The University of Colorado is reconsidering its use of live animals in classroom science experiments and will decide whether computer simulations could replace the use of creatures in some cases.
The in-depth review comes after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a formal complaint last fall with the Boulder campus, claiming the experiments were cruel.
But CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard said members of CU's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee -- made up of faculty members, the campus veterinarian and representatives of the campus health center -- have also been interested in having the discussion about whether the use of live animals is justified.
"The attention drawn to the issue -- not only by PETA but by others concerned about animal welfare -- has led us to conduct this review," Hilliard said.
It's possible the campus, in some instances, may begin using computer simulations instead of live creatures for science experiments, and officials at PETA say they'd even pay for the software if CU made the switch. Hilliard said he wouldn't want to speculate on whether CU would accept the funding.
University officials have asked the chairs of departments and faculty members on curriculum committees to file a report by July 31 that evaluates and justifies why animals are used in the classroom and why alternatives are not acceptable in meeting teaching objectives.
"Over the years there has been an increase in the number of alternatives to the use of animals in teaching and so the IACUC has discussed at great length how to further review and document that the use of animals in each course is important for students," says a letter sent to department chairs and faculty members on curriculum committees.
The IACUC will then make recommendations to curriculum committees. If changes are made, they will go into effect in the spring 2014 semester.
Already, the animal care and use committee must approve the use of live vertebrate animals for teaching, testing and research.
In February 2012, PETA began asking CU to consider ending the use of animals in its undergraduate classrooms. The organization launched an online petition asking CU to stop "abusing animals in classroom labs" and generated 35,000 e-mails.
"CU-Boulder desperately needs to catch up to the universities around the world -- including its sister campus in Denver -- that have abandoned cruel classroom animal laboratories in favor of more effective and humane 21st century educational tools," Kathy Guillermo, PETA senior vice president of laboratory investigations, said in a statement Tuesday.
Justin Goodman, director of laboratory investigations at PETA, said computer simulations could improve undergraduate education and save the university money because it would no longer need to buy the animals and store them.
"Most people think it's wrong to harm animals if alternatives are readily available," he said.
Jori Leszcynski, interim veterinarian at CU, said simulation software has become more sophisticated. But whether it could replace the use of animals in classroom experiments varies depending on the course.
PETA has complained about an experiment it says involves fighting fish, though CU has said the fish aren't in the same tank and the Betta fish used in the experiment are adopted afterward by students in the class.
PETA says that in other instances, students cut off frogs' heads and remove their muscles and nerves, and that live rats have their hearts removed. CU says the frogs referenced in the experiment are first humanely euthanized, and the rats are first administered an anesthetic.
The group also says that in a psychology experiment, students forced rats to swim in water mazes to the point of exhaustion and despair. But CU says the rats had access to pedestals, and if they didn't find the platforms within one minute, they were picked up and placed on them.
Following the experiment, the rats were euthanized and donated to the Birds of Prey Foundation, a nonprofit in Broomfield that rehabilitates raptors and releases them back to the wild.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or firstname.lastname@example.org.