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LSU biological sciences professor Christine Lattin is under fire from PETA for her treatment of birds in her studies.

PETA ranked LSU "worse" in its "Failed Tests: Campus Cruelty Report," an interactive report that categorizes universities around the country as "bad," "worse" or "worst" for animals depending on each school's use of animal testing. 

According to PETA, the University received $66 million from the National Institute of Health last year, half of which is estimated to have been used in experiments involving animals.

The University has not violated federal regulations in any of its experiments involving animals, according to Vice President of Research and Economic Development Samuel J. Bentley.

“LSU is designated as a ‘R-1: Doctoral university – very high research activity’ in the Carnegie Higher Education Classification, which means that LSU researchers adhere to all federal guidelines and university policies that promote integrity in research,” Bentley said.

PETA Vice President Alka Chandna said "Saying that the University is in compliance with the law really means nothing."

The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine's purchase of live dogs from Companion Animal Alliance, an unlicensed breeder or exhibitor, also contributed to the University's overall "worse" rating, according to a PETA statement.

In March, PETA accused the vet school of purchasing at least 70 live dogs last year from CAA in 2018 and failing to maintain acquisition and disposition records for those dogs. According to PETA, the vet school’s purchases and lack of records gave rise to 140 separate violations of the Animal Welfare Act. 

The vet school denied these accusations. According to Communications Manager Ginger Guttner, the vet school uses euthanized animals from animal shelters for teaching purposes but doesn’t violate the Animal Welfare Act in doing so.

“The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine obtains euthanized animals from animal shelters; the cadavers are used to train veterinary students, whose life work is dedicated to serving and saving animals,” Guttner said in a statement. “In some cases, live animals are brought to the veterinary school for euthanasia. In all of these cases, the animals were already scheduled for euthanasia.”

PETA said the University conducts experiments that are of little to no scientific value and specifically named a new faculty member that PETA has long criticized for her research. 

Biological Sciences Assistant Professor Christine Lattin caught PETA’s attention when it discovered she had been placing trapping nets near bird feeders to study how stressful environments affect house sparrows. According to PETA, she punched holes into their legs, blasted loud music in their ears and placed them into a cart to shake them.

Lattin began researching stress responses in animals last year. She conducts research through various forms of experimentation, mostly psychological, on house sparrows - an invasive bird species. 

PETA's statement said Lattin “wounded their legs, frightened them by rattling their cages, restrained them in cloth bags for 30 minutes at a time, fed them crude oil and subjected them to injections that damaged their adrenal glands,” and killed the birds following these procedures.

“If you want to study stress, unfortunately, the only way to do that is to induce stress,” Lattin said.

Lattin studied how stress can evolve from a factor that drives an animal to survive to a factor that can cause harmful effects while at Yale University, where she completed her postdoctoral research.

Bagging, or placing an animal in a bag for 30-minute increments, is a technique that has been used by scientists for decades. According to Lattin, it does not physically harm the bird, but does induce short-term stress and causes a robust increase of the hormones involved in stress.

As a graduate student, Lattin and her colleagues researched the negative effects of prolonged exposure to stress hormones through tapping on birds' cages with a stick or playing a radio for 30 minutes at a time. These actions induce short-term stress, but do not physically harm the birds, Lattin said.

Lattin also worked on an experiment shortly after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. She conducted experiments where one group of birds was given crude oil in their food, not enough to make the food undesirable to the animal. The birds did not show any changes in behavior. She found that the oil stunted the birds’ adrenal glands' ability to produce stress hormones. 

Researchers were able to use Lattin’s findings as evidence that oil in the Gulf was the reason for marine life washing up dead on the shore. 

“If you want to hold oil companies accountable for the oil that they spill, we have to have scientific evidence for these kinds of claims,” Lattin said. 

All animal testing completed at the University follows all national and institutional guidelines, according to LSU Director of Media Relations Ernie Ballard.

“LSU, like all institutions that conduct animal studies in the U.S., has an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, or IACUC,” Ballard said.  “LSU’s committee has 11 members that include veterinarians, scientists and a nonscientist member of the public.”

This committee’s job is to review all proposed animal studies to make certain the use of animals is appropriate and steps are taken to ensure the best animal treatment possible. 

However, PETA contends that national standards are not strict enough to fully ensure the animal’s well-being. 

According to Chandna, the IACUC is the animals’ "last hope” and it fails to ensure the safety of animals because animals are still dying for "awful and meaningless" research. This campaign against Lattin’s work is not harmful to Lattin in any way, Chandna said.

However, Lattin said PETA has been “harassing” her and demonizing her work since her time at Yale. She noted there have been protestors outside of her home; when she moved to Louisiana, PETA sent a letter to residents around home saying her work was awful and meaningless.

Lattin said she regularly reminds those in the lab that the lives of the animals being used do matter, and there is a reason that researchers are doing what they are doing. Lattin also said she has worked on research to help decrease the need for live animal testing.

“The research that I do is about stress in wildlife to try to help wildlife,” Lattin said, emphasizing the word “help." “A lot of the work I do has direct conservation importance.”

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