The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have rated University of Wisconsin laboratories the worst offender of animal abuse among "some of the nation's premier university laboratories." However, university representative and UW professor Eric Sandgren said PETA is simply "pushing an agenda" and misrepresented information in their ratings.
In a press release, PETA referred to UW's Primate Research Center as the "Abu Ghraib" for animals, and in a phone interview Wednesday, PETA representative Mary Sweetland accused the center of mistreating animals for "worthless" experiments.
"It's a black hole when it comes to our tax dollars and producing research of substance," she said. "Some of the most worthless and cruel experiments, we believe, are taking place at UW."
But Sandgren, who also chairs the All-campus Animal Care and Use Committee, which evaluates each experiment conducted at the research center, questioned the credibility of PETA's claims.
"Reality and facts don't matter to [PETA], they're not interested in them," he said in a phone interview Wednesday. "We make certain the question is important, that animals have to be used and the correct species of animals is being used."
PETA criticized a variety of Primate Center experiments, including a fetal alcohol syndrome study conducted by UW researcher Mary Lynn Schneider, a taser study by UW researcher John Webster, as well as the research conduct of suspended UW researcher Ei Terasawa.
Calling Schneider's research "unethical," Sweetland said Schneider's experiments involve feeding pregnant monkeys alcohol and subjecting six-month-old monkeys to "bursts of random noise" while isolated daily in a small, dark room.
"It's really kind of shocking this kind of stuff is being approved by the UW Animal Care and Use Committee," Sweetland said, claiming research has been conducted at UW "for years" and has cost more than $2 million.
Sweetland continued saying the research was not practical, since it only proved "established fact."
"Why should we foot the bill for exposing pregnant monkeys to alcohol when everyone knows alcohol is dangerous to fetuses?" Sweetland asked.
According to Sweetland, Webster's taser experiment involved shocking pigs with tasers and she called the experiment a "boondoggle," accusing the university of doing the experiment only to "pump up" the stock of Taser International.
However, Sweetland reserved the harshest criticisms for Terasawa, who, according to Sweetland, was suspended for two years from conducting animal research after a monkey died "from neglect" during an experiment.
Calling Terasawa "either an idiot or cruel," Sweetland added the incident was just one example of the "gross cruelty" occurring at the UW Primate Research Center.
But Sandgren said PETA was "misrepresenting" the purpose of Webster and Schneider's experiments.
Sandgren elaborated Schneider's experiments are intended to study the effects of "very small, low-level amounts" of alcohol on a fetus during a pregnancy, which Sandgren said "almost nothing" is known about.
"The question of whether it is a problem to take a few drinks during a pregnancy has not been addressed at all," Sandgren added.
As for Webster's experiment, Sandgren remarked PETA misrepresented the purpose of the experiment, which was to study the flow of an electrical current through the body, specifically the heart.
Sandgren added the experiment cannot be done in humans, and the pigs "never felt any pain."
In the case of Terasawa, Sandgren added the university reported the misconduct and acted on it.
"When things are not handled the way they're supposed to, we handle that," he said.
Other universities on PETA's top ten "worst offenders of abuse of animals" list include Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Columbia University.