On Wednesday afternoon, a handful of animal rights activists stood on the corners of Cedar Street and Congress Avenue to protest the use of animal models for research conducted at the Yale School of Medicine.
The protesters claimed that the medical school “tortures” and “murders” animals. Organized by Violet Frith of Guilford, the demonstration was part of World Week for Animals in Labs sponsored by the American Anti-Vivisection Society, an organization dedicated to ending animal research. In interviews with the News, six researchers who passed by the demonstration dismissed the protester’s claims that Yale mistreats animals used for research as inaccurate.
Director of Yale’s Office of Animal Research Support Troy Hallman wrote in an email to the University’s research community on Wednesday that World Week for Animals in Laboratories is “an opportunity for animal rights extremists to coordinate their activities” and that the Yale Police Department was notified of the group’s presence on campus.
Hallman could not be reached for additional comment on the protest.
University spokesperson Karen Peart wrote in an email to the News that Yale laboratories “comply with or exceed all federal regulations and independent accreditation standards.”
“As we continue to advance scientific knowledge and modern medicine, providing hope for millions of patients and their families, Yale scientists will sustain their commitment to the appropriate use of animals in research,” Peart wrote. “Our faculty members employ animals only when there are no alternative models for advancing their research. Yale personnel are extremely diligent and caring about their animal care and use responsibilities.”
At Wednesday’s demonstration, the protesters distributed informational pamphlets to those who passed by them. The handouts included a “Wall of Shame” section that targeted the work of three School of Medicine professors, publishing a paragraph about each faculty members’ research, alongside their email and office phone numbers to encourage those sympathetic to the Society’s cause to contact them.
One of the targeted professors, Jane Taylor, told the News that her research with mice was taken out of context. The group wrote that animals in Taylor’s laboratory are killed and their brains “sliced up” after they have been given alcohol, PCP or cocaine. While Taylor said that this is true, the pamphlet failed to state that the animals were part of addiction studies that could lead to improved patient care.
“They contribute to misinformation because they are making statements that sound much more inflammatory than the actual experiments are,” Taylor said. “As animal researchers, we spend a lot of time trying to do these studies in an extremely humane way, and there are a lot of regulations about what you can do to the animals and for how long.”
School of Medicine resident Vanessa Baratta ’12 said that animal research is critical to developing new medical treatments. Baratta, who conducts animal research at the medical school and passed by the demonstration, said the suggestion that Yale does not treat all animals in a humane way is “absolutely false.”
“To paint me as someone who is a villain or someone who tortures animals, as a researcher, I take personal offense to that,” she said. “I think they should do more research before they hold up a poster making these broad statements that basically vilify research.”
Protesters at Wednesday’s demonstration, such as Tiffany Bourgeois, called for scientists to abandon animal research altogether. Head organizer Frith told the News that she wants scientists to employ alternative methods in their research, such as computer modeling.
A School of Medicine graduate student, who wished to remain anonymous so as to not be associated with the protest, said that he thinks that animals are used in research “too much,” but that some of this use is necessary. He noted that a greater understanding of how animal research is conducted in laboratories might “alleviate some of the stress shown” by protesters at the demonstration.
The group plans to protest again in front of Yale New Haven Hospital on Saturday.
Marisa Peryer | firstname.lastname@example.org