Over 40 Scientific, Medical Organizations Write to Congress Supporting VA’s Canine Research

The amount of opposition to proposals by Reps. Dave Brat (R-VA), Dina Titus (D-NV), and freshman Brian Mast (R-FL) to cease funding at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to rise. Today, over 40 organizations in science and medicine wrote to Congress in a letter asking them not to end funding for critical research programs for our nation's veterans.

The letter sent to Appropriations Committee Chairmen Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) discusses the importance of dogs to scientific progress for humans and animals and encourages Congress not to pass further impediments on research for veterans at the VA. It echoes sentiments already expressed by veteran, military, veterinary, scientific, and medical organizations like the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), American Brain Coalition (ABC), American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM), Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB)The American Legion, American Physiological Society (APS), American Psychological Association (APA), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Association of the U.S. Navy (AUSN), Friends of VA (FOVA), Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), National Defense Committee, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Square Deal for Veterans, and the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD even weighed-in about the issue back in September in a USA Today op-ed.

Currently Congress is considering H.R. 3197 (the PUPPERS Act) and a similar amendment to the House-passed homeland security “minibus,” which seek to end funding for VA studies involving canines.

To read the organizational letter to Congress, please click here.

AETA Upheld in Appellate Case of Animal Rights Activist Who Released Minks

Wednesday marked the first time a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a conviction under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which was signed into law in 2006. In a 23-page opinion, the Seventh Circuit found the AETA constitutional, ruling against the claims of animal rights activist Kevin Johnson who trespassed with Tyler Lang onto the property of an Illinois farm in 2013 and set 2,000 minks and foxes loose, causing up to $200,000 of physical damage in addition to the cost of the animals and profits.

The AETA is a critical tool for law enforcement as it is the only federal law specifically designed to protect individuals involved in research from threats, acts of vandalism, property damage, criminal trespass, harassment and intimidation that place them in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury. Since its enactment in 2006, the frequency and severity of illegal actions in the U.S. has decreased significantly.

This appellate case arose after Johnson entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to 36 months in prison, but turned to the courts to challenge the AETA arguing that he was being unfairly targeted as an animal rights activist. His challenge was overruled by District Court Judge Amy J. St. Eve in 2015 and the Seventh Circuit came to the same conclusion earlier this week.

The Seventh Circuit Court, in a decision authored by Judge Anne Claire Williams, rejected Johnson’s claim of unfair prosecution stating that “While it may be true that the people most often prosecuted under AETA are animal rights activists, this does not mean the law is vague and is being enforced in a discriminatory manner. Instead, it may simply mean that animal rights activists are the persons who are most often violating the law.”

The Court was also unconvinced by Johnson’s claims that the use of the term “terrorism” in the title of the law was “utterly unreasonable” finding that “Given the serious harms the statute was trying to address, including arson, bombing, and death threats, it was in no way arbitrary or unreasonable for Congress to include the word ‘terrorism’ in the non-codified title of AETA.” In addition, the opinion noted that “It is beyond question that Defendants' conduct of releasing 2,000 minks, destroying their breeding cards, spraying a caustic substance on farm equipment and spray painting ‘Liberation is Love’ on the barn of the mink farm ‘falls squarely in the core of what is prohibited by’ AETA.”

This decision is the latest in a string of legal challenges to the AETA that have been rejected by the Federal Appeals Courts. To read the full story, click here. For more information about NABR’s role in the passage of the AETA and the protections it provides to the biomedical research community, click here.

BREAKING: VA Secretary Pens Op-Ed in USA Today Supporting VA’s Dog Research Program

Today, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) David Shulkin joined the American Physiological Society (APS) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), along with Friends of VA (FOVA), the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and the American Legion, in his defense of canine research at the VA.

In opposition to language added to the homeland security “minibus” by Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) and passed by the House last month, which would target for elimination the VA's dog research program, Shulkin wrote a powerful column published this morning in USA Today. The amendment language is similar to H.R. 3197 which is awaiting consideration on Capitol Hill.

"Science and research are more critical than ever in providing breakthroughs for many unique conditions affecting our veterans. America needs VA’s innovative research programs, and veterans and their families have earned them. We owe it to these patriots to do all we can to develop medical advancements that could help restore some of what they have sacrificed in service to our nation," wrote Secretary Shulkin.

Shulkin detailed some of the lifesaving and life-improving discoveries made possible by the VA's canine research program, accomplishments that have included the recent FDA approval of an artificial pancreas and the implantable cardiac pacemaker. He also summarized a current study that could help paralyzed veterans and others with spinal cord injuries ward off potentially lethal lung infections.

To read the Shulkin’s letter in USA Today, please click here.

AVMA, APS, American Legion Support Animal Research, Oppose Ending VA Dog Studies

Three additional national organizations have written to Congress to express their concerns with efforts that would effectively eliminate important research with dogs at the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Physiological Society (APS), and the American Legion, the nation’s largest wartime veterans’ organization with 2.3 million members, now join the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Friends of VA (FOVA) in announcing their opposition.

The first of those efforts, H.R. 3197, introduced in July by Representatives Dave Brat (R-VA) and Dina Titus (D-NV), could have serious implications for veterans because research with dogs has led to life-saving and life-improving treatments for veterans suffering from spinal cord injuries, heart conditions, diabetes, respiratory illnesses, and other diseases experienced through military service. Rep. Brat also introduced similar language in an amendment to the homeland security “minibus” which was passed by the full House last month.

“Dogs are used in vital research that will help improve the lives of our veterans by finding treatments for diseases and conditions affecting the veteran community, including studies on cardiology, diabetes and spinal cord injuries,” writes the AVMA. “The American Legion recognizes the irreplaceable value this research provides for our veterans and appreciate the sacrifice these animals make in the name of science that humans and service animals, as well as duty K-9s, benefit greatly from,” echos the American Legion.

The letter sent by AVMA can be seen by clicking here. APS' letter is available here. The American Legion’s letter is viewable here.

NIH Director’s Interview Runs Counter to PETA’s Anti-Animal Research Letter in The Hill

Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), explained the importance of animal models in research during an interview with the Washington Examiner last week. The interview focused on proposed cuts to the NIH in President Donald Trump’s budget, as well as information regarding research projects by the NIH.

The reporter stated, “PETA came out this year supporting budget cuts to the NIH, saying that cutting testing on animals would achieve significant savings. What can you tell us about where animal testing stands?” Dr. Collins emphasized the importance of using animals in an ethical and responsible manner, and affirmed that animal studies are a necessary step toward discovering new therapies and cures for diseases: “Animals are still crucial to our understanding of how biology works. Anybody who has looked at the kind of oversight that applies to that I think will be impressed by how much attention goes toward any protocol that we fund that is going to involve animals for research. It has to have veterinarians and members of the public looking constantly at the conditions under which the animals are cared for and how we do everything possible to avoid the creation of unnecessary pain… Animals are still crucial to our understanding of how biology works.”

Click here to watch (or read) the full Washington Examiner interview with Dr. Collins.

Shortly after the interview was published, Emily Trunnell, who is employed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) published a letter-to-the-editor in The Hill titled, “A need to rethink spending on animal-based research at NIH,” which argued animal studies do not provide results that are useful for humans and that failure rates for news drugs is greater than 95%. Trunnell called for alternative technologies to be used in place of animals, and requested a systematic review by the NIH for all animal experiments. Meanwhile Appropriations committees in Congress are voting to increase the NIH budget.

NABR Releases FY2016 FOIA Analysis – Government Costs Increase

NABR has prepared a review of federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that were submitted by animal rights organizations in Fiscal Year 2016. FOIA was enacted in 1966 to promote transparency and ensure accountability of government officials and agencies. The law permits members of the public to submit requests for records in the possession of federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In FY 2016, both USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the NIH received a significant number of requests from animal rights activists. As outlined in further detail in NABR’s FY2016 FOIA Analysis (log-in required), these agencies received 12% more requests from animal rights groups than the previous year, and the cost for the government to respond to the requests increased by 20%.

NABR believes animal rights activists will continue to submit broad requests for large amounts of data about research facilities in FY 2017 in part because of the USDA’s decision on February 3 to temporarily remove the Animal Care Inspection Service (ACIS) database. NABR will continue to monitor FOIA requests submitted to federal agencies and, when possible, alert members if they are named in the requests. Research facilities should carefully review all information submitted to federal agencies. To read the full FY2016 FOIA Analysis, please click here (log-in required).

NIH Official Educates PETA About the Applicability of Animal Research

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), NABR has obtained a response from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to PETA regarding their recent letter which alleges the use of animals in federally-funded research is “misleading.”

PETA’s letter, dated April 5, expressed concern about applicability of animal research to humans and stated that “the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports a 92 percent failure rate of clinical trials for new pharmaceutical drugs following preclinical success in animals.” The letter also referenced a recent PETA report that claims to highlight ways to reduce the federal budget by slashing animal research funding.

In the NIH’s response to PETA, Michael Lauer, M.D., Deputy Director for Extramural Research at the NIH, declared the importance of research with animals and explained that numerous medical advancements have resulted from research with animals including vaccines, blood transfusions, treatments for breast cancer and epilepsy, in vitro fertilization, organ transplants, and more.

Lauer specifically stated that “research using animal models continues to make significant contributions to human and animal health. Although research based on animal models needs to improve and has limitations, it is not justification for eliminating powerful tools that have arguably saved millions of Americans…In our view there is no consensus that animal models should be eliminated—rather, we want to build on prior successes and learn from prior failures.”

NIH’s response to PETA also described the strict federal and institutional regulations in place to ensure that animals are used only when necessary and that the well-being of animals is maximized.

Click here to read PETA’s letter and report. Click here to read NIH’s response.

Media Outlet Takes Animal Rights Group to Task

“Just who is the group protesting live animal training in Fargo,” asked KVLY in Fargo, North Dakota on April 6, 2017. In a report televised by the news outlet, Valley News questioned the animal rights group protesting lifesaving trauma training at North Dakota State University (NDSU).

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has sought to end such training and education at NDSU because it involved the use of animals. PCRM even erected a billboard questioning NDSU’s use of pigs for these programs just last year. KVLY asked the question, “who is the PCRM,” and investigated whether PCRM practices “responsible medicine.” According to the news report, PCRM promoted the use of the Heimlich maneuver as a way to save drowning victims, something the American Heart Association notes as “unnecessary and potentially dangerous.”

To watch the news coverage mentioned above, click here and feel free to share it with your friends, family, colleagues, and on social media.

“We Wanted Them to Live in Fear”: Animal Rights Activist Admits to Bombing

Rodney Coronado, once an activist for the Animal Liberation Front, last week admitted to the Lansing State Journal that he was behind the 1992 bombing of the office of a Michigan State University animal science professor. Richard Aulerich, who was specifically targeted, was studying environmental impacts on mink reproduction. Coronado targeted Aulerich’s laboratory because he thought the study was being supported by the fur industry. “I won’t sugar coat it,” he said to the State Journal. “We were about psychological warfare. We wanted researchers like Aulerich never to know when they came to work and opened their office door whether there had been an attack. We wanted them to live in fear.”

According to the article, Coronado fled after the attack and was on the run for over a year. Police eventually caught up with him and he agreed to plead guilty to aiding and abetting arson in exchange for having several other charges dropped. He spent over four years in prison.

Coronado’s bomb destroyed decades of research and caused over $1 million in damages.

This bombing happened fourteen years before enactment of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) in 2006. To read recent news coverage about Coronado and the Michigan State bombing, please click here.

Another Extremist Reaches Plea Deal in AETA Case

Last week Nicole Kissane pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). She joins codefendant Joseph Buddenberg who pleaded guilty to the same charge last year in connection to a campaign of animal extremism against the fur industry.

Kissane and Buddenberg were arrested in July 2014 for their participation in a cross-country campaign of vandalism against the fur industry which included the release of mink from farms. Their months-long crime spree covered 40,000 miles of travel over five states. A Newsweek article, Animal Activists Are Shouting out Their Crimes Online, gives more background on Buddenberg and Kissane, as well as other extremists boasting about their actions anonymously. Buddenberg once faced charges in California for alleged illegal activity against researchers in 2008 but they were dismissed in 2010.

According to news coverage by ABC News, it is expected that prosecutors will recommend an 18-month sentence. She has agreed to pay more than $420,000 in restitution. Buddenberg was sentenced in May to two years in federal prison and must pay $398,272 in restitution. For more news coverage of Kissane’s plea, please see the San Diego Union-Tribune story by clicking here.

The AETA has been found constitutional by the courts numerous times and has been influential in deterring campaigns of violence against biomedical researchers, their families, and their institutions.

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