Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! and Michael Budkie, co-founder and executive director of the organization, said there have been recent incidents of wrongful deaths of animal research subjects at UNC.
The organization reported the deaths of two ferrets that were injured and later euthanized when trapped between their cage and a wall. The group also reported a rabbit that had been paralyzed.
“As we’re seeing with North Carolina-Chapel Hill, they can’t work with a rabbit without the animal’s back being broken, or they cannot even keep ferrets in the cages, and then when they get out it ends up resulting in their death,” Budkie said.
“But if they can’t do basic things like that, why should we believe they can do science?”
Budkie said UNC reported the incident to the National Institutes of Health, or NIH.
The National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare has issued a statement in response to Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
The office said the concerns raised are not current issues.
“These institutions are in good standing with OLAW and in keeping with the requirement for self-reporting,” the statement said.
Budkie said the NIH does not enforce actions, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture does. Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! filed a complaint to the USDA, which Budkie said often seeks a fine.
The department acknowledged receiving the complaint, he said.
Don Hobart, associate vice chancellor for research at UNC, said in an email his office is aware of the letter sent to the USDA.
“The University’s life and health science research at times relies on animals in the search for cures and treatments for disease, and we take their humane care and treatment very seriously.”
Hobart also said a large part of the University’s research is biomedical in nature and involves animals in its research. He said this research has benefits for many.
“Every major medical advance that has taken place in, I think, the last century is dependent on research that involved animals,” he said. “By better understanding how living things work, how diseases arrive and how they progress, we’re better able to treat and improve health in both humans and animals.”
He said the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee trains faculty and individuals who handle animals, and there are veterinarians on staff and processes for investigating incidents with animals.
“Animals play an important role in solving major questions about disease and about health,” he said. “And we have an obligation in working with them to ensure we are doing that ethically and humanely.”