An Avalanche of Criticism Tests Halted on Pigs Left to Die in Snow

A storm of protest has forced scientists in Austria to abandon experiments on pigs buried in snow. Animal rights activists say the tests on live animals are unacceptable. The researchers counter that it is vital to help save human lives in the aftermath of an avalanche.

Happier swine. A sow and piglet enjoy the snow near Oxford, southern England.

Happier swine. A sow and piglet enjoy the snow near Oxford, southern England.

The tests were supposed to last two weeks, but an avalanche of criticism has forced scientists to stop after just three days. Protests by animal rights activists have brought a controversial experiment involving pigs in the Austrian Alps to a halt. On Tuesday, scientists had commenced burying the animals in the snow and monitoring their deaths in an attempt to determine what factors make it possible for humans to survive avalanches.

By Thursday, though, the experiment -- led by the Medical University of Innsbrück and the Institute of Mountain Emergency Medicine in Bozano, Italy -- was temporarily stopped due to massive media interest sparked by the protests. A total of 29 animals had been selected for the tests, which were due to continue for two weeks. Ten pigs had already died in the experiment conducted in a simulated avalanche. Scientists involved say they were sedated and given an anaesthetic. The Medical University of Innsbrück posted a statement on its Web site saying that the experiment had been approved by the Austrian Science and Research Ministry.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that these highly sensitive, helpless animals are killed for such an unnecessary test," said Johanna Stadler, head of the animals rights group Four Paws. "People are shocked and outraged that such cruel experiments can even be carried out in Austria," Gerda Metias, president of the International Union of Animal Experiment Opponents, told the Associated Press.

'Morally Questionable'

Some activists suggested the researchers experiment on themselves instead. "The scientists should bury themselves, and their colleagues can evaluate the results," a spokesperson from the Austrian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals told the Austrian news agency APA.

Anton Steixner, the official in charge of animal protection in the Tirol regional government, said that he had not been informed and was surprised at these "unusual methods." "To bury pigs alive under the snow is morally questionable," he said, distancing himself from the experiment. The Tirol Mountain Rescue service also questioned the sense of carrying out this kind of test. Meanwhile, Austria's Social Democratic (SPÖ) and Green parties have demanded an immediate end to the tests and want to discuss the approval by the ministry in parliament.

Hermann Brugger, who is leading the research project, says, however, that the tests will go ahead. "It makes no sense … to call off the experiment now," he said, arguing that that would mean those pigs that have already died did so in vain. He said the scientists needed the complete the tests in order to draw conclusions on how to improve the rescue of humans.

"In the dramatic situation after an avalanche, the emergency doctors can judge better which victims have a realistic chance of surviving." He told the Austrian TV station ORF: "We want to save lives, that's the only goal of this study."

smd -- with wire reports


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