Aug 10 2009
UC Irvine professor and researcher Micheal Selsted had his property vandalized by the American Liberation Front (ALF) on the night of July 10, 2009. One of Stelsted's cars had paint-stripper poured over it while the other two were covered with red paint. In addition to the damage done to his automobiles, the ALF also spray-painted "killer" on his garage door and splattered additional paint across his driveway.
Selsted is an award-winning Warren L. Bostick Professor and Chair of Pathology in the UCI School of Medicine and is primarily involved in research with immunology. This research, which involves animal testing, is the reason why the ALF attacked his University Hills property.
The ALF is a group of animal activists who use sabotage techniques and direct animal liberation in an attempt to stop animal testing. In an announcement from the ALF, they addressed Selsted as, "the vivisector," and informed him that the "red paint on [his] cars and home is a reminder that these things were purchased with the blood of tortured, innocent animals that are subjected to [his] sadistic experiments."
They went on to say that while their actions were only a "minor inconvenience," they hoped that someone would make Selsted suffer "as much as the animals in the laboratories."
This is one of the first incidences of this nature involving animal rights activists to occur at UCI. While other UCs like UCLA and UCSD have faced a lot of attention from animal rights activists in the past, UCI was mostly left alone.
"For a long time we were kind of under the radar," said Melanie Fabian, an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) member at UCI. "But it seems that they've found us. The Selsted thing has been a real embolism type of action. We have had lots of public records requests from PETA; there was kind of a protest online from PETA against some of our lab classes that require the use of live animals."
According to Fabian, the reason for the recent actions may have been a Web site called Primatelabs.com. On the Web site, which is an anti-primate-vivisection awareness site, anyone can look up a research facility such as UCI and see which researchers are doing testing on non-human primates.
The site currently lists not only Selsted, but also UCI researchers Jogesh Mukherjee and Andre Ouellette. The problem with the information given is that according to the IACUC, UCI does not do testing on non-human primates.
The heads of the IACUC say that if the researchers listed on the Primate Lab Web site are doing non-human primate research, the research is affiliated with other institutions and not UCI. Selsted, for instance, has also been doing research with USC.
However, Jerry Vlasik, a press officer with the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, disagrees.
"UCI has been disingenuous in their denial that Selsted is experimenting on non-human primates," Vlasik said. "They have been saying that it is just mice and rats. Well, number one: mice and rats matter too, but you can go on Primatelabs.com and see that he is also experimenting on non-human primates. If they are lying to you about this, what else could they be lying about?"
Jeffrey Goodwin, the director of University Laboratory Animal Resources negated this, saying that if UCI were to have non-human primates onsite, a new infrastructure would have to be constructed -- complete with facilities, people to care for the animals and security adjustments.
Although the North American Animal Liberation Press Office is not part of the ALF, it is a separate organization that releases communiqués and speaks on behalf of the activists. While Vlasik made it clear that he was not a member of the ALF, he gave some insight about how the group functioned.
According to Vlasik, the ALF is a "very effective system," typically organized by separate groups of people who get together and either rescue the lab animals or sabotage vivisectors. The lack of a main authority is how the ALF survives. With no central leadership, they are less prone to infiltration from the law.
Aside from sabotaging Selsted because of its objection to testing on non-human primates, the ALF wants to stop all testing on animals.
"I am a former vivisector myself," Vlasik said. "I have been in these laboratories; I know how unnecessary it is to conduct animal research. All it does is continue to provide money to people like Michael Selsted. It is purely out of tradition and to keep money going to the University. There are dozens of other alternatives that are more effective and much more likely to lead to human cures than torturing animals."
The IACUC committee that Fabian works for was created to prevent this torture. When a researcher wants to use animals in a project, they must fill out an application or "protocol" which contains an extremely detailed description of what they plan to use the animals for. In the protocol they must justify the number of animals needed using statistics and state what their plans are from beginning to end.
Vlasik went on to call the IACUC committees nothing but "rubber stamp committees," insisting that research projects are rarely, if ever, turned down by the committees.
"It is really frustrating," Fabian said, "because I know how well cared for these animals are and I'm an animal lover myself with two dogs and two cats at home. Everybody involved in the use of animals in science cares about the welfare of those animals."
In addition to these feelings of frustration, Fabian said that frequently, organizations like the ALF do not have their facts straight.
"A lot of the information that those anti-animal research sites put on their websites is so out of date. It's from around the mid-1970s. Sure these animals go through some pain but it's minimized as much as possible. Nobody wants to hurt animals and it's frustrating to see scientists singled out when they are working toward cures for diseases that we could die from someday."