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Following PETA allegations, Princeton report says no animal mistreatment

An investigation by a subcommittee of the University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee into the alleged mistreatment of a marmoset in a University laboratory found no evidence to support the claims of animal rights groups that an animal was mistreated, the University said on Aug. 18.

According to the press release, the subcommittee concluded that researchers placed the marmoset in a ferret exercise ball to observe its movement; the marmoset moved freely during the 13-minute observation, and the animal did not show signs of distress. Two federal complaints were filed against the University for allegedly placing the marmoset in the ball for entertainment purposes. The alleged incident happened in the lab of psychology professor Asif Ghanzanfar.

The subcommittee’s report has not been released to the public.

Michael Caddell, a University spokesman, said that the subcommittee came to these conclusions after a thorough investigation of the incident, and that the University takes all allegations of animal mistreatment seriously. He noted that the University has been found to meet standards for unannounced inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service since November 2011.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, however, said that it does not accept the subcommittee’s findings.

“The public has a right to hear the truth about what happened and not have the wool pulled over its eyes by a University that apparently cares more about window dressing than it cares about telling the truth,” said Alka Chandna, a PETA senior laboratory oversight specialist.

She added that the subcommittee’s conclusion that the action was part of an experiment cannot be justified since a leaked email written by Ghanzanfar himself, which prompted the complaint, states that the incident occurred for the laboratory staff’s amusement.

The University’s press release detailing the findings of the IACUC subcommittee originally stated that “an independent statewide organization investigated the incident and found no evidence of animal mistreatment.” However, the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, identified by Caddell as the independent organization mentioned in the report, said that no conclusions have been drawn so far.

The report on the University’s website was later edited to remove the statement that the investigation’s results have been confirmed by an independent statewide organization.

PETA filed two separate complaints against the University with the National Institutes of Health and the USDA after being contacted by a person they describe as an anonymous whistleblower about the alleged marmoset abuse. The whistleblower forwarded an email from psychology professor Asif Ghanzanfar to his laboratory staff and graduate students reprimanding them for placing a marmoset in a ferret exercise ball and rolling it around.

Meanwhile, the University advertised six new job postings related to research oversight and animal care, including those of rodent care technician, NHP animal care technician, veterinary technician, animal cage wash technician and compliance specialist after the initial allegations of animal abuse surfaced.

Caddell said that the postings have no relation to the incident and have been planned for a while. Chandna said that although PETA appreciates the University’s move to increase oversight, exemplified by the new job openings, it believes a radical change is necessary to create a culture of caring for animals.

The complaints filed by PETA recommend that the marmosets studied in the laboratory be removed and taken to an accredited sanctuary. PETA has also launched an online public petition for the transfer of the marmosets that now has over 50,000 signatures.

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