A laboratory at the University of Colorado Boulder euthanized more than 100 mice in its care at the beginning of the pandemic because COVID-19 protocols reduced the number of researchers on campus to work with and care for the animals, according to university documents.
“We are aware of one research program that decided to euthanize 124 mice due to research-related operational changes during the start of the pandemic,” campus spokesman Andrew Sorensen said in a statement.
University documents obtained by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals through an open records request show a list of more than 100 animals receiving CO2 euthanization between March 18 and April 6, with “COVID-19 reduction” listed as the reason.
A March 16 email from CU Boulder’s Office of Animal Resources notes Chancellor Phil DiStefano directed all labs to shut down research and limit the number of people on campus to only essential personnel.
Among other directives — including instructing the limited number of people working how to be COVID-safe while doing their jobs — the email notes: “OAR will euthanize unnecessary breeders for you, free of charge, in order to prevent crowds near euthanasia stations. Please contact your OAR facility manager for guidance on the best way to mark cages that can be euthanized.”
A March 18 email from one CU Boulder researcher to another noted they had one mouse in their care and “leaving her housed alone for multiple more weeks seems unnecessarily unkind.” The email asked whether the researcher should come in and euthanize her that day or add her cage to a euthanasia list.
Shalin Gala, PETA vice president, said euthanizing university lab animals in the wake of COVID-19 protocols that shut down campuses was common across the country, with PETA writing to more than 80 institutions that had similar plans.
“If CU Boulder can deem animals ‘unnecessary’ and kill them in response to the COVID-19 purge in laboratories, then they should not have been bought, bred, trapped or experimented on in the first place,” Gala said. “PETA calls on state and federal officials to audit the use of and recover taxpayer funds wasted on admittedly non-essential animal experiments at CU Boulder and on NIH (National Institutes of Health) to reinvest in animal-free research that advances human health.”
CU officials noted the Boulder campus’s researchers are required to consider “all other alternatives” to using live animals “and to employ those options when they result in scientific advancement.”
“CU Boulder remains committed to caring for research animals in a respectful, professional and humane manner during the course of research and teaching projects – even as we face the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sorenson said. “The campus’s Office of Animal Research remains fully operational, and our research animals are being carefully cared for despite the campus’s remote operational status. Trained technicians observe and provide care on a daily basis, and we are in compliance with all federal animal welfare regulations.”
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