Activists seek info on U. lab animal research workers

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The University of Utah has denied an open records request seeking the names of researchers who experiment on animals, citing safety concerns for the faculty members.

The student group Utah Primate Freedom filed the request, and will appeal the denial to the state Records Committee.

Students want the information to "hold researchers legally and publicly responsible" for any animal abuses, said Katie Patterson, a sophomore studying English who filed the request.

"If we hear of abuse or neglect of an animal, we'd probably try to get that person fired, depending on how bad the abuse is," she said.

Fellow Utah Primate Freedom member Jeremy Beckham said the U.'s claims of security concerns have no merit under Utah's open records law, and he is confident he ultimately will prevail.

University administrators disagree. Security concerns are legitimate given recent vandalism that occurred at the home of U. researcher Audie Gene Leventhal, U. spokeswoman Coralie Alder said. The Animal Liberation Front acknowledged on its Web site that members threw glass-eating acid on the windows and painted the words "Cat Killer" on his driveway, in reference to his experiments involving felines at the U.

Utah Primate Freedom also has held protests outside the homes of researchers.

"They say they don't care about where the researchers live, but then why are they going to the researchers homes?" Alder asks.

While Patterson said the intention of the protests was not to "scare or intimidate" the researchers but rather voice their concerns over having closed labs, Beckham sees the need for a militant, radical faction in the animal rights activist movement.

"It's unfortunate, but activities such as vandalism are the result of labs being so secretive," he said. "When some activists see someone like me try to work within the system and fail repeatedly, it's hard to argue with that militant rationale."

However, if he does receive the researchers' names from the U., he will post them online. Alder worries that more radical groups could use that information to inflict harm.

She added that U. researchers treat their animals ethically.

They take their rhesus and macaque monkeys to sanctuaries after experiments and adopt out cats and dogs.

But Beckham wants to end such experiments and attempt to ensure researchers are held to higher standards by getting their names for activists such as himself.

"When there is a violation, there is no corrective behavior, the lab just pays a fine," he said.

"Right now we're going on a fishing expedition. Once we've looked at the documents, we'll figure out our course of action."