Mayo Clinic has ceased the use of live animals in its emergency medicine residency program following complaints from a national physicians organization.

The Rochester research hospital confirmed Friday that it stopped annual surgery training on live pigs but did not say exactly when the change had been implemented or why.

However, the decision comes several months after the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the practice — saying the practice violates federal animal protection laws.

"It was the right move for Mayo Clinic to modernize its curriculum," said Dr. John Pippin, director of academic affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based group, which advocates for scientific ethics and nutrition. "Human-based training methods can better prepare residents to perform lifesaving procedures."

As of February, Mayo was one of only 15 programs in the country that continued to use live animals to train medical residents in emergency medicine, according to the Physicians Committee. The group said most training programs have switched to simulators to educate new doctors in surgical techniques such as inserting breathing tubes or opening chest cavities.

At the time, Mayo told the Star Tribune that it needed pigs to teach techniques used to provide "lifesaving care to pediatric patients" that "cannot be effectively taught in a simulation center."

Hennepin Healthcare, which operates HCMC in Minneapolis and trains residents from the University of Minnesota, recently ended its use of live sheep and rabbits in emergency medicine residency training after it was targeted by the same group. That campaign lasted four years and included billboards and protests.

Studies show the use of live animals in medical education has largely declined, according to the Physicians Committee. Medical schools no longer use them, and many residency programs, including pediatrics and anesthesiology, have followed suit.

For emergency medicine residency training, 86% of programs used live animals in 2004, while just 4% do today, according to a Physicians Committee survey.

On Friday, Mayo released a statement saying that its medical training programs continuously evolve.

"We believe there is merit in minimizing the use of animals where proven, highly effective alternatives are found; and we have pioneered many innovative approaches to do so. Emergency medicine training at Mayo Clinic, for example, no longer requires the use of pigs," said Mayo spokesman Bob Nellis. "These decisions are always based on what is in the best interest of our patients and trainees, and we will continue to assess our curriculum so that tomorrow's doctors can provide the safest, highest quality care."