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Campus Connection: Animal rights group wants answers from USDA

buy this photo UW-Madison researchers have used cynomolgus macaques, such as the one pictured here, in AIDS vaccine research.

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Blog: Campus Connection

Todd Finkelmeyer has been covering higher education for the Capital Times since April 2008. He started contributing to the newspaper in 1990, was hired full-time in 1994 and has since covered everything from the Super Bowl to stem cell research. Follow his Campus Connection blog for the latest on higher education news in the Madison area.

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Michael Budkie, the executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack demanding an independent investigation of the agency's animal research oversight organizations due to a number of animal deaths in labs across the country in the past year-plus.

We bring this up because some on the UW-Madison campus have argued in recent months that animal research at the university is ethical, in part, due to stringent federal oversight.

But Budkie, whose group opposes primate research for moral and financial reasons, says that's not the case.

In the letter to Vilsack, Budkie writes: "The frequency of these negligent deaths appears to be increasing, and the resulting penalties levied against the guilty laboratories appear to be of such an insignificant level that they are utterly ineffective."

Among the nationally known institutions called out by Budkie for "incidents of fatal negligence/malfeasance" is UW-Madison.

Of UW-Madison, Budkie writes: "A September 9, 2009, USDA inspection report cited the University of Wisconsin in the negligent death of a primate who had suffered from ‘chronic health problems (lameness, neurologic signs) from March 2005 until his death in November of 2008.' The principal investigator did not follow diagnosis and treatment delineated by veterinary staff, resulting in the death of animal Rh2288."

When asked if he expects the USDA to take his letter seriously, Budkie said in a phone interview with the Cap Times that he wasn't sure.

"We're hoping that since this is such a wide-spread thing and since it's been documented by their own (USDA oversight) people, that they'll actually take some action," said Budkie, who is based in Milford, Ohio. "And if not, our next step is to start contacting elected officials across the U.S. to try to get federal oversight hearings. The fact is, these deaths are happening literally across the United States and the USDA is doing virtually nothing about it. So what's the point of even having an Animal Welfare Act?"

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