People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is staying true to its mission by putting pressure on the University to ensure that it isn't causing animals to suffer as test subjects for insufficient reasons.
But the group would do serious and unjustified damage to UNC if its letter to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism succeeds in stemming the flow of certain federal research funds to the University.
PETA is questioning the usefulness of a particular UNC study, which used rats as test subjects to gauge the effects of alcohol on the brain. Of course, the group has a point, as it did in the recent past. Its 2002 allegations that UNC wasn't complying with the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals created a strong demand for change.
The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare's report, which dismissed some of PETA's more egregious claims but affirmed that there were instances of noncompliance, made it clear that the University needed to act. And apparently, act it did. The same report held that UNC took "appropriate corrective measures" to take care of any failures or violations.
Now, PETA is claiming that the University has conducted an irrelevant study while still harming animals, and UNC officials again should listen. But the University must show a truly reckless disregard for the rules before government officials even think about PETA's suggested punishment - depriving UNC of federal funds for similar research.
Such a penalty would be much more than a slap on the wrist. Without that money, UNC would lose some of its capability to do research - a large part of what actually makes it a university. Threatening that flow of funds would compromise the efforts of hard-working scientists and technicians here who are working for the greater good.
It isn't too much to expect that UNC researchers let themselves be governed by general rules of decency. Their humanity surely is as much of a factor as their desire for scientific knowledge and truth.
The possible mistreatment of laboratory animals is something UNC should examine. But taking away one of the major tools the University needs to continue doing its work and finding ways to improve the public health would be even more of an injustice.
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