USDA finds University mistreated lab primates
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Published: Friday, July 30th, 2010 University researchers provided inadequate amounts of water to lab primates and violated or failed to document compliance with pre-approved protocol, according to findings from a routine inspection of animal research facilities conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the University in late June.
The report cited 13 violations, which included using a method to induce anesthesia that was not pre-approved, surgically placing two monitoring devices in different anatomic locations of a primate without written scientific justification and administering anesthetics following a craniotomy only on an “as needed” basis rather than routinely. A craniotomy involves temporarily removing a bone flap from the skull to access the brain.
A University animal researcher familiar with the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the report noted technical violations and did not reflect the overall health of the University’s primates. Some animal rights activists have expressed skepticism at such a justification.
“It’s just ironic because as soon as the inspector comes in, she says the monkeys look great,” the researcher said. “Then she goes through these records and finds that she needs to write up these citations, but her bottom line is that the monkeys are treated extremely well.”
The primates have access to amenities such as large-screen televisions playing cartoons during the day and a full-time caretaker, the researcher said. The researcher also explained that no experimentation results in the death of the animals and that the primates are sent to a sanctuary upon the completion of research.
“For the most part, the issue was documentation,” University spokeswoman Emily Aronson said. “Water was given to the animals regularly.”
Records from the National Institutes of Health show that the University is involved with research in the “multisensory integration of faces and voices in the primate temporal lobe.” Aronson said there are 15 macaques and 10 marmosets housed at the University.
The researcher said that the occasional mistake in documentation was not unusual, given the volume of records required by existing regulations. Records for procedures like the administration of anesthesia may include the dates of related surgeries, the timing and dosage of medications, observations of signs that animals may be experiencing pain, and any consultation of veterinarians.
This explanation, however, did not address the concerns of Michael Budkie, co-founder and executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, the organization that originally brought the USDA report to the media’s attention.
“These kinds of procedures are not unique to Princeton,” said Budkie, who studied animal health technology at the University of Cincinnati. He added that he thought it was especially unusual for a single research institution to have so many citations in one inspection and also found it worrisome that most of the issues raised by the USDA regarded one set of experiments.
According to the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, every institution that participates in federally funded animal research must have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee that pre-approves experiment protocols and upkeep procedures. The University’s committee includes a practicing scientist with experience in animal research, a veterinarian, and a community member who is not otherwise affiliated with the University, Aronson said.
Aronson noted that the University was already aware of some of the problems raised by the USDA prior to the visit and was in the process of correcting them, as well as implementing an action plan to strengthen the University’s IACUC. Eight of the citations involved procedure violations linked to the IACUC’s ineffectiveness.
Annual USDA inspection reports from 2007 and 2008 contained no citations, and a report from 2009 cited two non-compliance items.
The University has also earned voluntary accreditation from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, which generally requires higher standards than those mandated by federal law, Aronson said.
Even in light of the citations, the researcher said that animal experimentation was an important part of making beneficial scientific advancements. Most modern surgical techniques and medicines are first tested on animals, which reduces the need for and risk to human subjects, the researcher said.
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