of threatening "life-saving" animal research.

"A rodent could do a lot worse than live out its life span in research facilities," he said.

PETA spokeswoman Lisa Lange said Friday she hoped the video, which has been sent to all farm bill conference committee members, would help defeat the Helms amendment."We're going to keep the pressure on," she said.

Animal research at UNC and other laboratories falls under the oversight of the National Institutes of Heath, which can deny funding to labs violating guidelines but does not conduct regular lab inspections, as would the USDA.

Research at UNC also is overseen by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which PETA calls "ineffectual and uninformed."

But Frankie Trull, president of the National Association for Biomedical Research, said USDA oversight of rodents and birds would mean not only more paperwork and further expenses for the research community but for the USDA as well.

"We all have a responsibility to be appropriate caretakers, but we don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water," she said.

The PETA video probably won't affect the passage of the Helms amendment, Trull said, noting that there was no opposition to the amendment in the Senate.

Tony Waldrop, UNC vice chancellor for research, also said expanding the Animal Welfare Act would be costly.

"We would have to do additional reporting," he said. "We'd much rather see that money going to support research."

UNC was one of several universities pushing for the amendment's passage, and Waldrop said he personally sent a letter to Helms thanking him for his support.

Waldrop said that although UNC is launching an investigation of some of the University's laboratory practices, there is a potential that violations could happen "with or without the USDA."

But Lange said she believes the PETA video shows that USDA regulations are needed. "If they're adhering to the recommendations, then adhering to regulations wouldn't be much different," she said. "There's no punishment for people who abuse rats, mice or birds in labs right now. That's why you see the type of abuse we saw at UNC."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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