AVMA condemns activists targeting UC Davis researchers

Statement released today

December 1, 2010 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has publicly condemned the alleged actions of animal rights activists accused of terrorizing a University of California (UC) researcher and neuroscientist.

The group, representing roughly 80,000 U.S. veterinarians, issued the statement today, noting that its stance is based on the AVMA policy titled Use of Animals in Research, Testing and Education. The policy reads, in part: “The AVMA recognizes that animals play a central and essential role in research, testing and education for continued improvement in the health and welfare of human beings and other animals. … The use of animals used in research, testing and education is a privilege carrying with it unique professional, scientific and moral obligations.”

The AVMA's statement refers to UCLA researcher David Jentsch, who received a package last week filled with razor blades that an activist group with the moniker Justice Department claimed to be laden with AIDS-contaminated blood. In March 2009, another group claimed responsibility for firebombing a car owned by Jentsch, an associate professor of psychology who researches the neuroscience of mental disorders in the quest for new treatments. His work includes the use of nonhuman primates to study biochemical factors that contribute to methamphetamine and tobacco addiction. He also researches cognitive problems that contribute to behavioral, speech and reasoning disabilities in schizophrenics. 

Despite the threats, Jentsch vows to continue conducting research on animals that's aimed at improving the health and welfare of the mentally ill. In an open letter to his attackers, he writes, "I will not feel fear in response to your increasingly desperate and puerile attempts to frighten."

This is not the first time activists have turned to extreme tactics in a quest to end research on animals within the UC system. The system hosting many studies in human and veterinary medicine, including the California National Primate Research Center, has attracted protesters to its campuses for decades.

In 1997, 32 activists were arrested and charged with trespassing, resisting arrest, vandalism and wearing a mask during the commission of a crime on the UC Davis campus, home of the School of Veterinary Medicine. According to a university report, the group committed the alleged illegal acts following a short demonstration in front of the campus's John E. Thurman Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory — site of the country's most costly destructive act by animal rights activists in 1987, for which no one was ever prosecuted. The activists then reportedly broke in to the Center for Comparative Medicine, which was under construction at the time and had already been hit by arson.

Two years later, animal rights activists claimed responsibility for having mailed envelopes containing razor blades to several UC faculty members whose research involves nonhuman primates. These acts occurred nationwide, with many universities reporting having received such packages.

In 2007, fire was set to the homes of two researchers working at UC Santa Cruz. The incident followed a series of other attacks on researchers working on that campus as well as UCLA and UC Berkeley. The events included attempted firebombings, home invasions, vandalism, harassment, menacing phone calls and the distribution of threatening fliers.  

In response, UC leadership established the Task Force on Protecting Faculty Research and Researchers to review procedures and protocols for anticipating, preventing and responding to acts against researchers. 

The AVMA, in its news release, addresses federal regulations that oversee how research on animals is conducted. Studies at the California National Primate Research Center, for example, must pass three levels of review to go forward. The center has its own research advisory committee that reviews proposed projects to assure they are feasible, appropriate and justify the use of primates. If approved, the proposal is reviewed by the campus Animal Care and Use Committee as well as the National Institutes of Health or other funding agency.  

"Rigorous standards have been established to protect the animals involved in biomedical research and to assure they are treated humanely," says Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, AVMA chief executive officer. "... Our nation was founded on principles that encourage open and honest debate. But America has no room for terrorist activities that threaten not only that discourse but the lives of our scientists and their families. We condemn all acts of violence, vandalism and intimidation directed toward individuals and facilities engaged in the ethical use of animals for research."



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