The University of California, Berkeley, has joined the ranks of other prestigious institutions facing punishment for the mistreatment of lab animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is fining the school $8,750 for allowing five lab animals to die of thirst in 2011. The animals died after they were left in a box without water for four days.
The animals involved were voles, a species of small, long-tailed rodent that resembles a mouse. They were used as part of research of circadian rhythms looking at how light affects physiology. The study was one of many at the university -- UC Berkeley performs research on about 100,000 mice each year, in addition to other animals.
"We took very aggressive action to make sure this sort of thing could not occur again," Roger Van Andel, director of the Office of Laboratory Animal Care at UC Berkeley, told The San Francisco Chronicle.
News of the neglect has angered many animal advocates. "While no penalty -- monetary or otherwise -- can undo the unimaginable suffering of the frightened voles who were trapped in their cages as they experienced excruciating pain before their deaths, we hope the fine compels U.C. Berkeley to ensure that it adheres to the minimal animal welfare standards required by law," said Alka Chandna, a lab oversight specialist with PETA.
Other institutions -- including other UC campuses -- have faced backlash recently, too. In 2012, a macaque monkey at UC Davis was crushed to death as he was playing with the mechanism that kept his cage closed. And the Chronicle reports that things may be even worse at UC San Francisco:
In 2012, The Chronicle reported that incidents of animal neglect or mistreatment persisted at the medical school even after it paid more than $90,000 to settle such violations in the early 2000s. In one instance, a primate was starved for weeks. And during 2008 and 2009, a rhesus monkey was kept in a brain study despite chronic and painful complications. Although there is no evidence of similar violations lately, the campus fired one researcher a year ago after the employee injected mice with the wrong amount of an antiparasitic medicine, killing 110 of them.
UC's aren't alone -- in December, Harvard was fined over $24,000 for 11 violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including four involving the death of an animal. At Emory University, a July 2012 USDA report revealed that an employee killed a rhesus macaque monkey by giving him the incorrect compound, and the University of Louisiana Lafayette was fined $38,571 for a group of animal welfare violations in 2013.
Many animal advocates support developing alternatives to animal testing for research. You can learn more about those at the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at John Hopkins' University, and sign this petition to voice your support.