Animal Writes
25 April 2001 Issue
USDA Files Charges Against UCONN

from In Defense of Animals - Contact: Eric Kleiman, 717-939-3231


Gruesome Animal Suffering Documented, Including Rabbits with Severed Spinal Cords Who Received No Anesthetic or Veterinary Care

Storrs, CT (April 23, 2001) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has filed formal charges against the University of Connecticut for multiple and grave violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, In Defense of Animals (IDA) announced today.

The 16-page complaint, filed March 28, documents evidence of at least 99 separate violations of the Act, and describes severe animal suffering and a totally nonfunctional system of oversight, veterinary care and training. Incredibly, UConn failed to provide *any* veterinary care *at all* to a rabbit who had his spinal cord intentionally severed, and eventually became paralyzed after *8 days* of unrelieved suffering.

UConn also failed to provide any veterinary care for *11 days* to another rabbit who also had his spinal cord severed. Only after a USDA inspector noted that this rabbit was "unable to stand" on his hindlimbs, had a sore on his back, and was "lying in a metal slatted cage in feces" did UConn provide care. The UConn veterinarian, who saw this rabbit "for the first time" during the USDA inspection, euthanized him the next day.

*Unbelievably, the USDA also found that UConn could not demonstrate that these rabbits were even given anesthetics while their spinal cords were being severed.*

"If UConn cared at all about this egregious suffering, it would summarily dismiss everyone involved in these gruesome violations," said IDA Research Director Eric Kleiman. "Unfortunately, the state anti-cruelty statute exempts research facilities. This exemption must be removed. If the suffering of these rabbits - and others who died from stress caused by deficient feeding and sanitation - does not constitute sheer, unmitigated cruelty to animals that should be prosecuted, what does?"

Filing formal charges is the most serious step the USDA can take against a research facility, and one that the agency rarely takes.

"UConn's previous attempts to minimize the severity of these violations indicate both a callous indifference to extreme animal suffering and a blatant disregard for federal law," stated Kleiman. "These are some of the most serious violations we have ever seen, and demonstrate UConn's multiple failures to comply with the very cornerstones of all animal welfare laws."

In a May 15, 2000 article in the UConn newspaper Advance, then-vice provost for graduate education and research Robert Smith claimed that the animal care problems were "limited." UConn also claims on its web site that it is has "long recognized an ethical responsibility for the humane care" of animals in research. But the formal USDA complaint documents egregious animal care transgressions, including the following violations of the Animal Welfare Act:

* Conducting research without approval of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)
* Failure of the IACUC to perform required reviews of animal care program and to prepare said reports
* Failure to provide appropriate personnel and keep adequate records for adequate veterinary care
* Failure to properly care and treat animals, to have the Attending Veterinarian available, and to ensure that scientists, technicians and other personnel were qualified to perform their duties
* Failure to make training and instruction available, and to review personnel qualifications
* Failure to ensure that the Attending Veterinarian had authority to ensure adequate veterinary care
* Failure to include training on proper experimental techniques, use of painkillers, methods of reporting deficiencies in animal treatment, proper methods of animal care and use, and alternatives to animal use
* Failure to observe animals daily to assess their health and to communicate problems to veterinarian
* Failure to provide adequate post-procedural care and methods to prevent, control and treat diseases
* Failure to maintain proper housing facilities to prevent injuries and to have non-expired medicines

The complaint also indicates that UConn breached the terms of a previous 1998 settlement with the USDA, relating to yet more violations of the Animal Welfare Act, in which UConn agreed to pay a $4,500 fine and to comply with the Act.

Kleiman noted that the sweeping, fundamental failures documented by the USDA to provide adequate oversight through UConn's IACUC and, consequently, adequate veterinary care and training are a searing indictment of UConn's entire animal care program. Both the USDA and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have stated that a properly functioning IACUC is essential to proper animal care and compliance with animal welfare laws. The USDA "relies on the facility to monitor its own house" through the IACUC, while the NIH has described it as "pivotal" in "ensuring the ethical and sensitive care and use of animals in research" and the "cornerstone of its approach to ensuring the highest standards for animal use." UConn's IACUC members are listed at 

"UConn received over $44 million in taxpayer research funds from the NIH last year, yet has proved it cannot meet the minimum standards of animal care *required* for receipt of that money," said Kleiman.

Federal law requires that the NIH "*shall* suspend or revoke" federal funds to any facility that has uncorrected, repeated violations of animal welfare laws. According to IDA, the USDA's March 28, 2001 formal complaint against UConn, coupled with the finding that UConn had breached a previous 1998 settlement with the agency, demonstrates a pattern of violations.

"We believe the NIH must revoke tax funds to this facility that has demonstrated such a blatant disregard for both egregious animal suffering and compliance with federal law," Kleiman concluded.

Go on to A Poem in Hope of a Second Chance
Return to 25 April 2001 Issue
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