The Times takes a detailed, disturbing look at U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, a former Defense Department complex in Nebraska that consists of some bucolic-seeming open fields and lab buildings that dot a 55-square-mile parcel. The center, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last May, has for the last 30 years intensified experiments on animals. Within its secured confines, the basic biology of cows, pigs, and lambs is jiggered and retooled on premises, all in the admirable-seeming name of improving the efficiency of the American meat industry in an increasingly resource-burdened time. But in addition to that purported and lofty goal, critics say the facility has for decades been the site of copious amounts of awful and unnecessary animal cruelty.
The majority of the paper’s long report on the site’s history and techniques was facilitated after James Keen, a veterinarian and scientist who worked at the facility for 24 years, contacted reporter Michael Moss last year. The paper’s in-depth report included information from two dozen current and former workers, and F.O.I.A. requests filed by Moss. There were other warning signs, though: In 2013, Robert A. Downey, the director of Nebraska’s Capital Humane Society wrote in a complaint to the center’s director that “untrained, unskilled and unsupervised staff” were often performing experimental surgeries on animals. Downey said that he’d witnessed handlers pushing animals to the ground and saw others that “fell from carts” en route to procedures.
Research at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center is geared, for example, toward producing pork loin that is less likely to cause trichinosis after being handled in its raw state, or slices of filet mignon that chew like butter. Keen, however, alleges the the center’s mission of working on livestock-related subjects like bovine respiratory disease complex and manure management have also given rise to a moment where no one with a scientific and veterinary degree is overseeing procedures. The result is that instances of animal suffering have gone unchecked. Here are just a few of the most appalling examples from the report.
• To create larger pigs through stimulating appetites, animals were locked in steam chambers that errantly spiked to 102 degrees. This was in 1991, and six pigs died. Eight cows died the following year in a similarly designed experiment.
• The fetal pigs of 119 sows were “gently crushed” in a 2011 experiment to see if squeezing made more room in the animals’ uteri and sped up time between pregnancies. Results were inconclusive.
• In an effort to reverse infertility brought on by earlier experiments to breed pigs with less intramuscular fat, tubes containing hormone inhibitors were surgically implanted into animals. Scientists told the Times that the experiment design “lacked adequate protections for the pigs.”
• “At least” 6,500 of 580,000 animals raised on site in the last 30 years have died of starvation.
• “In one trial aimed at creating larger lambs with more meat, pregnant ewes were injected with so much of the male hormone testosterone that it began to deform their babies’ genitals, making urination difficult,” the paper reports. This particular experiment was “abandoned” in 1990 after it was determined not to be helpful for farmers.
• As part of a continuing program on “easy care” sheep that do not require a lot of human intervention, newborn lambs are left out in open fields. Of 25 dead animals reported after the conclusion of one weekend round from last May, five were starved and left to die in the elements; five more were “savaged by coyotes.” Six had “signs of pneumonia.”
• Cows bred to statistically increase the chance of birthing twins resulted in a glut of calves with deformities, and the morality rate increased four-fold versus that of newborn, single calves.
• A study on the libido of bulls involved “as many as” six untended bull and a cow that had been restricted by a device to keep it still. The cow later died after hours of being mounted. “Her back legs were broken. Her body was just torn up,” says Keen, of the 1989 experiment.
Other workers alleged that animals were confined to overcrowded pens, that there were hundreds of deaths related to untreated abscesses, and, in general, a surfeit of neglected animals. One former worker alleged that the center asked an outside veterinarian to falsify a document after he refused to “soften the diagnosis” on the death certificate of a sheep.
According to federal rules, the Times reports, the Agriculture Department is supposed to oversee experiment protocols and procedures on animals, but the government-run center’s own programs are exempt from this kind of review, though its administrators are required to hold review committee meetings and keep detailed minutes. When the Times asked for an accounting of the last decade’s sessions, the center “provided just six sentences describing a single session last April.”