ITHACA, N.Y.—Notorious animal rights advocate group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has sent letters to Cornell University and the United States Department of Agriculture demanding the school’s treatment of animals be investigated.

PETA’s request, directed to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, deals with a variety of allegations levied at Cornell which occurred between April 2018 and earlier this year. The organization’s allegations are based on communication between the school’s Life Sciences department and the National Institute of Health, in which the school self-reports laboratory animal protocol violations, normally during testing of some kind, and NIH officials assess the school’s response and submitted corrective plan.

PETA’s letters are addressed to Dr. Robert M. Gibbens at the Animal Welfare Operations division of the USDA and to Cornell University President Dr. Martha Pollack. The letter to Pollack calls on her to more harshly punish those at the school who have committed any violations of animal welfare protocols during laboratory care or procedures.

There are 17 incidents documented during the time period in question, some of which had been previously reported and pointed out by PETA. The most recent incident took place on April 29, 2022, when a sheep died due to an improperly administered artery graft, and is the most central to PETA’s complaint. The procedure was conducted on five sheep—on four of the sheep, it was successful, but the final sheep’s graft failed because the graft was allowed to cure for less time than the others, and though medical responses were attempted, they also failed and the animal was euthanized after the failure of two surgeries.

“We believe that the treatment of the sheep at Cornell described in the incidents
detailed below is out of compliance with the veterinary-care standards of the
[Animal Welfare Regulations],” the letter to the USDA reads.

Another two incidents are from March 2022: seven mice that were slated for euthanasia were kept in an unapproved location and weren’t given sufficient water and food before they were euthanized; and an application of anesthesia on sheep that did not follow approved procedures, though the report notes that “no break-through pain was observed.” These incidents are not specifically included in PETA’s investigation request.

In each incident, communication back from the NIH’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare shows that officials were satisfied with the explanation provided by Cornell and approved of the corrective plans suggested by Cornell.

Cornell officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The requests mark another salvo against the school by PETA, which has criticized Cornell’s veterinarian and adjacent practices for years, most notably in spring 2020 when the organization raised similar allegations over Cornell’s animal welfare policies, even citing some of the same incidents as cited in the new letters, sent Oct. 20.

At that time, Cornell VP Joel Malina stated that the school has always “require[d] every investigator or instructor wishing to use animals to conduct that work in accordance with all laws, regulations, and policies governing the care and use of animals.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com