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Uncle Sam Pays for Swedish Massage of New Zealand Rabbits

Saturday November 8th, 2014   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 10:41am PST   •  

13504595_S There’s a lot not to like about how much money the various agencies and departments of the U.S. federal government waste, but perhaps the most bizarre example from the 2014 Wastebook is the story of how the National Institute of Health (NIH) spent $387,000 over two years to provide Swedish massages to the feet of New Zealand White rabbits four times a day.

That was the choice the agency’s leadership made in setting the NIH’s priorities, where instead of spending the money more practically, say to develop effective protocols to prevent U.S. health care workers from becoming infected with the Ebola Virus Disease before it arrived in the U.S., chose instead to use the money to study whether Swedish massage techniques might be beneficial for helping the feet of human athletes recover more quickly after exercise. Something that human athletes have been doing for some time because the benefits of the practice have already been well established.

The 2014 Wastebook, which is produced by the office of Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who is also a medical doctor, critiqued the rationale for the NIH’s research.

“We tried to mimic Swedish massage because anecdotally, it’s the most popular technique used by athletes,” said Thomas Best, the project leader and co-medical director of the Ohio State University Sports Medicine Center.

The researchers “acknowledged that the injury created in our animal model may not be completely analogous to the injury produced in humans with eccentric exercise.” They do note, however, that studies do exist to support the use of massage to treat human muscle aches and pains.

If the researchers were seeking to learn how to indentify the most optimal application of massage therapy to treat human muscle aches and injuries, then perhaps they should have observed human subjects. Instead, this study seems to have chased tax dollars down a rabbit hole. Taxpayer dollars that could have supported potentially more transformative research were instead spend on exercise and massage equipment for rabbits.

But that’s not all. The Chicago Tribune‘s John Kass went the extra mile to find out if there might be another, more practical reason why anyone would want to massage the feet of rabbits as part of a “scientific” study.

But I wasn’t through with my own scientific inquiry, so I called the famed Slagel Family Farm, about 100 miles south of Chicago, which provides rabbit, pork and beef to Chicago’s top gourmet restaurants.

LouisJohn Slagel, a fifth-generation farmer, answered the phone and was struck dumb by the news. “They’re taking my tax dollars and using them to massage rabbits’ feet?”

Yes, Mr. Slagel.

I’ve never really been embarrassed for my country before this. But outlining the program and the cost to a rabbit man made me realize that we’ll never get our deficit and debt under control.

Mr. Slagel? Any reaction to the federal rabbit foot massage?

He was silent for some time, then answered: “Well I certainly don’t think that’s a good use of the public funds, but that’s Washington for you.”

By an amazing coincidence, Slagel raises New Zealand rabbits, which is the same breed rubbed Swedishly by the NIH.

“They’re a gentle rabbit,” he said. “But I still can’t believe it. When you first mentioned it, I thought perhaps it was something like Kobe beef, where they massage cattle. But you wouldn’t massage a rabbit.”


“They’re only about 3 pounds,” he said. “They’re tender enough.”

The 2014 Wastebook indicates that the rabbits in the NIH’s Swedish massage study were eventually euthanized, but it doesn’t reveal how the researchers finally disposed of its animal research subjects.

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November 2014