Dead monkey raises alarms Primate lab gets USDA citation

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SOUTHBORO — The New England Primate Center has been warned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s animal and plant health inspection services after a dead research monkey was discovered in a cage that had just been sterilized in an automatic washer.

A June 29 USDA inspection report signed by Dr. Paula S. Gladue, a veterinarian-inspector for the agency, says the body, described as a non-human primate, was found on the floor of a cage that had just gone through a sanitizing cycle in a washer. The discovery was made during a June 9 routine inspection of the facility, which is operated by Harvard Medical School. The report says that after gross and microscopic examinations of the animal, it was determined that it had died before the cage went through the washer.

However, Michael A. Budkie, executive director of Ohio-based Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, questioned yesterday if anyone really knows if the monkey was dead or alive before it was sent through the cage washer. Mr. Budkie, who said he previously worked in animal research laboratories, said it would be “difficult at best” to glean any information from a body sent through a sanitizer.

“It’s a terrible thing if it was sent in there alive,” he said. “But even if it was already dead, that says something very disturbing about the practices and procedures at this facility.”

Mr. Budkie has sent a letter to Dr. Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of Harvard University Medical School, requesting a tour of the Southboro center, along with a request to see primate health care records and results of the necropsy done on the monkey.

He got an acknowledgement e-mail that his letter was received, but nothing else, he said.

The primate center does medical research on infections and immune-related diseases such as HIV and AIDS, viral-induced cancers, and neurological diseases. It also studies health correlations between humans and non-human primates.

A statement from Harvard Medical School yesterday describes the incident as “regrettable.” It says a necropsy verified that the animal died “prior to entering the cage washer.”

“This event was inconsistent with our outstanding record of safety and ongoing commitment to excellence in our research program,” the statement says. A spokesman would not say what type of primate was found in the cage, but according to the center’s most recent annual USDA report, filed Dec. 1, there are 825 non-human primates, including Rhesus monkeys, squirrel monkeys, macaques and marmosets — very small monkeys — used there. Of those, 810 were used in procedures.

In her inspection report, Dr. Gladue said the center needs to take “appropriate steps to ensure that all personnel are adequately trained” in the requirements on health and safety of animals. “Correct immediately” was written in a section regarding the dead monkey incident.

The center was also cited in the report for its noncompliance with changing and sanitizing cages on a regular schedule, and said employees “lacked a familiarity with the required husbandry procedures.”

Harvard’s statement says the medical school’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which oversees the primate center’s program, will examine whether other improvements to animal care are needed.

The center was cited in 2005 and 2006 by the USDA for failing to consider alternatives that could cause less pain or distress to animals, not providing a complete description of its proposed use of animals, failing to maintain adequate veterinary care, poor spot cleaning, and poor food and bedding storage.

Mr. Budkie, who said he checks USDA-monitored animal facilities on a regular basis, said while sending animals through cage washers is not a common occurrence, it does occasionally happen. Approximately 130 animals died within the last year-and-a-half, he said, through “sheer negligence.”

He attributed that to staffing cutbacks and large institutions housing many animals.

“If the USDA is to remain consistent with enforcement actions taken against other laboratories, Harvard should be fined,” he said.

See Also:
Harvard Medical School
Dead monkey raises alarms Primate lab gets USDA citation - Media Coverage
Feds may probe Southborough primate center after animal's death - Media Coverage
2 Aug 2010 - USDA Cites Harvard as Primate Found Dead in Cagewasher; Watchdog Group Demands Inspection Tour of Primate Center - Press Release

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