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Posted at 10:42 AM ET, 06/ 3/2010

Sheep deaths in university research lead to probe

By Valerie Strauss

Put this in the category of the perils of research: Nine University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers and officials are being investigated to see if they broke state law by killing sheep through decompression as part of an experiment on “the bends.”

A Wisconsin judge has appointed a special prosecutor to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against the people responsible for experiments that killed sheep, the Associated Press reported.

The researchers were conducting experiments on an illness known as decompression sickness, or “the bends,” which can occur during deep-sea diving. The sheep are exposed to compressed air in a high-pressure chamber and then the air pressure is decreased.

Wisconsin law prohibits anyone from killing an animal through decompression.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Amy Smith appointed the special prosecutor after two animal rights groups -- the Madison-based Alliance for Animals and the national group PETA -- filed a petition seeking criminal charges. She says numerous sheep have died in experiments since 1988.

In her 24-page decision, Smith wrote that the university “has apparently engaged in behavior resulting in the above-described animal deaths for years," according to The Daily Page.

She also noted that the university may have believed that "an unwritten ’research exemption’ to the law" allowed it to conduct the experiments. And "because the University interprets the statute in its favor, it may well continue to decompress animals to death contrary to law, unless I take action."

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By Valerie Strauss  | June 3, 2010; 10:42 AM ET
Categories:  Research  | Tags:  research, sheep deaths, special prosector and sheep, university of wisconsin at madison  
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