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  1. News Release

  2. Nov 17, 2022

Federal Complaint Alleges USDA Laboratory Violated Animal Welfare Act

Killing of Pigs in Study of Human Health Was Unethical, Unscientific, Doctors Group Says

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a national nonprofit with more than 17,000 doctor members, filed a federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) complaint today, Nov. 17, 2022, with the two U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) subagencies: the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). The complaint alleges that an ARS laboratory killed pigs to observe how eating fruits and vegetables affects human health in a study that lacked scientific value.

In the study, experimenters at the USDA ARS Diet, Genomics, and Immunology Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., used nine pigs to see how a two-week diet of fruit and vegetables impacted the animals’ genetic expression and gut microbiome. The pigs were divided into two groups. One was fed a standard pig diet. The other was given a standard diet supplemented with fruits, vegetables, and chicken. The diet given to the latter group was based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation for people ages 19 to 59. The experimenters weighed the pigs and collected blood and feces at the beginning and end of the study before killing the animals.

The AWA mandates that “procedures [are] designed to assure that discomfort and pain to animals will be limited to that which is unavoidable for the conduct of scientifically valuable research.” A study of pigs to understand how a diet rich in fruits and vegetables affects humans is not scientifically valuable research, the Physicians Committee contends, since it has already been safely performed in humans.

“This study retreats from the species of interest (humans) for no apparent reason,” said Physicians Committee Science Policy and Program Manager Janine McCarthy, “raising issues of both a lack of scientific merit and serious research misconduct.”

Any use of live animals by a federal agency must be approved by that agency’s own Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). The Physicians Committee believes that inadequate oversight by the ARS IACUC is responsible for the improper approval and ongoing use of live animals for human nutrition research there. 

The Physicians Committee requested that APHIS, the agency responsible for AWA enforcement over nonfederal entities, investigate this USDA study and order correction and appropriate penalties. While federal agencies conducting animal experiments typically carry out their own AWA enforcement, the Physicians Committee expressed concern that ARS is not capable of self-policing.

The ARS approved, funded, and carried out the research, McCarthy said. “We question whether it can be unbiased in its investigation of its own laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, so we asked another arm of USDA to weigh in, as well.”

For an interview with Ms. McCarthy, please contact Kim Kilbride at 202-717-8665 or at kkilbride [at]

Media Contact

Kim Kilbride



Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.

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