UNC is often ranked in scientific and public health research. However, the advocacy group White Coat Waste (WCW) has recently raised concerns about how research is conducted at the Francis Owen Blood Research Center, a University laboratory with National Institute of Health (NIH) funding.
The laboratory aims to facilitate independent and collaborative blood research, according to records obtained by White Coat Waste. The group claims that the laboratory is breeding a cohort of dogs with inherited blood disorders where some may require frequent blood transfusions.
White Coat Waste said it works to defund tax-subsidized animal abuse. The group's public allegations against dog breeding at The Francis Owen Blood Research Center — which falls under the UNC Blood Research Center — surfaced this year.
After submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to the National Institute of Health in 2021, WCW said it received documents detailing the existence of what the organization describes as a “colony of canine cruelty” at UNC that has been tax-payer funded through the NIH since 1947.
“Essentially UNC is running a taxpayer-funded puppy mill to breed sick dogs in use of painful and deadly experiments,” said Justin Goodman, senior vice president of advocacy and public policy at WCW Project.
While animal experimentation for institutions is legal in the United States under strict regulation and approval from authorities, WCW’s concern lies in using tax dollars to fund such experiments they deem inhumane. Goodman said the laboratory alone has received over $20 million in tax funding since 1999.
Daniel López, a research manager at WCW, has concerns that the University is not being fully transparent about the research.
“They are choosing the narrative, and they are drafting all of these public-facing websites in a way that it makes the case for what they want to keep doing,” he said. “We rely on the Freedom of Information Act so we get that side of the story that is not what they chose.”
There are about 60,000 dogs in United States laboratories, Goodman said. Often labs will use more docile dogs for their experiments, commonly beagles, he said, and most of these experimentations are either conducted or mandated by federal agencies.
He believes that tax dollars are being spent in a way that taxpayers are unaware of.
“It’s disturbing that a wasteful and inhumane program like this could operate on autopilot for 75 years without the knowledge of the public,” Goodman said.
The WCW gave The Daily Tar Heel a statement from Congresswoman Dina Titus, serving the first congressional district of Nevada, voicing her concerns.
“As a pet owner and active member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, I have prioritized animal safety and fought for their welfare in Congress,” Titus said. “The NIH should not be using taxpayer dollars to fund a dog colony that breeds sick puppies for experiments. There are many alternatives to animal testing that are both humane and yield better results so that we can save dogs and puppies and taxpayer money.”
Animal experimentations on college campuses are also more common than expected, López said, sharing one case in particular concerning a similar lab at the University of Georgia.
While regulations may vary at different universities, UNC Media Relations said that three independent entities regularly visit the laboratory to ensure all guidelines are followed. More specifically, the NIH's Animal Care and Use Committee ensures that research involving animals on campus is both necessary and conducted humanely.
On the contrary, the NIH defends the laboratory's funding because it is used as a “national resource” for other hemophilia research centers, said Nigel Key, director of the UNC Blood Research Center.
UNC Media Relations said that advances in research in blood diseases and conditions would not be possible without the use of animal experimentation. Observation of animals with hemophilia is the only medium of research that reproduces a similar enough condition to that of humans with hemophilia, MR said in an email.
“Our Francis Owen dogs receive ongoing medical care around the clock by a team of dedicated veterinarians, researchers, and staff, as well as treatments available nowhere else,” Key said in a statement via Media Relations. “The dogs live near-normal, high-quality lives in the Francis Owen lab, where they receive daily affection, play, enrichment and exercise.”
WCW is still waiting to receive more information from UNC about the specifics behind the labs. Though López said that it is rare that WCW is able to fully expose labs they perceive to be conducting unethical experiments, the organization hopes to bring awareness to what they feel is a lack of honesty regarding tax distribution.
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