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Lewis & Clark Law School Animal Legal Defense Fund

LC SALDF Hosts Ryan Merkley, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

January 25, 2018

On January 25th, 2018, LC SALDF had the opportunity to host Ryan Merkley, who is the Director of Research Advocacy at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). Ryan discussed proposed changes to laws and policies that impact animals used in research, as well how agencies carry out these duties under the law. 

Ryan discussed E-FOIA and how accessing information online has helped protect animals and shut down animal research facilities. After the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was enacted, an animal database was created in order to comply with FOIA. PCRM had regularly used this website to ensure facilities were complying with AWA. For example, PCRM was able to obtain inspection records detailing animal abuse of tamarins from Harvard’s research lab, sent the records to the press, and filed a complaint against Harvard for violating the Endangered Species Act. Due to all the press and bad publicity for Harvard, Harvard shut down their animal research facility and the tamarins were sent to a sanctuary in Florida. 

However, on February 3rd, 2017, following the swearing in of President Donald Trump, Ryan and PCRM had discovered that the animal database was taken down. Several organizations sued the USDA, claiming this violated the amendments to E-FOIA, which required USDA to post these documents because various groups regularly requested them. There was immense pressure on the USDA from these groups and lawmakers to re-post the website, which they eventually did in a limited capacity in August of 2017. This was only one of the examples that showed how the industry tries to water down laws protecting animals. 

Ryan also pointed out that 95% of drugs that are deemed safe and effective after animal testing fail in human trials. There are other new alternatives to testing drugs that does not involve animals, including microfluidic cell chips. Ryan is hopeful that technology, such as these cells, will replace testing on animals in two or three decades. He also hopes that animals will no longer be used in laboratory research if we use these better alternatives and change weak and poorly enforced laws.  

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With questions about this LC SALDF event or others, please contact LC SALDF’s Co-Directors, Maral Cavner and Ashlyn Whitbeck at saldf@lclark.edu.