Mount Sinai's Flock of Miami Beach Research Sheep Targeted by Animal Rights Group

Any guess where Florida's largest flock of sheep lives? Quite possibly right in the middle of Miami Beach, inside a nondescript Mount Sinai Medical Center research building just off the Julia Tuttle Causeway. 

Unlike their rural cousins, these fluffy animals, more than 100 of them, aren't kept for wool or left alone to graze in a pasture. They're held for medical experiments — and an animal rights group wants to make sure the public knows about it. 

"The idea of a large animal like a sheep being kept indoors for a long time, with no access to fresh air, sunlight, grass — the things that sheeps usually or naturally have — it's outrageous," says Nick Atwood, campaigns coordinator for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF). "It just points to the cruelty of these medical research studies that are going on." 

Mount Sinai, though, vigorously defends its sheep-research lab. In a statement to New Times, Dr. Robert Goldszer, Mount Sinai's chief medical officer, defends not only the conditions of the sheep but also the importance of the research.

In addition to the mandatory evaluations by the USDA, Mount Sinai actually volunteered to participate in a humane-treatment-of-animals oversight program, conducted by another organization, the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, Goldszer says. "Both have consistently found that the facility adheres to the highest standards of animal care dating back more than a decade," he says. 

ARFF wrote about Mount Sinai's little-known flock yesterday on its blog, accompanied by a picture of a half-dozen happy-looking sheep frolicking in tall grass, with the sarcastic headline "Have You Seen Miami Beach's Flock of Sheep?" 

The animal-rights organization cited a recent visit to Mount Sinai by a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector, who counted 114 sheep, a number that indicates the flock is most likely the largest in the state: a sheep flock of 50 or 60 is typically considered large, 
Atwood says, although the group wasn't able to definitively confirm that Mount Sinai's flock is the most populous.

ARFF's media campaign also highlights a history of accusations of bad treatment of the Mount Sinai flock: In 2003, the Sun Sentinel reported that a former Mount Sinai veterinarian was suing, claiming she had been retaliated against for speaking out about research animals' abject conditions, including a nursing female sheep that was found dead with its head caught between bars and another that broke its legs after being left in a shopping cart.

"We would love to see Mount Sinai shut down this research study," Atwood says. "I think there are better ways of studying asthma and respiratory disease than using sheep." 

Goldszer says there's no chance of that happening and points to the important research being done in the lab.

The chief medical officer lauds the respiratory studies being done with the sheep: "Many that have been published and are contributing to the search for solutions to a number of life-threatening pulmonary illnesses, such as cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma."  

The research has led to several patents, he adds. "In fact, Mount Sinai played a critical role in the research with red tide toxin, a natural algae that can cause respiratory problems."
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Trevor Bach