First published May 2, 2005 - More info
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has been aggressively campaigning for animal rights since its inception in 1980, when its undercover investigation of a Maryland primate laboratory exposed numerous abuses. This investigation resulted in the first-ever conviction of animal researchers and the first US Supreme Court victory for laboratory animals. Today, with over 800,000 members, PETA is the world’s largest animal rights support group. The group broadcasts its continuing struggle against laboratory animal abuse with very public, eye-catching, and provocative campaigns. One long-standing and dogged movement is directed against animal research at Columbia University.
According to the federal Animal Welfare Act, an estimated 23 million mammals, from rodents to primates, have been killed in laboratory studies. The targets of recent PETA condemnation are Columbia University professors Michel Ferin and Raymond Stark, and assistant professor E. Sander Connolly, who use such mammals in their experiments. Connolly studies brain damage resulting from strokes, and has been successful in elucidating new neuroprotective mechanisms and therapeutic strategies in mice and baboons.
Although Columbia University sanctioned Connolly’s pro-ject in March 2000, PETA continues to release a firestorm of criticism and movement against the practice of clinical testing and against Columbia University in particular. PETA maintains a website dedicated entirely to the university (http://www.columbiacruelty.com), which reports offenses on the part of researchers and refers to Ferin, Stark, and Connolly as “Columbia’s Death Squad.” Unafraid to use words like “grotesque” and “horrifying,” PETA juxtaposes films of alleged abuse with calls for action “to end the cruel and crude experiments, which have no practical value.”
An in-house investigation into Connolly’s experiments, spurred by a former Columbia University veterinarian and PETA informant, was ordered by the university in early 2003, and has thus far found no evidence of any significant violations of conduct. For now, Connolly himself has halted the studies until the formal investigation is complete. PETA, meanwhile, updates its Columbia-centric website with current developments and celebrity endorsements and urges support from the public. Of course, animal testing has not ceased, so research scientists and PETA continue to wrangle. While many researchers consider animal research to be necessary, PETA considers it murder.