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Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
S. A. E. N.
"Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation"

Media Coverage

USDA Not Adequately Enforcing Lab Animal Protection Laws
By M. Alexander Otto
BNA’s Medical Research Law & Policy Report

May 5, 2004

USDA Not Adequately Enforcing Lab Animal Protection Laws, Group Says

The nation's top animal research labs continue to violate humane treatment laws despite repeated fines and disciplinary actions by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to an animal welfare group's review of USDA records.

Between 1999 and 2003, the department found 559 violations of the Animal Welfare Act at 25 university and commercial labs, many of them leading research centers. Seventy-nine citations were for repeat violations of the same infractions, Cincinnati-based Stop Animal Exploitation Now! (SAEN) found in its new report, Breaking the Law: Animal Care in U.S. Labs.

Cited violations included inadequate veterinary care, personnel training, food and water, environmental stimulation and comfort, and sanitation.

The University of California, San Francisco, with 3,365 regulated animals in its care during the three-year period, topped the list with 51 violations, 30 of which were repeat infractions, according to the report.

Johns Hopkins University, the leading recipient of federal research dollars, was sixth with 31 violations for its 4,978 regulated animals. Harvard University ranked 16th with 14 citations for the 2,502 regulated animals under its care during that time.

Meanwhile, Mount Ida College in Newton, Mass., with just 40 regulated animals, ranked 11th with 25 AWA violations.

The USDA inspection records for the 25 labs were compiled by Michael A. Budkie, SAEN executive director, and associates over several months. Budkie, who trained as an animal lab technician before becoming an activist, said the goal was to gauge adherence to the AWA and enforcement of the act by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

The numbers, Budkie said, may not reflect the true incidence of violations because APHIS typically inspects labs once a year or less and labs sometimes have advance warning of visits. Also, the vast majority of animals used in U.S. labs--rats, mice, and birds--are not protected by humane treatment laws AWA.

The report did not raise the issue of stopping animal research, but only of making sure animals used in studies are treated humanely.

SAEN’s findings echo those of the Rockville, Md.-based Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, which accredits labs for compliance with federal humane animal treatment standards.

AAALAC also continues to find significant problems in how animals are treated in medical research laboratories across the United States. In 2002, 248 AAALAC lab inspections uncovered roughly 125 problems serious enough to block the group from fully accrediting facilities as meeting federal standards. Each year, the group rejects about 30 percent of laboratories it inspects for full accreditation, a figure that has held steady since the mid-1990s.

'The Cost of Doing Business.'

Among examples of USDA-cited violations listed in SAEN’s report was a dog killed when the cage it was in was run through a cage washer at the Pfizer Inc.'s Kalamazoo, Mich., research facility.

In other incidents, USDA inspectors found a gravely ill rhesus monkey "allowed to suffer and die, instead of being immediately humanely euthanized" after researchers at Hopkins decided to withhold treatment; pigs left without water at the University of Pennsylvania; rabbits restrained continuously for 30 consecutive days while one leg was kept in constant motion at the University of Pittsburgh; 60 primates left in 100 degree heat with no shelter from the sun at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center; and a primate at Emory University overdosed with a drug to induce Parkinson's disease and left to linger and die when workers assigned to care for the animal neglected to do so.

The solution, SAEN said, is stronger enforcement of the AWA and an act of Congress to give APHIS stronger enforcement powers.

The report noted, for example, that USDA fined the University of California, San Francisco, in the past, but "for a facility that receives over $160,000,000 from the National Institutes of Health for the performance of animal experiments, a $2,000 fine is little more than pocket change."

Such fines, Budkie said, are considered by some animal labs as little more than "the cost of doing business."

The USDA official who inspected Pfizer after the dog was killed noted only that procedures need to be put into place to prevent the repetition of such an occurrence, according to the report, which called the response "grossly insufficient."

APHIS Ignored USDA Advice.

Stronger enforcement is the very course of action recommended by the USDA Office of the Inspector General in 1995 after it reached conclusions similar to SAEN's following its own investigation.

The IG—which polices USDA offices to make sure they are doing their job properly—found that "APHIS does not have the authority, under current legislation, to effectively enforce the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. For instance, the agency cannot terminate or refuse to renew licenses or registrations in cases where serious or repeat violations occur (such as the use of animals in unnecessary experiments, or failure to treat diseases or wounds)."

"In addition, APHIS cannot assess monetary penalties for violations unless the violator agrees to pay them, and penalties are often so low that violators merely regard them as part of the cost of doing business," the office found.

The IG recommended that APHIS initiate legislation to extend its enforcement powers, a course of action that was not followed.

APHIS spokesman Jim Rogers told BNA his office can levy fines up to $2,750 per animal, per violation, per day. He acknowledged that APHIS cannot revoke licenses or take other actions to shut down labs. "That would take an act of Congress," Rogers explained.

He did not respond by press time when asked why APHIS did not follow the IG's advice, but said it is no longer the case that AWA violators must agree to penalties.

A second spokesman, Darby Holladay, said APHIS has been trying for several years to win regulatory authority to refuse to renew licenses of chronic AWA violators, but that the efforts have been tied up by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which must sign off on such changes.

Until enforcement is improved, SAEN said, the "Animal Welfare Act (however well intended) primarily gives animal laboratories the ability to say that since they are inspected, and supervised, conditions within the facilities must be adequate."

Meanwhile, "dogs, cats, primates, pigs, and animals of many other species are going without veterinary care, without food and water, and are suffering needlessly," the group said.

Following the IG's lead, SAEN recommended APHIS initiate legislation to allow it to revoke or withhold renewals of licenses, fine violators without their permission, and increase fine ceilings.

The group also called for better policing of painful and duplicate experiments to stop those deemed unnecessary, as required by AWA.

 

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