Complaint against Southern Research alleges animal negligence

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Published: Saturday, March 05, 2011, 6:00 AM Updated: Saturday, March 05, 2011, 7:16 AM
By Jeff Hansen -- The Birmingham News

An animal rights group -- Stop Animal Exploitation Now! -- on Friday asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fine Southern Research Institute $50,000 for the deaths of a macaque and two ferrets, and the mistreatment of two other ferrets.

USDA veterinarian Michelle Williams investigated the death of the macaque in January after a December complaint by Michael Budkie, executive director of SAEN. His complaint charged negligence and inadequate care for two macaques, two cotton rats and one squirrel monkey whose deaths were self-reported by Southside-based SRI in its 2009 animal use report.

The subsequent USDA inspection report, dated Jan. 20, found that one of the macaques died of suffocation because safety clips were missing from or were unused on its cage, which allowed the monkey to poke its head out of the cage and apparently strangle. The report said corrective measures were taken to prevent that from happening again.

The USDA is still reviewing deaths of the other four animals listed in Budkie's December complaint.

But the USDA January inspection found another incident not included in Budkie's complaint: Four ferrets that were being carried from one building to another were left in their transport enclosure for two hours, far exceeding the normal limit of 45 minutes. Two died from overheating, and the others suffered hyperthermia but recovered.

The USDA inspection report says that SRI's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee had investigated the ferret incident and found it was caused by employee error. That employee was put on probation and animal care employees got extra training. Again, measures were taken to prevent a recurrence, the inspection report said.

Budkie's Friday letter to Elizabeth Goldentyer -- a veterinarian who is regional director of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service -- asked for the maximum fine allowed by the federal Animal Welfare Act for mistreatment of the dead macaque and the four ferrets, $10,000 per animal.

"It is clear from these two incidents of negligence that the staff of SRI has an entirely inappropriate and utterly slipshod attitude about the lives of the animals which are in their care," he wrote. "Attitudes such as this potentially endanger the lives of all of the animals at SRI."

Keeping tabs

In a written response on Friday, SRI Public Relations Manager Rhonda Jung said, in part, that "we follow stringent reporting guidelines and regulatory agencies routinely inspect our facilities and practices. We place a high premium on animal care and safety, and try to anticipate and prevent accidents at all times.

"When there are unfortunate, unforeseen incidents, we are responsible in our reporting of them as required," she continued. "This matter has been investigated, and we consider it closed."

But Budkie said he hopes "the USDA will make an example of SRI to drive home the point that negligence that kills animals will not be tolerated."

Budkie is co-founder of the nonprofit SAEN, based in Milford, Ohio, and he keeps tabs on more than 1,000 U.S. animal research laboratories through use of public records.

Out of that number, Budkie said he files fewer than 20 complaints to the USDA each year.

"Without a complaint, the USDA may not even be aware the situation occurred," he said.

In fiscal 2009, Southern Research reported that it used 2,072 laboratory animals that are regulated under the Animal Welfare Act, including dogs, hamsters, rabbits, non-human primates, ferrets and cotton rats. About 1.1 million regulated animals are used in U.S. research labs or for instruction every year, Budkie said.

Excluded from the Animal Welfare Act are mice and rats -- which may make up 90 percent of all lab animals -- as well as amphibians and birds, Budkie said.

Each institution that uses laboratory animals for research or instruction has to set up a self-regulating Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee to oversee and evaluate that institution's animal care and use program.

Negligence at the Southern Research Institute killed a monkey and two ferrets, while subjecting two more ferrets to severe hyperthermia (heat stress). This horrible facility must be held accountable. The USDA must levy the largest fine allowable by law, potentially $50,000.

Please contact the USDA to insist that they take immediate action against this facility’s fatal negligence.

Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer
Director, Eastern Region
USDA/APHIS/AC
920 Main Campus Dr, Ste 2000
Raleigh, NC 27606
(919) 855-7100
Betty.J.Goldentyer@usda.gov

See Also:
Southern Research Institute - Birmingham, AL
USDA Inspection Report - 20 Jan 2011
Letter of Complaint to USDA About Southern Research Institute - 4 Mar 2011
Federal Investigation Cites SRI lab in Multiple Animal Deaths; Watchdog Group Demands $50,000 Fine - 4 Mar 2011
Complaint against Southern Research alleges animal negligence - 5 Mar 2011

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