Animal research

How animal research at McGill has been disrupted by the pandemic

For two weeks in March 2020, McGill closed its doors in a stampede to shift to distance learning activities; this involved a break from animal research, as well as other activities on campus. Likewise, institutions across the country have temporarily suspended animal research to comply with public health guidelines. As such, the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) has distributed a “Disruption of Ethics and Animal Care Programs Due to COVID-19” tracking form, intended to record reductions in the number of animals held by research establishments. While the CCAC wrote that “every effort [would] be taken to avoid euthanizing animals due to COVID-19 related disruptions”, the Council acknowledged that euthanasia could still take place and asked institutions to report the number of animals they have euthanized . Additionally, the number of animals transferred to a different protocol (i.e. animals that were moved from one scientific study to another) and animals that were removed from the institution of research (for example, by transfer to an animal shelter or private adoption) had to be disclosed to the CCAC. These three situations – euthanasia, change of protocol or withdrawal from the establishment – ​​count as disruptions in the data reported by the CCAC. In an email to Daily, the Board wrote that “the CCAC always encourages methods other than euthanasia in certified institutions,” and explained that collecting data on disruptions in animal care “is consistent with [their] commitment to transparency and public accountability.

the Daily obtained the McGill* tracking form for euthanized animals via an Access to Records request. The form details the number of animals euthanized at McGill’s animal care facilities at Downtown Campus, Macdonald Campus and the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) in March and April 2020. Mice made up the most large population of euthanized animals, with 11,808 euthanized downtown. Campus, 27 at the Macdonald Campus and 60 at the MNI, for a total of 11,895 mice. Additionally, 256 rats were euthanized at the Downtown Campus facility. 3,000 chickens from the Macdonald campus farm were euthanized; the form states that laying chickens had been offered to a commercial processing plant, but the plant was unable to accept the chickens due to a lack of staff. So these chickens were euthanized and sent to a feed processing plant.

These consequences of halting animal research are not unique to McGill – according to the CCPA’s February 2022 report “Impacts of COVID-19 on Ethical Animal Care and Use Programs”, euthanasia was the most common fate for animals affected by COVID-19, with approximately 83.73% of these animals having been euthanized. As was the case at McGill, mice constituted by far the largest population of disturbed animals, with 119,798 total disturbances, or 63.22%. Rats came in far behind, representing only 2.02% of the disturbances reported to the CCAC; the birds followed in fourth place with 1.11%. While the report spans from January 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, the vast majority of disturbances – 72.99% – occurred in the first three months of 2020, with a total of 138,298 animals disturbed during this time.

However, there is a discrepancy between the McGill animal tracking form and the CCAC report: the 3,000 chickens euthanized at McGill are currently not accounted for in the CCAC data, which notes that only 2,102 birds in CCAC-certified institutions were disrupted. In an email to the CCAC, the Daily reported this discrepancy and attached McGill tracking forms for reference. The Board’s Director of Public Affairs and Communications initially responded that “[t]he documents [the Daily] included belong to McGill and therefore we cannot comment on the information reported therein. However, I believe that you have spoken with the University about this matter, and you have received the necessary information. »

In fact, the discrepancy was due to an error made by the CCAC. Two days after their first response to the Daily, the director sent a follow-up email to explain that “the CCAC has reviewed the numbers listed in the document […] We determined that the CCAC had received [sic] [McGill’s] report, but there was a miscalculation on our part. Thus, the Council endeavors to correct the error and to verify all the other data of the report. “I apologize for the oversight and want to assure you that the CCAC is doing everything in its power to ensure the accuracy of our data,” she concluded.

In a statement emailed to Daily, McGill’s Media Relations Office (MRO) clarified that regardless of the COVID-19 disruption, these animals would have been euthanized upon completion of the relevant research – they were simply euthanized earlier than expected in due to government mandates to stop activities on campus. In the case of the MNI, the mice became too old during the research break on campus to be used in the experiments to which they were designated: the tracking form notes that these mice were euthanized because they “needed to be scanned/behavioural tested”. to different [sic] age.” Although McGill’s tracking form indicates that the chickens were euthanized “due to the cessation of research”, the MRO statement indicates that the chickens “were to be involved in teaching and were intended for fit into the food market.” The statement also points out that McGill adheres to the “high standards set by the CCAC” and that the university has strict rules and regulations in place to ensure the use of animals is ethical. “Researchers and all those involved in research with animals […] are sincerely concerned about the welfare of the animals that are part of the research process,” the statement continued.

Nonetheless, McGill’s choice to euthanize the animals has drawn criticism from animal rights activists. In a May 2020 letter to Principal Suzanne Fortier, Shalin Gala — vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) — wrote that the reported euthanasia of 15% of rodents at McGill “raises the question of whether why taxpayers’ money is used on experiments that can easily be interrupted or delayed. Gala also asked the university to publicly release information related to the halt in animal research activities, including “if, when and how many [McGill’s] the animals have been and/or will be euthanized.

In an email to Daily, Gala said the university never provided this information to PETA. He also felt that much of McGill’s animal research should have been considered non-essential if it had been abruptly halted or postponed: “PETA wonders why any of these animals are being purchased, bred, trapped or experimented with. in the first place since they’ve been so easily eliminated and since the experiments have been terminated or delayed.

Research institutions often call animal research essential – the MRO statement says that without animal research, humans and animals ‘would simply not enjoy the quality and length of life they have today’ hui” and points out that the development of insulin, recent cancer treatments and other major medical advances have involved the use of animals. However, Gala argued that the drastic and abrupt reduction of animals in labs suggests otherwise: “More than 80 universities and research institutes in the United States alone have gone on a killing spree because of the coronavirus. […] That’s how quickly these animals went from so-called “essential tools for curing human disease” to mere disposable trash. According to the National Institutes of Health (an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services that is the world’s largest funder of medical research), 95% of new drugs considered safe and effective based on tests on animals fail subsequent clinical testing in humans. trials – making animal experiments “cruel and unnecessary”, per Gala.

The CCAC has not released the names of facilities affected by COVID-19; as such, the Board was unable to respond to the Dailythe survey to find out which institutions experienced the greatest disruptions. The data collected from the animal number tracking forms will “inform future policy development and improve emergency preparedness,” the CCAC told the Daily. “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought incredible challenges and taught us many lessons,” the Council added. “The CCAC is committed to applying this new knowledge in the future as we continue to improve animal care and use programs in institutions across Canada.

*the Daily drafted portions of the tracking form that name specific researchers and administrators.

If you have information or comments regarding animal research at McGill or other CCAC-certified institutions in Quebec, please email [email protected]