Killing Sprees at College Labs During COVID-19 Shutdown

Published by PETA.

Across the country, school closures caused by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus have led to a mass killing of countless animals who were slated to be used in crude and worthless experiments in university laboratories.

Many experiments that harm animals are now being “ramped down, curtailed, or delayed,” causing an increasing number of major universities to order a purge of animals who are not considered “critical” to their archaic experiments.

PETA is questioning why billions of taxpayer dollars are being used on experiments that can easily be ended or that involve animals who, apparently, are considered “extraneous” to the testing in the first place.

As thousands of the rodents began to be euthanized—they are typically killed with carbon dioxide, and their necks are broken just to make sure—the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) first called attention to the efforts, blasting them as a “killing spree.” “Why are these animals—when the experiments were approved by the school’s oversight body—now so easily discarded?” asks Kathy Guillermo, a senior vice president at the organization. “Experimenters are again choosing the path of convenience and simply killing animals who should never have been bought, bred, or experimented on in the first place.”

Specifically, we are urging every research university receiving public funds to do the following:

  • Suspend all animal experiments
  • Assess the effectiveness of their current and planned experiments in helping humans, the harm to animals used, and the high failure rate of these experiments
  • Make the transition to superior non-animal research methods

Which Colleges Are Killing Animals Because of the Coronavirus?

Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, the University of California–Berkeley, the University of Washington, and the University of Michigan are among the institutions calling on faculty to work on “reducing population numbers” of animals in laboratories.

coronavirus killing spree college labs wsu tweet embed

Because of its COVID-19 shutdown, Washington State University is urging its experimenters to adopt a “depopulation” plan for animals it deems nonessential in their laboratories. We know that mussels were victims of that killing spree, which begs the question: Why were they—or any other animals considered extraneous—ever bought, bred, caught, or experimented on in the first place?

Mussels exhibit individual differences in behavior, and it’s believed that they may know when other mussels have been killed. That’s because in the presence of a large number of broken mussel shells, they grow thicker shells for protection.

The novel coronavirus pandemic should be a moral and scientific reckoning for universities that have harmed and killed animals in studies that are expendable. The mass graves of animals should tell us that cures will only come with human-relevant, non-animal research methods.

—PETA neuroscientist Dr. Emily Trunnell

PETA to Feds: Stop Wasting Billions on Animal Tests Deemed Extraneous

PETA has fired off a letter to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) asking why the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is wasting taxpayer money on animal tests that universities themselves consider to be “extraneous,” despite federal policies that clearly require experimenters to reduce and replace the use of animals in experiments.

In the wake of laboratory shutdowns across the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we told HHS Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi Grimm this:

PETA is questioning why any of these animals on NIH-funded protocols are being bought, bred, trapped, or experimented on in the first place since they’re now so easily disposed of and since experiments are now being ended or delayed. Universities cannot legitimately argue that all animals on NIH-funded protocols are vital to medical research—and that the protocols are indeed worthy of NIH funding—while simultaneously classifying many of the animals as unnecessary and then killing them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s the bottom line: The fact that these experiments are being conducted at universities across the country at a cost to taxpayers of billions of dollars every year is the height of absurdity.

We’re urging HHS to investigate this waste of taxpayer dollars and animals’ lives and ensure that ongoing NIH-funded experiments involving animals deemed non-essential are ended, that new NIH-funded experiments that include such animals will not be approved, and that the breeding and acquisition of such animals for NIH-funded experiments are prohibited.

PETA to Universities: In COVID-19 Shutdown, Who Are You Going to Kill?

UPDATE: PETA has written to numerous universities across the country and in Canada that have directed staff to kill or reduce the number of animals locked in their laboratories because of their shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other things, we’re demanding that schools release the following key information to the public, since many of their animal experiments are funded by taxpayers:

  • A list of the animal experiments that will not continue since officials categorized them as extraneous, noncritical, non-essential, ramped down, disposable, or unnecessary
  • The number and species of animals who are used in these experiments
  • A notice of if, when, and how many of these animals have been and/or will be killed

We’ll keep you posted on their responses.

PETA Calls BS on Johns Hopkins’ Denial of Coronavirus Killing Spree

UPDATE: In an interview in the journal Science, the associate director of research animal resources at Johns Hopkins University, Eric Hutchinson, was asked if—as PETA had reported—a directive to purge animals not considered “critical” to experiments had been issued at Johns Hopkins as part of its response to the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

“On Monday, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claimed that universities were being ordered to purge animals that are not considered critical to experiments. Is anything like this happening at your institutions?”

Hutchinson replied, “I will say categorically that no mice or any other animals have been euthanized in an effort to conserve resources.”

His answer made it seem as if PETA had invented this cruel mandate out of thin air. But unfortunately for Hutchinson, we kept the receipts. In fact, the mandate to “euthanize extraneous animals” at John Hopkins came from Hutchinson himself.

In an e-mail sent to Johns Hopkins’ Animal Use and Care Committee on March 12, Hutchinson directed that beginning on Monday, March 16, “[l]abs should mark cages according to priority…, euthanize extraneous animals, and make provisions for necessary ongoing experimental treatments/procedures.”

It doesn’t end there.

As of March 18, Johns Hopkins’ own “COVID-19 Priority and Ongoing Treatment Form” says the following:

  • Entire “litters … may be euthanized as space/resources require.”
  • “Labs should also designate any animals without an immediate/critical experimental purpose that could be prioritized for euthanasia should personnel and resources become scarce in the event of extreme or prolonged disruption of service.”

And, at the time of publishing, the school’s “Animal Research Coronavirus Phased Contingency Plan” instructs staffers to “[r]educe cage census as much as possible,” which appears to be a euphemistic way of saying that they should reduce the population of the cages, i.e., kill animals.

In the Science article, Hutchinson “categorically” denied that any animals had yet “been euthanized in an effort to conserve resources.” While that’s great news—if true—it isn’t an answer to the question he was asked or a denial of PETA’s reporting.

The mandate to kill “extraneous” animals at Johns Hopkins’ laboratories was given. Hutchinson’s answer doesn’t deny that, nor does it claim that animals used in tests won’t be killed in the coming hours, days, or weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

COVID-19 Cover-Up: UC–San Diego Hides Kills of ‘Non-Essential Animals’

UPDATE: In response to PETA’s letter asking, among other things, that the University of California–San Diego (USCD) make public the number and species of animals deemed “non-essential”—and therefore fair game for laboratories to kill—during its COVID-19 shutdown, the school has chosen to take the following cowardly actions:

  1. Ignore our request for this information about animals who UCSD calls “non-essential”
  2. Include in its response to us the apparently false claim that California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order “highlights animal research as an essential function,” which it does not
  3. Change the previously publicly accessible “Animal Research” section of its “COVID-19 Continuity of Research” webpage to password-only access so that the public cannot see that the university is breeding, buying, and experimenting on “non-essential animals”

Nice try, UCSD.

We kept the receipts and archived the university’s webpage, and as anyone can see, it clearly urges experimenters to cull “non-essential animals,” many of whom are or would be used in experiments funded by taxpayers, the very people UCSD is trying to prevent from seeing the truth.

UCSD college killing spree coronavirus lab animals

We reiterate our call that UCSD come clean about the number and species of animals it deems “non-essential” and stop breeding, buying, and experimenting on these animals, who should never have been used in the first place.

PETA to Cornell: COVID-19 Shutdown Kills Which Nonessential Animals?

UPDATE: PETA sent a letter urging Cornell University to make public the number and species of animals in its laboratories likely to be killed during its COVID-19 shutdown because they’ve been deemed not to be “essential,” but the school has chosen to ignore our request for this information. In addition, after it received our letter, Cornell password-protected its previously public COVID-19 page in which it urged experimenters who use rodents and fish “not to exceed 60% of their census as of March 1, 2020.” In other words, the school instructed the experimenters to kill up to 40% of those animals.

We urged Cornell to prohibit permanently all experiments on animals deemed by the school to be not “essential” as well as to suspend the breeding and acquisition of any animals the school put in that category. We argued that the university should adhere to these standards indefinitely, not just during the COVID-19 response period.

Obviously, taxpayer dollars should never have been wasted in the first place on experiments that could be so easily ended. What’s more, Cornell has a long history of animal welfare violations. We urged the school to prohibit staff who’ve committed those violations from carrying out experiments in the future. You guessed it: We’re still waiting to hear about that one, too.

PETA to University of Montana: Who Gets Killed in COVID-19 Shutdown?

UPDATE: In light of its COVID-19 shutdown, the University of Montana has urged its experimenters to reduce “population numbers” of animals in campus laboratories, wrap up their animal experiments, or delay starting new ones.

PETA, in turn, fired off a letter to the school, urging it to make public the number and species of animals it considers extraneous who are likely to be killed in this cull. The university shouldn’t be wasting taxpayer dollars on failed animal experiments that leave patients waiting for treatments and cures, much less on experiments that can easily be ended or on animals it considers to be nonessential to the testing.

In its response, the University of Montana ignored our demand. So we replied urging it to commit to permanently prohibiting animal experiments that are apparently considered noncritical and to stop breeding or acquiring animals deemed as such, rather than having a separate policy that only applies during the COVID-19 response period.

PETA Urges State Auditor to Investigate Apparent Waste at University of Colorado

UPDATE: PETA has sent a letter to Colorado’s state auditor urging her to investigate whether any of the more than $169 million in state taxpayer funds given to the University of Colorado in 2019 was squandered on experiments on animals the university deemed “unnecessary” during its COVID-19 shutdown.

In the lead-up to the shutdown, the University of Colorado–Boulder and the school’s Anschutz Medical Campus issued directives that likely led to the mass killing of animals in laboratories there. In fact, after the university urged experimenters to identify experiments or animal breeding that could be “ramped down, curtailed or delayed,” its Office of Animal Resources (OAR) anticipated so many killings that it added this disturbing note: “OAR will euthanize unnecessary breeders for you, free of charge, in order to prevent crowds near euthanasia stations [emphasis added].”

If an investigation confirms that taxpayer money was wasted on useless, cruel experiments involving animals who were deemed “unnecessary,” the state auditor should ensure that the following things happen:

  • Any state-funded experiments involving these animals that have restarted should be terminated.
  • New state-funded experiments involving these animals should not be approved.
  • The breeding and acquisition of such animals for state-funded research activities should be prohibited.

We’re sending similar letters to a number of other state auditors.

PETA Replies to Universities’ Absurd COVID-Killing Responses

UPDATE: Because of their COVID-19 shutdowns, both the University of Toronto (UT) and Harvard University have halted experiments on their campuses that aren’t considered critical. As with other schools, this begs the question why taxpayer dollars in both Canada and the U.S. are being used in the first place on experiments that can easily be ended or that involve animals who are deemed nonessential.

PETA sent a letter to UT and Harvard urging them to make public which animals they consider extraneous and who are likely to be euthanized in this killing spree. One Harvard experimenter has already admitted to killing hundreds of mice who apparently were not considered essential.

In their replies, neither university responded to our demand. So we once again urged them to commit to permanently prohibiting animal experiments that are apparently considered noncritical and to stop breeding or acquiring animals deemed as such, rather than enacting these measures only during the pandemic.

The University of California–Berkeley and Brown University also decided to ignore our call for transparency in their responses to us. They’re keeping secret which animals in their laboratories have been or will be killed. What we do know is that UC-Berkeley implemented a “ramp down effort” that directed experimenters to finish “critical experiments.” And Brown’s COVID-19 contingency plan calls for the restriction of “non-critical” research. So at this point, how many animals deemed noncritical or nonessential have been killed on these campuses is anyone’s guess.

Both these schools have a shameful history of animal deaths and injuries. For instance, five bats starved to death at Brown when laboratory staff forgot to feed them, and that was when labs were fully staffed before the pandemic. This carelessness doesn’t bode well for animals in laboratories with reduced personnel during the pandemic.

In our letters, PETA demanded that Berkeley and Brown prohibit experimenters who have committed animal welfare violations from carrying out animal testing going forward.

PETA Urges Alabama Department of Public Health to End Experiments on Animals in Universities

UPDATE: PETA has sent a letter to the Alabama Department of Public Health urging it to end experiments on animals in laboratories in that state permanently, beginning with those the University of Alabama–Birmingham had already deemed to be non-essential during the initial COVID-19 shutdown.

In our letter, we point out that limited resources would be wasted should such experiments be allowed to continue:

“Expending precious research resources and taxpayer funds on animal testing—especially experiments and the animals used in them deemed by the institutions themselves to be not ‘essential’—is the height of absurdity and waste and should not continue, nor should laboratory personnel endanger their health for such experiments.”

The letter also lays out the consequences if such experiments are permitted to go on and Alabama shuts down again: “[M]ore animals will undoubtedly be euthanized and money that could otherwise have gone to more effective and human-relevant, non-animal studies benefiting public health will be wasted.”

We’re sending similar letters to a number of other state health departments. 

Virginia Tech Tries to Cover Up Animal Deaths in Labs, PETA Exposes Receipts

Update: December 1, 2020

Armed with damning internal documents, PETA sent a letter today to Virginia Tech’s (VT) president, Timothy D. Sands, calling out the university’s misleading public claim that it “did not mandate any animals to be euthanized due to COVID-19,” citing records showing that VT laboratories deemed animals expendable and killed them in response to the pandemic. Accordingly, PETA is calling on the university to reimburse any public funds used for the experiments.

“Given that Virginia Tech deemed numerous experiments and the animals used for them to be non-essential, the animals shouldn’t have been bought, bred, trapped, or experimented on in the first place,” says PETA Vice President Shalin Gala. “PETA urges Virginia Tech to stop wasting taxpayer dollars and animals’ lives on pointless experiments and to pursue superior, animal-free research.”

PETA Confirms COVID-19 Killings, Demands Audits of Wasted Tax Money

Update: February 17, 2021

PETA has obtained documents via Freedom of Information Act requests that confirm that the University of Colorado–Boulder, the University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC), and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) deemed animals used in taxpayer-funded experiments unnecessary and euthanized them per the schools’ directives urging that staff ramp down laboratory experiments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. PETA has sent letters to the schools calling on them to reimburse all taxpayer funds wasted in this purge, pointing out that if they can label animals as extraneous, they shouldn’t have been bought, bred, or experimented on in the first place.

CU-Boulder bred these “unnecessary” animals for crude and useless experiments, including ones that induce crippling muscle injuries and lethal mutations that affect neural development. UMKC bred animals it later deemed non-essential for experiments that induce debilitating eye injuries and expose animals to strenuous bone and muscle exertion, among other issues. OHSU also killed animals it determined were extraneous, including mice who were to be injected with toxins to induce liver cancer and mice who’d be genetically manipulated to develop brain defects in a futile effort to study autism—which does not affect mice. Pups in this experiment would have been forced to balance on a spinning rod and endure other stressful tests. We’ve also sent a letter to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Management Assessment urging it to recoup more than $5.4 million of taxpayers’ money that NIH cumulatively wasted in funding these experiments. And we sent letters to several NIH agencies and state auditors urging them to audit and recover the public funds misspent on these experiments.

We’ll be sending similar letters after we obtain documents proving that other universities had deemed animals used in taxpayer-funded experiments as unnecessary and euthanized them.

After Rutgers Kills 23,000 Animals, It Gets Tax Bailout—PETA Demands an Audit

Update: November 18, 2021

Nearly 23,000 mice who were deemed part of “non-critical” experiments were killed during the COVID-19 shutdown at Rutgers University’s laboratories. What’s more, this shocking number was exposed by Rutgers’ own student newspaper, yet the school still cowardly refuses to confirm that any mass killing occurred, despite the proof in its own documents.

In 2020, a whistleblower leaked evidence to PETA that Rutgers had suspended nonessential experiments and enacted a plan that involved euthanizing animals. We sent a letter to the school’s president demanding to know why it conducts animal experiments (most often funded with tax dollars) apparently considered extraneous in the first place, but we received no response.

PETA is leading the fight against the waste of taxpayer dollars used for extraneous experiments on animals at universities across the country. We have written to the National Institutes of Health demanding an investigation into the failure of Rutgers—which received more than $98 million from the federal agency as well as nearly $437 million in direct state operating aid in fiscal year 2021—to minimize its use of animals as required by federal policies. We’ve also written to the New Jersey state auditor about the university’s lack of transparency and waste of taxpayer money and to demand an audit. Furthermore, we wrote to the university’s president to insist on the refund of taxpayer funds wasted on extraneous experiments on animals. There is no excuse for Rutgers’ rampant waste of life and valuable resources.

PETA Confirms COVID-19 Killings at UConn and UW-Madison, Demands Reimbursement of Wasted Tax Money

Update: March 30, 2022

PETA has obtained disturbing documents confirming that the University of Connecticut (UConn) and the University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW) deemed animals used in taxpayer-funded experiments extraneous and euthanized them during the ramp down of experiments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve sent letters to the schools calling on them to reimburse the taxpayer money wasted in these bloodbaths, which were carried out per the schools’ directives. In the letters, we point out what should be obvious: If animals can be labeled extraneous, they shouldn’t have been bought, bred, or experimented on in the first place.

At the beginning of the pandemic, UConn issued a directive to “immediately reduce animal numbers.” As a result, rabbits in the laboratory of UConn experimenter Harvey Swadlow were killed. His curiosity-driven experiments involve surgically fixing a stainless steel bar to the rabbits’ heads, restraining their bodies, and depriving them of food and water in attempts to study visual processing. Taxpayer losses related to those experiments amounted to $2 million.

Similarly, after UW-Madison issued an edict early in the pandemic that “[a]ll on-site research activities must be approved by a dean or director, who are directed to only approve essential research,” mice who were to be used in a devised by experimenter Laura Knoll were killed. That experiment involved infecting mice with toxoplasmosis and destroying their immune systems with full-body radiation as well as injecting female mice with hormones to induce ovulation and then removing their reproductive tracts after they were killed. Taxpayer losses related to this experiment were more than $1.1 million.

We’ve also sent letters to several National Institutes of Health agencies and the state auditors in Connecticut and Wisconsin, urging them to audit and recover the public funds misspent on these experiments. These examples of waste and loss of life highlight the urgent need to end all experiments on animals.

Experiments on Animals Must End

Studies show that 90% of all basic research, most of which involves animals, fails to lead to human treatments. Also, 95% of all new medications that test safe and effective in animals fail in human trials. Yet the National Institutes of Health spends half its $40 billion research budget on animal tests, mostly at universities.

Some of the taxpayer-funded experiments that PETA condemns as cruel, pointless, and wasteful include the following:

You can help animals like these. Take action now:

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind