SEATTLE (CN) - The University of Washington agreed to nearly triple the size of its primate research lab at a closed "dinner meeting" to shield the Board of Regents from public accountability, an animal rights group claims in court.
The advocacy group, "Don't Expand UW Primate Testing," sued the Board of Regents and its eight members in King County Court on Oct. 1, under the Open Public Meetings Act.
The $123 million Animal Research and Care Facility (ARCF) will "almost triple" the size of the university's primate lab, "even while other leading research institutions are decreasing such testing in favor of more humane and accurate alternatives," the complaint states.
"If the ARCF is built, the UW anticipates that the biggest increases to its animal testing population will be large animals, especially nonhuman primates. UW plans to almost triple the number of primates it uses for research. UW projections anticipate bringing more than 1,200 additional primates to the campus by 2020, for a total of over 2,000 primates. The UW also plans to at least double its capacity for animals kept in pens, including dogs and sheep.
"The ARCF project is extremely controversial because it goes against a nationwide trend away from using primates and other animals in biomedical research, in favor of more accurate, efficient, humane, and less expensive alternatives. There are already at least 50 validated alternatives to animal tests, and there have been major advancements in using microchips, computer models, artificial organs, stem cells, and other methods that replace animals with alternatives that provide results that are better applied to humans," according to the complaint.
The group claims the regents regularly hold closed-door dinner meetings at the UW president's residence the night before a public meeting, to discuss the agenda.
The board unanimously approved the lab's expansion at a Nov. 14, 2013 public meeting. Trustees deliberated on the site plan, funding and how they would vote at the private dinner the night before, in violation of public meetings rules, the complaint states.
"The November 13 dinner meeting did not qualify as an executive session, included deliberations of matters that are not the proper subject of an executive session ... and the BOR did not follow proper procedures for calling an executive session on November 13, 2013," according to the complaint.
The board also violated public meetings rules at the dinner by having a final action in a closed meeting, by failing to post the agenda online and refusing to provide for public comment, the complaint states.
The group seeks declaratory judgment that the board violated the Open Public Meetings Act, and that the approval of the testing facility, construction and funding is null and void. They also want an injunction prohibiting the board from taking any further action on the lab until it conducts public deliberations.
The complaint also seeks an injunction requiring disclosure of the content of deliberations at the dinner meeting and prohibiting the board from conducting public business at future dinner meetings.
The group is represented by Claire Tonry with Smith & Lowney.
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