The Coast Guard is defending its practice of using live animals in its combat medical training after an activist group released a video on Wednesday of a goat's legs being removed with tree trimmers during what it said was training for agency personnel.
Live anesthetized goats have been used in Coast Guard training to treat combat wounds, but the agency could not verify if the video involved its personnel. The courses do involve "live tissue training using live animals," Lt. Cmdr. Jamie C. Frederick, spokesman for the Atlantic Area, wrote in an email.
Frederick was responding after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called on the Pentagon to stop the practice. A congressman also has introduced legislation that would phase out the use of animals by the military for such training.
PETA said the undercover video it released from a whistleblower did show military instructors contracted by the Coast Guard cutting off an anesthetized goat's legs in Virginia Beach. The faces of the participants are blurred and they are not in uniform.
"Animals used in trauma training are supported and monitored by well-trained, experienced veterinary staff to ensure that appropriate anesthesia and analgesia prevent them from experiencing pain or distress," Frederick wrote.
In the video, the goat is still while its legs are cut. Later it makes noise and moves, followed by one of the men calling for another "bump" of anesthesia.
Other branches of the military use similar training on goats and pigs and have defended it as a way to replicate wartime injuries and prepare medics and front-line troops for treating catastrophic injuries in the field of battle.
The Pentagon declined to respond to an AP request for comment on the video.
"Effective combat trauma training and treatment results in lowering the fatality rate of U.S. troops deployed in combat situations," Frederick wrote.
He said the training has also proved invaluable in noncombat situations, such as when Coast Guard members were the first to respond to Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake.
PETA and other animal rights groups, as well as some medical professionals, say the practice is cruel and unnecessary. They promote the use of human simulation models over animals.
"Learning how to apply a tourniquet on a severed goat's leg does not help prepare medical providers to treat an anatomically different human being wounded on the battlefield," according to Dr. Michael P. Murphy, an associate professor of surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves who served two tours of duty in Iraq. He was among the medical professionals who signed PETA's letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta seeking an end to the practice.
The group also asks U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate "apparent serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act."
U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, a California Democrat, has introduced legislation that would phase out such use of animals by the military. He said he's faced fierce opposition from the Department of Defense.
"With these animals, they can break their limbs, or they want to simulate broken bones or a gunshot wound, and it's not clear if they're anesthetized or not," he said. "You're torturing animals when you don't have to."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: http://www.peta.org/
Tier 1 Group: http://www.t1g.com/