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What are critics saying about Stanford animal research?
STANFORD --As he leaves Stanford for a new position at North Carolina State University, Comparative Medicine Professor Thomas Hamm, Stanford's chief veterinarian, says he is leaving the university with "the best laboratory-anim l care in the world."
Animal care experts from outside Stanford, and government inspectors who oversee it, agree that the quality of care and oversight meet high standards.
"We're not perfect," Hamm said, "but we try to minimize mistakes."
"Not perfect" is perhaps the only description Hamm and Lise Giraud could agree upon. Giraud is an emerita librarian from Stanford's Green Library; with her husband Raymond Giraud, professor emeritus of French and Italian, she i s co-director of education for the San Rafael-based group In Defense of Animals, which opposes any use of animals for research. A former president and board member of the Palo Alto Humane Society, Giraud has long been one of the severe st critics of animal research at Stanford.
When asked what single step Stanford could take that would make the lives of its research animals better, Giraud states her agenda clearly: "The best thing one can do for them is just not to use them [animals] at all."
Giraud said that researchers submit animals to "lives of suffering and deprivation" and that no university oversight committee or government inspection system is sufficient to protect them.
Animal-research decisions are made by an "old boys' and old girls' network," Giraud said. She charged that "people can cook up the most bizarre protocols and get them passed by their peers," and that Stanford officials hide ani mal mistreatment from the public.
Even some who otherwise support animal research fault the university for lack of openness. In a Feb. 21 editorial, the Stanford Daily criticized the School of Medicine for refusing to divulge details of research that was stoppe d due to violations of an animal-use protocol.
By not giving the public the opportunity to judge the facts, Daily editors wrote, the university "spurred speculation and rumors that might be worse than the actual mistreatment."
In a March 4 article, the Daily interviewed undergraduates who do laboratory research. Some students said they would like more discussion with their professors about the ethical issues behind the decision to use animals.
Hamm responded that Stanford is open about many aspects of its animal research. Tours of animal facilities are open to anyone over the age of 15, by making an appointment with the Department of Comparative Medicine. Students ar e notified if use of animals or animal tissue will be part of a class.
After a protocol has been approved and the project has been funded, copies of the approved protocol are available upon request from members of the university community, Patricia L. Devaney, associate dean of research, said.
Fewer than five graduate and undergraduate classes per year use research animals, Hamm said. "We have very little use of animals for teaching, because students have opportunities to get involved in research," he said. For the p ast three years, Hamm has conducted a class, Introduction to the Humane Use of Laboratory Animals, open to graduates and undergraduates.
On the other hand, Stanford has a policy of confidentiality regarding minutes of the Administrative Panels, such as the Administrative Panel on Laboratory Animal Care, according to Devaney. The details of the discussions are no t published so as to encourage open and free disclosure about the animal protocols under discussion.
Confidentiality 'toughens' panel
Hamm said that confidentiality actually makes the panel tougher on animal researchers. Because its members are free to question the fine details of a planned experiment, they can debate how research can be improved to make it m ore humane. If their deliberations were open to the public, he said, panel members might be reluctant to question research projects unless they were obviously inhumane.
There is a further reason for not divulging details of panel discussions, Hamm said: The information might subject the researchers to harassment by animal-rights extremists. A fire that destroyed two laboratories at Michigan St ate University in March is one of at least 56 violent attacks - including bombings, arson and vandalism - by animal rightists since 1982.
Stanford has been the site of protests and a false bomb threat, and Hamm said that animal-care staff have been threatened.
"That's absurd," said Giraud, accused Stanford officials of creating paranoia with exaggerated claims of terrorism.
"It's like the Big Lie, constantly being repeated," she said. "Animal-rights activists in this area have known for years who some of the most egregious offenders are, and no harm has come to them."
Giraud said the animal-rights movement is non-violent and that she personally knows most of the 80 to 100 most active of several hundred activists in the Bay Area.
"You can't imagine what a stolidly respectable lot we are," she said.
Hamm responded that local activists may have no control or knowledge of the movement's violent fringe.
In an interview, Giraud said she has been campaigning for animal rights for almost 20 years. She was one of the leaders of the mid-1980s movement to demand an environmental impact report that delayed construction of the univers ity's Research Animal Facility - a delay that Hamm says cost Stanford at least $1.4 million.
'Clean prison still a prison'
Giraud said that government inspection is ineffective, concentrating only on paperwork and housekeeping details like cage cleanliness.
"I'm sure the facility is scrupulously clean," she said. "But whether it's a clean prison or a dirty prison, it's still a prison."
She said that the university's Administrative Panel on Laboratory Animal Care is incapable of protecting the public interest because all its members are appointed by the president of the university. She rejected the possibility that the committee's record of stopping research is proof that it exercises real clout or succeeds in protecting animals.
The panel should have a public member "chosen by the animal-protective community," Giraud said. "The people who believe in animal research are well represented on that committee. There's no one who actually questions the ethics , the morals, the justification for the [research] project at all."
Stanford's committee includes a Medical Center chaplain and two public members, both veterinarians with practices in the nearby community, one of whom is the past Chairman of the AVMAVeterinary Services Council and the past Pen insula Veterinary Medical Association liaison to the Peninsula Humane Society Board of Directors. The panel chair, Donald Stanski, said other universities have found that when a member is an animal-rights activist, he or she tends to d emand that the committee go beyond the law to enforce the activist's agenda.
Nevertheless, in 1987 Stanford did attempt to find a public member acceptable to the Palo Alto Humane Society. Stanford's chief requirement was that the public member must be a practicing local veterinarian, with expert knowled ge of animal health. The attempt failed because only one candidate was proposed who might have been acceptable to both sides and she withdrew from consideration for the post. Instead, the university appointed Mountain View vet R. L. Co llinson as its second public member.
Disputes over dog, primate rules
Animals-rights activists are currently at odds with research institutions over implementation of two federal rules, governing exercise for dogs and psychological well-being for primates.
Giraud said that Stanford and other institutions lobbied to soften these requirements. Hamm replied that laboratory veterinarians are still trying to find out what psychological well-being means for each species, sometimes for each individual animal.
For example, Stanford's squirrel monkeys are raised in group housing and evidently thrive together; when one monkey gets sick, vets have learned to bring a partner along to keep it company in the veterinary intensive-care unit. In contrast, rhesus monkeys - usually adult males - would fight and wound each other if kept in the same cage.
Giraud charged that Hamm helped to scotch a proposed federal rule requiring exercise for dogs.
"His position is that there is no scientific evidence that dogs need exercise or sunshine," she said. In the underground Research Animal Facility, she said, "dogs are never taken out of their rooms. They're only let out of thei r cages when the cage is being washed."
Hamm said Stanford's cages are not only larger than the basic requirement, but large enough so that studies show the dogs get adequate exercise inside the cage. During cage cleaning, each dog is let out to pace a corridor withi n a small room. Staff members are encouraged to play with the dogs, but Hamm said he opposes rules for a mandatory amount of play each day.
Animals from the nation's only colony of narcoleptic dogs spend an entire life of many years at Stanford. Most rotate for some time each year to a separate outdoor facility, where they live in large pens.
When pressed for specific examples of animal mistreatment, Giraud recalled charges going back as much as 20 years, but few examples from the period since the A-PLAC panel has been reviewing protocols and stopping research.
She mentioned one 1987 case in which a researcher used only one of two required anesthetics while putting an endotracheal tube down a cat's throat. The research was stopped by the A-PLAC committee, and the individual, whom Gira ud charged previously had done "horrible things to monkeys and cats," later left the university.
Other examples that she considered abusive: cats kept on platforms over water to keep them awake; monkeys frightened by the sight of a boa constrictor outside their cages; a photo, sent to her anonymously, of a white rat appare ntly suspended by its tail. The first two projects occurred more than a decade ago, and the date of the third is unknown, but Giraud said that they represent the current attitude of Stanford scientists toward animals.
"Some are so convinced of the rightness of what they're doing that they don't even think about it," she said. For current examples, Giraud referred to allegations by Jerry Duff, who worked as a temporary cage washer in the Rese arch Animal Facility for two weeks in the fall of 1991. Duff saw what he believed to be a dog with its brain exposed; in fact, the animal was fitted with a flesh-colored plastic cap to hold electrodes in place.
Duff also said he saw a worker pulling what looked like skin away from the flesh of a sheep; Hamm said the animal may have been shaved for surgery, and the "sheepskin" may have been a type of artificial fleece that is often use d to keep animals comfortable and warm.
Despite signs posted in every corridor giving a telephone number where animal abuse may be reported anonymously, Duff did not talk about his concerns except to Giraud and to the press.
"I didn't think they [Stanford administrators] would do anything about it," he said.
Duff said he was not against animal research, but "there are certain procedures I didn't think were right."
He said after his allegations were reported in the newspapers, the temporary agency that hired him said he would not be able to get another job in a biomedical facility. However, when interviewed in March, Duff said he was work ing for a pharmaceutical company that did biomedical research.
Duff also said that he saw workers putting "biohazard" signs on an animal room on the day of an inspection; he later saw them taking the signs down. Giraud charged this was an example of a cover-up - that the purpose of the sig ns was to keep inspectors out of certain areas.
"We do put biohazard signs up on new rooms almost every day," Hamm replied. "And we take them down."
He said biohazard signs are required even in cases of minor levels of risk to humans. Animals are often shifted from room to room; the sign follows a "biohazardous" animal to the new room, and as soon as the animal is moved aga in, the sign is taken down.
"What [Duff] saw was OK," Hamm said. "He just made the wrong connection."
Hamm said that falsifying signs on the fly "would be the dumbest thing to do when inspectors are around." Inspectors check even harder if documentation looks as if it is not current and accurate, he said.
In one sense, Hamm and Giraud are working for the same goal. Animal welfare legislation over the past decade has increased the comfort and safety of animals used in research, and has pushed many scientists to look for alternati ves to animals when possible.
Hamm said that when he came to Stanford in 1984, he expected that he would soon establish a partnership with animal-welfare advocates.
"I was naive," he now says.
Those protesters whose agenda is to stop all animal research, he said, are not impressed with the cleanliness of Stanford's facilities or the quality of its animal husbandry.
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