Undercover agents for animal rights organisations have produced damning video footage of animal abuse unrelated to scientific experimentation in a US university laboratory. But the revelations have elicited a low-key response from the government agency responsible for regulating university research, prompting claims that it is ineffectual.
A laboratory technician planted inside the University of North Carolina by the organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals found that sick and injured animals were left to die without veterinary care or euthanasia, including mice with tumours so large they burst. Some animals were kept in such crowded conditions that they died of suffocation or as a result of cannibalism. Others had various toes removed for quick identification.
The laboratory spy, who wore a concealed video camera, also taped a fellow worker using scissors to cut the heads off baby rats. PETA's evidence prompted an investigation by the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, part of the National Institutes of Health, but the agency reported that the problems all had been corrected.
However, a PETA undercover agent later documented almost identical abuses.
A second government investigation once again gave a clean bill of health to the university, which said the problems were isolated and left over from earlier times.
"Surely it should not take a third PETA investigation to convince the NIH that the practice of taking federally funded research institutions at their word is ineffectual," PETA senior vice-president Mary Beth Sweetland said.
She added that if visual evidence was not enough to spur action by the regulators, "then this charade of an agency should be shut down to save taxpayers the high salaries of a group of comfy bureaucrats".
Ms Sweetland said the university's federal licence to use animals in research should be suspended. UNC said it has since tightened its screening and background checks for hiring new laboratory assistants.