PETA Works to Make Sure Open Records Laws Protect Public’s Right to Know

Published by Sara Oliver.

Investigations are the lifeblood of PETA’s work. Sometimes we conduct groundbreaking undercover investigations, and sometimes we pry the records from the tormenters’ institutions using freedom of information laws.

The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other public records laws enable us to request information on activities such as experiments on animals funded by taxpayer dollars and put the cruel details under the spotlight. These records allow us to know what is going on behind closed lab doors and inform the public about ways to hold experimenters accountable when animals have suffered, laws have been violated, and public money has been misused. Here are some of our most influential uses of freedom of information and other public records laws:

UW-Madison Forced to Release Images of Horrific Cat Torture

For decades, countless cats were imprisoned, cut into, and killed in cruel and useless “sound localization” experiments at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. When PETA learned that UW experimenters took photographs to document this torment, we demanded that the school release them.

Knowing that the public would be outraged if the truth came out, UW fought to keep its cruelty a secret for more than three years. But a successful PETA lawsuit compelled the university to release the images, including heartbreaking ones of Double Trouble, an orange tabby cat. Following the exposé, UW shut down the laboratory and released the remaining cats for adoption.

Monkey Torment Revealed by PETA

Experimenter Elinor Sullivan at Oregon Health & Science University’s (OHSU) primate center has impregnated monkeys, fed them “junk food,” and then separated the babies from their mothers in order to frighten them. OHSU attempted to keep footage of the experiments secret, but we won our lawsuit after the university denied our open records request. As a result, OHSU had to turn over 74 videos of infants being deliberately frightened in the human intruder test. Some were so traumatized, they’d fling themselves about in the cage. No wonder OHSU fought to keep the videos secret.

The University of Massachusetts–Amherst Funds Monkey Torment

Melinda Novak spent 30 years and $10 million studying why monkeys mutilate themselves in laboratories when they’re caged alone and deprived of freedom, family, and any semblance of a normal life—a question anyone with even an ounce of empathy should know the answer to. The University of Massachusetts–Amherst (UMass) refused our initial request for records of Novak’s experiments, but after we filed suit, the school released footage of monkeys in small, metal cages pacing endlessly; tearing out their own hair; and even poking their thumbs into their own eyes. Novak claimed that these studies would help monkeys, but decades of these experiments led to zero changes that would benefit them. She quietly retired from animal torment after our lawsuit was filed, sparing more monkeys agony, but Agnès Lacreuse is carrying on that shameful tradition at the school by using gentle marmosets in experiments on menopause, something these animals don’t experience.

PETA’s Freedom of Information Requests Lead to ‘Monkey Fright’ Outrage

Through a FOIA request, PETA obtained 43 hours of National Institutes of Health (NIH) staffer Elisabeth Murray’s notorious “monkey fright” experiments in which monkeys stuffed into small cages can be seen reacting in terror to realistic-looking plastic spiders and snakes placed in front of them. These pseudo-science experiments haven’t resulted in a single treatment for humans. You can help stop Murray’s torment of monkeys, most of whom she inflicts with brain damage via toxins, by urging the government to stop wasting tax money on it.

NIH Child Abuse: Baby Monkeys Taken From Their Mothers and Driven Mad

For more than three decades, government experimenter Stephen Suomi carried out maternal deprivation and depression experiments on baby monkeys. His hideous procedures involved separating baby monkeys from their mothers within hours of birth. Some were given “surrogate mothers” made of wire and wood. These motherless infants were more likely to suffer from severe anxiety, aggression, depression, and other physical and mental illnesses as well as to engage in self-destructive behavior, such as biting themselves and pulling out their own hair.

PETA obtained videos—which NIH had unsuccessfully tried to charge us $100,000 for—via FOIA showing infant monkeys caged with their mothers, who were chemically sedated, had their nipples taped over, and were placed in a car seat. The terrified babies screamed and cried, climbing onto and frantically shaking their unresponsive mothers. In at least one case, experimenters can be heard laughing while a mother tries to remain awake to comfort her distraught child. In some trials, the experimenters even released an electronic snake into the cage with the baby monkeys, who innately fear the reptiles.

The videos led to public outrage. More than a quarter-million PETA supporters wrote to and called government officials to demand an end to the experiments. Following an intense campaign, NIH announced that it was ending these hideous experiments and the lab was shut down.

You Can Take Action for Animals Suffering in Labs

FOIA requires that federal agencies respond to requests within 20 working days of receiving them—but we’ve been waiting for close to two years for three agencies to fulfill their obligation to turn over records of experiments on animals involving food deprivation, near drowning, electric shocks, and other horrific activities that have repeatedly failed to produce treatments for humans. Read more about our lawsuit to compel them to follow the law here.

Then take action to help PETA modernize biomedical research. Check out our Research Modernization Deal and encourage your members of Congress to stop wasting your tax dollars on cruel, useless animal experiments and fund only animal-free research methods that will actually benefit humans.

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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