Dissection of an animal carcass is a popular method used to study biology, and students all across the country dissect animals in classrooms — millions each year, according to the Humane Society of the United States. However, most schools never actually euthanize the animals themselves. Colorado State University is an exception to that rule.
Colorado State University is the only major college in the state that provides students with the opportunity to study animal sciences and biology, meaning that no other school in the state has reason to euthanize animals whatsoever. At Metropolitan State University of Denver, for example, it is common for a biology student to dissect a cat or mink for a better perspective of mammal anatomy, but all of the animals they use in their labs are purchased from breeders or slaughterhouses and arrive at the university already euthanized and soaked in preservatives.
At CSU that is often the case as well, but occasionally, animals are euthanized. Terry Engle, a professor within the Animal Sciences department, noted that it is mostly small animals that face euthanasia.
“Mice and rats are euthanized for pieces and parts,” said Engle, who formerly sat on the Animal Care and Use committee, noting that large animals are not often euthanized unless they have been severely injured.
Bernie Rollin, who holds the position of university bioethicist, is known for creating the field of veterinary medical ethics and describes the university’s practices as “state of the art.” Not only does the university follow strict ethics guidelines, Rollin said, but federal laws mandating humane treatment of research animals were also drafted at CSU.
Kevin Pond, who heads the Animal Sciences department, said that animals may occasionally be euthanized to study meat consumption as well, but this is never done at the university.
“We always take [the animals] to a commercial harvest center,” Pond said.
Pond and Engle have both endorsed the methods of animal care practiced at CSU and the methods of animal euthanasia at these commercial slaughterhouses.
For the animals that are shipped off, several methods of euthanasia exist and are considered highly humane by the American Veterinary Medical Association, an organization that lays out stringent guidelines for euthanasia. These guidelines were designed to foster the most ethical process possible when euthanizing animals and address issues that the Humane Slaughter Act was passed to address.
CSU professor and recent National Women’s Hall of Fame inductee Temple Grandin said that the commercial harvest facilities now utilized by the university were not always so humane in their treatment of animals.
“In the seventies and eighties and nineties, things were so bad,” Grandin said.
Not only were the meat packing plants unsanitary, Grandin said, but they treated animals poorly, causing distress and pain throughout the whole process. Since then several improvements have been implemented, such as high walls to prevent over-stimulation and electric stunning to ensure a quick and painless death. According to Grandin the improvements that are now in practice today are due largely to the fact that massive restaurants like McDonald’s started to audit the slaughterhouses that their meat came from — ensuring the quality of both the meat and the animal’s life.
Meat packing plants are motivated to treat animals well due to the fact that distress before death often causes their product quality to lower — the meat from distressed animals is often tougher.
While the euthanasia of CSU’s animals is not necessarily done at a packing plant, the commercial harvesting facilities partnered with CSU utilize similarly humane practices.
“The industry has improved so much compared to ten or twenty years ago — there’s no comparison,” Grandin said.
Pond, who heads CSU’s Animal Sciences department, said that CSU has been working to launch an online simulation for dissection. This particular alternative has been endorsed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. They claim that in almost every published study students taught using non-animal methods, such as interactive computer simulations, tested as well as or better than their peers who were taught using animal-based exercises.
PETA also notes that these alternatives dramatically lower the cost of maintaining anatomy laboratories. The most popular of these programs allow students to virtually dissect frogs, cats, dogs, rats and fetal pigs, and offer a wide variety of anatomic studies to students.
The Animal Sciences department also utilizes byproducts from packing plants and the like. This means that, rather than allow a company to dispose of organs and other undesirable parts of livestock, Animal Sciences utilizes them for classroom study, effectively reducing the amount of waste created by processing and packaging livestock.
According to Pond CSU and its Animal Sciences department pride themselves on the humanity of the practices they have endorsed, and they are open and looking forward to implementing more humane and practical alternatives in the classroom.
Collegian reporter Nate Day can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @NateMDay.