Chandna: Stop animal abuse at Yale

Most of us find it uncomfortable to think about a defenseless animal imprisoned inside a laboratory cage and used in invasive and ultimately lethal experiments. We hope that laws will protect the animal and that the experimenters will take all measures to minimize the animal’s pain and distress.

But here’s the truth: There is only one law in the United States — the Animal Welfare Act — that provides protection for animals in laboratories. According to multiple federal audits, even this law, which deals mainly with caging and husbandry issues, is not being adequately enforced. Worse, the animals’ last line of defense — oversight committees at laboratories, called “institutional animal care and use committees,” or IACUCs — are failing at their jobs.

Established in 1985, IACUCs are responsible for ensuring that experimenters search for alternatives to the use of animals and consider alternatives to painful procedures; that discomfort, distress and pain inflicted on the animals are avoided or minimized; and that experiments are not being unnecessarily duplicated. In essence, IACUCs must ensure that the “3 R’s” of animal experimentation — reduction of numbers of animals used, refinement of procedures to minimize or avoid pain, and replacement of animals with non-animal models — have been considered.

Twenty-four years after Congress mandated that these committees protect animals, animal experimenters and IACUCs are still failing to implement the 3 R’s. In September 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General published a scathing audit report describing a climate in which laboratories view fines for violations as a “cost of conducting business.” The report documents these committees’ failure to ensure that animals receive adequate veterinary care and to prevent unnecessary or repetitive experiments. An astounding 29 percent — nearly a third — of oversight committees don’t even make sure that experimenters have looked for alternatives to painful procedures on animals, as they’re required to do.

IACUCs appear to be little more than rubber-stamping committees, approving the cruelest and most meaningless studies. At Yale University, the IACUC permitted psychiatry professor Marina Picciotto to measure despair in mice by forcing them to swim in pools of water with no resting platform or by hanging them from their tails. For each group of mice, despair was measured by how little they were still willing to struggle to save themselves.

In another study, Picciotto bored holes into rats’ skulls, injected chemicals directly into their brains, and then decapitated the animals and froze their heads. In a study on learned helplessness, she exposed mice to 360 inescapable shocks. And in yet another experiment, Picciotto deprived monkeys of fluids and then gave them Kool-Aid mixed with liquid nicotine as their sole source of fluid. The amount of nicotine ingested by one monkey reached the equivalent of smoking 17 packs of cigarettes per day. Picciotto conducted this experiment in order to determine how long people should wait after ingesting nicotine before having brain imaging performed — despite the fact that researchers went on to take brain images of human smokers in another experiment, which could have provided information without caging and drugging monkeys.

Members of IACUCs should be carefully selected and properly trained to understand their responsibilities under the law and to understand all facets of the 3 R’s. If they don’t perform their responsibilities as they are mandated, they should be held accountable by government agencies and compliance officers at their universities and removed from their positions. Laziness and ignorance have been tolerated for far too long.

Alka Chandna is the laboratory oversight specialist at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.


  • Y '12

    I assume you would rather that humans were subjected to experiments that fail so that these animals don't suffer? The purpose of these experiments is to estimate how humans will react. If the experiment's successful, the animal's fine and thus the human's fine with whatever treatment was given. Instead, you ask PETA why it kills pet animals in its idea of liberation.

  • lab assistant

    Animals at Yale are treated very, very well. They are taken care of, there are special vets just for them, and people at labs go out of their way to avoid and/or minimize pain and make their living conditions the most comfortable.
    There is no animal abuse at Yale.

    have you been in a lab and seen such abuse? most likely not. So don't criticize an institution that abides by all the government laws of animal protection and goes out of its way to protect them.

  • people for medical research

    Laboratory animals are treated with the utmost respect at Yale. Clearly, the author takes issue with protocols that have passed stringent review boards that are hugely concerned with animal safety. The argument should be with these boards, and not with individual researchers. The argument should also only be pursued by those who have really thought it through, as I'm sure the author must have. No one critical of animal research protocols, all of which can be couched in distasteful language, should ever touch any brand of cosmetic or pharmaceutical. Every drug or beauty product currently on the market was developed with knowledge gained from animal experiments. Any groups protesting animal research should be sure not to support charities such as the American Cancer Society, because any advances toward eradication of human disease are simply not possible without animal research. They should be sure they'd be willing to, say, allow their child to die of leukemia rather than undergo chemotherapy, since the development of this treatment required animal research. Finally, anyone tempted to support PETA should be well aware that they are euthanizing huge numbers of homeless pets in order to fund their efforts to halt advancements in medical science.

  • GraceF

    Dear Lab Assistant,
    While the Animal Welfare Act only stipulates minimum provisions of care for animals in laboratories (specifying the size of the cage, the temperature of the room, etc.), Yale has been cited by the USDA for violating these minimum provisions.

    According to recent USDA inspection reports, a dog in Yale's laboratories was burned under a heat lamp; primates deprived of adequate enrichment were found to be in extreme psychological distress; inadequate veterinary care was provided to rabbits and pigs; expired feed and expired medications were found on the premises; and so on.

    Meanwhile, federal regulations and guidelines do not prohibit any experiment, no matter how pointless, redundant or cruel -- which is why Maria P and her colleagues can rehash decades-old smoking and learned helplessness experiments on the taxpayers' dime.

  • PETA kills animals too?!

    Alka, feel free to clarify the reports that:

    PETA Killed More than 90% of the Animals in its Care in 2007

  • hmm……

    Even if the PETA folks were right (and they surely are not), they still cannot claim the moral high ground because they still use therapies, drugs, and other treatments originally dervived from animal research.

  • PETA

    Alka works on vivisection issues. On behalf of PETA, here’s a short reply. For a more detailed response, please email us at

    The “PETA Kills Animals” campaign is the work of the deceitfully-named Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF). To learn more about CCF please see the following Web site:

    PETA receives calls every week from people who do not have the inclination or money to provide vet care. Many of these people request that we euthanize their animals because they cannot afford to have them euthanized by a vet or because the animals would suffer excessive stress and pain if transported. PETA will not turn its back on these animals simply because they might make our “numbers” look bad.

    Unlike “no-kill” shelters, PETA does not refuse animals simply because euthanasia is the only humane option for them. Many of the animals we take in are brought to us because they have been rejected by other facilities.

    Most of the animals we receive are broken beings for whom euthanasia is, without a doubt, the most humane option; to learn more, please see our factsheet at

  • Jonathan R.

    Abuse of animals at Yale - and at other universities, and in labs all over the U.S. - is well documented. As someone who cares deeply that these animals live wretched, lonely lives, and endure pain and suffering we cannot imagine, and as someone whose family has been impacted by cancer, I want only non-animal testing methods to be used. Only then will cures for humans be found and torture to animals in labs end.

  • Jenna M.

    What about Penn and Teller?

    PETA is full of hypocrites. Yes, Yale should treat their animals with respect, but PETA goes too far in their campaigning. The Humane Society is a better organization.

  • Ted

    If your son or daughter one day has cancer but there is nothing that can be done to save him/her, would you still be twisting facts and accusing scientific research on the grounds of ideology?

    Listen. If all you animal activists are so excited at jumping onto scientists and attacking them, think hard first about this question. When we cook animals and not finish every piece of it but instead throw the meat in trash, that's more atrocious than any scientific research can ever be.

  • Michele

    All of you are refusing to do the scientific inquiring that needs to be done here. Animal experiments are no longer relevant in almost all cases. Since the 1930's it has prematurely killed millions of people. Research today is done on the molecular level where the species differ the most. Just do a fact check and see the fallicies of Picciotto's words, thats all.