ROANOKE — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has asked Virginia to investigate the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, saying the schools misused state funds by conducting unnecessary experiments on animals that they planned to kill during the pandemic.
Both universities deny PETA’s claim.
PETA claims in its letter to state auditor Martha Mavredes that the universities used part of their $441 million in state funds on animal experiments that were postponed or canceled. It claims that UVa told its researchers to label the cages of the animals that were “critical to maintain,” and that animals that could be replaced would be euthanized.
PETA said Virginia Tech directed its researchers to make contingency plans that “include provisions for terminating studies and euthanizing animals.”
From these plans, PETA surmises that “this apparently led to the euthanasia of animals in the school’s laboratories.”
If the animals were expendable, PETA wants to know why state funds were “wasted” on nonessential experiments.
Mavredes said she forwarded PETA’s letter to the state inspector general’s fraud, waste and abuse hotline. The inspector general’s office has yet to comment on what, if anything, it would do with the request.
PETA media manager Tasgola Bruner said an investigator with Virginia’s inspector general office has opened two formal investigations and provided a copy of the email PETA received from the agency.
“Virginia Tech did not mandate any animal research to be stopped or delayed due to COVID-19. We did not mandate any animals to be euthanized due to COVID-19,” Mark Owczarski, assistant vice president of university relations at Tech, said in an email.
“At the onset of the pandemic, we did not differentiate animal studies as critical or non-critical. We continued our normal operations providing high quality animal husbandry and veterinary care, consistent with applicable regulations and standards, and classified animal care employees as essential personnel,” he said.
Wes Hester, director of media relations for UVa, had a similar response.
“The letter from PETA references a contingency plan developed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to be executed in the event of worst-case staffing shortages. Those staffing shortages did not come to pass and the contingency plans were not implemented,” he said.
Further, “there is also no truth to the suggestion that any planned research activities were ‘unnecessary, nonessential, noncritical, or extraneous,’” Hester said. “It’s also worth pointing out that most research activities are externally funded and not supported by state appropriations.”
UVa and Tech engage in medical research and use animals, predominantly mice, to model human conditions and diseases.
These types of experiments, which PETA campaigns to stop, are used to develop vaccines and treatments for diseases that include those caused by coronaviruses.