Victory! Court Strikes Blow Against Anonymity for Inept Animal Oversight Committee Members

Published by .
5 min read

Update (February 17, 2023): It’s a historic, precedent-setting victory for transparency and accountability in animal experimentation.  

In 2021, PETA had requested the names of the University of Washington’s (UW) Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) members, who are supposed to be the last line of protection for animals imprisoned in the school’s laboratories. UW’s IACUC has consistently been a miserable failure at its job, resulting in animals’ deaths from starvation, dehydration, strangulation, scalding, blood loss, and other causes.

The IACUC members—seemingly desperate to conceal their identities at all costs—were granted a preliminary injunction by a federal district court, temporarily barring the disclosure of their names and preventing us from determining whether they’re qualified to oversee the use of animals in experiments. (See details below.)

Now for the great news.

PETA appealed the decision, arguing that transparency is vital to holding committees advising public institutions accountable and making sure these governing bodies aren’t influenced by private industries.

The Ninth Circuit Court ruled today and agreed with us that these members have no right under the U.S. Constitution to keep their identities secret!

PETA expects this decision will have far-reaching consequences and make it harder for all IACUCs to operate secretly—or without accountability to the taxpayers who fund experiments.

This is a landmark decision establishing that what these committees do as the last line of defense for animals in publicly funded laboratories is everyone’s business. All citizens have a right to judge for themselves if these committees are enforcing the law or serving as a rubber stamp for experimenters whose incompetence has caused animals to needlessly die of thirst, starvation, and human error.

—Asher Smith, PETA Foundation Director of Litigation

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press—and 16 other media organizations that advocate for First Amendment rights, including the university’s hometown newspaper, The Seattle Times—sided with us in our appeal.

Another PETA lawsuit challenging IACUC members’ secrecy, under Washington state open meetings law, remains pending.

Originally posted on October 1, 2021:

PETA is filing a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against the University of Washington (UW) over its refusal to disclose exactly who is on its ironically named Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)—the group that is supposed to ensure that all animal protection laws are enforced in the school’s laboratories but has failed miserably to prevent animals’ deaths from starvation, dehydration, strangulation, scalding, blood loss, and other causes.

Dorothy at UW near Board of Regents pictures

The state of Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) requires that all meetings of governing bodies of publicly funded agencies be open to the public. The IACUC—which meets the description of a governing body under the OPMA—is currently conducting much of its actions outside of public view.

When the members do show their faces, it’s in brief monthly meetings via Zoom web calls with their names hidden. Instead, participants use anonymous labels such as “IACUC1” or “IACUC2,” and even these placeholder names are subject to change from one meeting to the next.

Our groundbreaking lawsuit asks the court to order the disclosure of these IACUC members’ names and to set aside any actions taken by the committee that violate OPMA. If PETA is successful, actions taken by the IACUC—including the approval of experiments—in violation of the law may be deemed null and void and any such experiments may need to be reviewed again properly.

UW Has Some Explaining to Do

The IACUC is meant to be the last line of defense for animals suffering in laboratories, responsible for ensuring that animal protection laws and regulations are adhered to—yet we don’t even know whether its members are qualified to hold their positions so long as UW suspiciously conceals their identities.

Under the provisions of the federal Animal Welfare Act, IACUCs are required to have a certain makeup of members, including a nonscientist and a community member representing the general community’s interests in the treatment of animals. But the UW IACUC’s “nonscientific” member is Ken Gordon, the executive director of the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research, which promotes experiments on animals.

Washington National Primate Research Center at the University of Washington

The membership of its IACUC isn’t the only thing that UW is trying to hide.

In December 2020, PETA filed a lawsuit against the school for its failure to release documents detailing the decision to purchase a rundown, contaminated facility in the Arizona desert where UW’s primate center has been breeding macaques for use in experiments. The school has also failed to turn over documents detailing the primate center’s financial and leadership crises.

UW’s IACUC Members Have Repeatedly Let Animals Down

UW’s IACUC has a shameful track record. In 2015, inspectors found that it was acting as a rubber stamp committee—recklessly approving even proposals that hadn’t been filled out properly. Documents revealed that multiple procedures had been approved by the IACUC without adequately detailing what would be done to the animals. This led to the suffering of three monkeys who were used in surgeries, later suffered from “significant health issues” following experiments, and were killed.

After PETA released the first-ever footage shot inside UW’s Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC), which revealed isolated monkeys pacing inside cramped, barren cages, we reviewed public records that further exposed the cruelty in the school’s laboratories.

Between November 2017 and March 2021, 77 incidents were documented in which animals at UW sustained serious injuries or died—nearly two per month. As we said, shameful. Oh, and did we mention that the chair of the IACUC is a liar?

Help PETA Hold UW Accountable—Call For an End to Archaic Experiments on Monkeys!

UW’s experiments are largely funded by taxpayer dollars, so at the very least, the school owes the public full transparency. But that won’t be enough to stop animals from suffering in its laboratories. Join PETA in calling for UW’s president to pull the plug on the WaNPRC:

Stay up to date on the latest vegan trends and get breaking animal rights news delivered straight to your inbox!

By submitting this form, you’re acknowledging that you have read and agree to our privacy policy and agree to receive e-mails from us.

Get the Latest Tips—Right in Your Inbox
We’ll e-mail you weekly with the latest in vegan recipes, fashion, and more!

By submitting this form, you’re acknowledging that you have read and agree to our privacy policy and agree to receive e-mails from us.