Animal Cruelty at UCSD: An Unsettling Reality


Max Rivett

As someone who is passionate about science, applying to UC San Diego was an easy choice for me given the university’s record in innovation. The advances that the school makes are exciting and motivate students to succeed in the classroom and beyond. However, I was recently shocked to learn about the animal experimentation that takes place on campus. The recent “Without Consent” exhibit by PETA, which unveiled the atrocities committed against animals at UCSD, was a sobering reminder that such practices are not only commonplace but also take place on our school’s grounds. While animal welfare groups have been protesting animal testing for decades, it is alarming that UCSD is still using testing methods that are both cruel and unnecessary. 

The report from PETA’s exhibit, which toured across the West Coast and was in San Diego from Feb. 6 to Feb. 10 at Balboa Park, outlined some of the atrocities to which animals are subjected by UCSD experimenters. The experimenters “subjected rabbits to electrical shocks in their anal canals and punctured the intestines of mice — releasing feces into their bodies, causing sepsis and death — among other cruel procedures.” 

This news comes more than a month after President Biden signed a law that eliminates the requirement for pharmaceuticals to be tested on animals prior to human trials in an effort to direct companies and researchers toward alternative testing methods. While stories of violence against animals are never pleasant, they are particularly troubling coming from an institution that advertises its commitment to technology and innovation. On the home page of the UCSD website, it is stated under the “Our Vision for the Future” header that the university prepares the next generation of global leaders to “make our world a better place.” How can an institution make the world a better place while simultaneously torturing its inhabitants?

UCSD prides itself in being at the forefront of technological advancement, and yet they use archaic — and frankly, barbaric — methods nonetheless. The university not only has the ability but the responsibility to explore the options available to them to make use of alternative testing methods. Such methods include, but are not limited to, in vitro methods which utilize cells and tissues in a controlled environment to mimic the functions of the animal’s body, or computer simulations and modeling which use algorithms to predict the effects on the animals body, which can even be paired with the ever-growing capabilities of artificial intelligence. These methods have been proven to work, with companies like Smarter Sorting using data and AI models to compute the toxicity of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals rather than releasing the chemicals into fish tanks to determine their toxicity — killing many of these fish in the process

The history of animal welfare protests at UCSD sheds light on the ongoing debate surrounding the use of animals in scientific experimentation, and highlights the need for the university to adopt more humane methods of testing. In 1987, animal welfare groups protested a contract between UCSD and a local animal shelter which supplied dogs and cats for use in experiments, marking the first fight against animal cruelty on campus here at UCSD. At the time, researchers argued that there was no “cost-effective” alternative to using animals, and the protest was largely a failure with no tangible changes being made. Now, more than 35 years later, there is an abundance of avenues to explore that do not involve harming these helpless animals — a frightening display of scientific stagnancy on UCSD’s behalf. These alternatives can also be cheaper than testing on animals depending on the experiments conducted. And even if it is slightly more expensive, does the ethical cost of murdering thousands and thousands of poor animals not outweigh the small monetary difference? Especially when this can be easily paid for with the $1.64 billion that UCSD has received for research purposes just this past year.  

It is important to acknowledge that there are specific cases in which animal testing is necessary to make breakthroughs and advance scientific knowledge. However, these cases are becoming increasingly rare as research methods continue to grow. With this, I challenge our university to not only make the morally upright choice to end animal testing — a decision that would reflect the school’s self-professed mission and image — but to spearhead the movement in favor of alternative testing methods.

Image courtesy of Jorge Maya on Unsplash