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Animal-Cruelty Charges Against Science Firm Dropped

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A federal administrative-law judge has dismissed animal-cruelty charges against one of the nation's leading suppliers of science-teaching materials.

U.S. Agriculture Department lawyers charged in a complaint filed against Carolina Biological Supply Company in 1991 that the firm had improperly euthanized cats and committed other violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.

The U.S.D.A. case followed a widely publicized investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for which two PETA employees secured jobs at C.B.S.C. and videotaped lab activities.

As part of a campaign by the Maryland-based animal-rights group against the practice of dissection, PETA released a report and videotape purporting to expose mistreatment of animals by C.B.S.C. and another Burlington, N.C.-based company, including footage they claimed shows cats being embalmed while they were still alive.

Many schools were led to reconsider their dissection practices. (See Education Week, Feb. 20, 1991.)

Credibility Questions

But Dorothea A. Baker, an administrative law judge at the U.S.D.A., found that agency officials did not prove that the company exhibited "careless disregard'' for the law. It was fined $2,500 for a record-keeping infraction, and the other charges were dismissed.

In her March 30 ruling, Judge Baker rejected the testimony of two U.S.D.A. veterinarians, who said that the cats on the tape were alive, siding with C.B.S.C.'s witness, an expert in embalming who said the cats had been properly euthanized.

The judge also said that the evidence gathered by PETA employees was unreliable because they were unlicensed investigators whose intent was to stop dissections.

The U.S.D.A. did not appeal, and the ruling became final May 12.

Mary Beth Sweetland, a spokeswoman for PETA, contended that the judge was "egregiously prejudiced.''

"How else does she expect us to get the evidence?'' Ms. Sweetland asked. "Does she expect C.B.S.C. to just come out and say, 'Sure, we embalm live cats'?''

"C.B.S.C. knows what it did and knows it was exposed,'' she added.

But Paula Basirico, a spokeswoman for C.B.S.C., noted that the judge had "commended'' the firm's "spotless record and continued commitment to the welfare and humane treatment of animals.''

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