A national advocacy group has filed a federal complaint against Mayo Clinicover its use of live animals in training emergency medicine residents.

After talking to Mayo Clinic for more than a year, the Washington, D.C.-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicinefiled a complaint asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Serviceto investigate Mayo’s use of pigs in annual training emergency medical training. The complaint alleges Mayo Clinic’s use of live animals violates the federal Animal Welfare Act

The complaint was signed by several doctors, including a retired Mayo Clinic doctor.

Dr. John Pippin, the Physicians Committee’s director of academic affairs, said that Mayo Clinic uses pigs in once-a-year training for residents on how to treat patients with emergency airway injuries. He said that even if the pigs survive the training, they are all killed at the end.

The practice puts Mayo Clinic in the minority among other such medical programs.

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The Physicians Committee polled 267 emergency medical residency programs in the U.S. and Canada and found that "94 percent do not use any animals for any aspect of that training."

Hennepin Healthcarein Minneapolis and Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins medical centerboth have ended the practice in recent years, after facing criticism from the Physicians Committee.

"We’re surprised to see an institution as prestigious as Mayo Clinic in the 6 percent minority," said Pippin.

Mayo Clinic declined to discuss details of training, how pigs are used each year or if the hogs come from Mayo’s own Institute Hills animal farm. However, Mayo Clinic’s Bob Nellis did send out a general statement on the issue.

"Mayo Clinic uses pigs to train emergency medicine residents in essential techniques so they can safely and effectively provide lifesaving care to pediatric patients. These are techniques that cannot be effectively taught in a simulation center," according to the written statement. "These procedures have been reviewed and approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Mayo Clinic meets or exceeds all standards set by the federal agencies and accrediting agency required for the use of animals."

Pippin has a simple response to the position that the use of medical simulation mannequins are not effective for this type of training.

"That’s simply not true," he said Thursday. "We do respect the opinion of Mayo Clinic instructors that do this. They are entitled to their opinions. But we really feel they are not entitled to their own facts. That justification is false."

Pippin stressed that pigs are very different from humans, with thicker necks and a trachea that is lower than a person’s.

Many will recognize the name Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine from a TV commercial campaign that was launched last weekagainst people eating bacon. The ad specifically targeted Austin-based Hormel Foods.

Given that campaign and the complaint against Mayo Clinic, is the nonprofit just a pro-animal organization like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals?

Pippin says that’s not correct. Both the anti-bacon campaign and this latest complaint are about addressing public health and best practices issues. Bacon is well-documented as causing health problems and using animals to teach residents results in poorly training doctors.

"When they (residents) have a patient come in needing an artificial airway, they have to learn it all over again," he said. "The people of Rochester and Minnesota deserve better."

Critics often point out that only about 10 percent of the Physicians Committee members are doctors. Pippin acknowledges that, but points out that many of its members are nurses, researchers or others in the medical field. Plus, the more than 12,000 doctors who are members agree on the policy matters.

"To get 12,000 doctors to agree on anything is a hard thing to do," he said.

Mayo Clinic has 4,500 doctors and scientists working at its three campuses.