Feds investigate rabbit's death at MIT lab

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Tell the USDA to fine MIT $10,000 for the negligence which killed a rabbit in a cage washer.

 Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer
Director of USDA's Eastern Region
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Betty.J.Goldentyer@usda.gov

http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2014/06/feds_investigate_rabbit_s_death_at_mit_lab

Feds investigate rabbit’s death at MIT lab

By Donna Goodison, BostonHerald.com, Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Activists say animal was "boiled alive."

A national watchdog group is calling on the feds to fine the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after a research lab rabbit died when it was sent through a machine that cleans animal cages.

Ohio-based Stop Animal Exploitation NOW, which monitors animal research, wants the U.S. Department of Agriculture to hit MIT with a $10,000 penalty — the maximum under the federal Animal Welfare Act.

“Obviously, killing any animal is serious,” SAEN executive director Michael Budkie said. “But being so negligent as to leave an animal in a cage that’s sent through a cage-washer — which means the animal is really boiled alive — that is deserving of a very serious penalty. ... The animal must have suffered horribly.”

On Jan. 16, an 11-year animal husbandry technician at MIT’s Division of Comparative Medicine failed to remove a rabbit from a cage before placing the cage in a washer, according to a Feb. 13 MIT letter to the Nat­ional Institutes of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. The animal later was discovered dead in the bottom of the cage.

After DCM management determined the incident involved “gross negligence and was inexcusable,” the technician resigned Jan. 31.

“MIT deeply regrets that the accidental death of a rabbit occurred,” an MIT spokeswoman said. “MIT took immediate steps to put in place new protocols to prevent this from happening again, and the employee who made the error is no longer employed.”

An NIH spokeswoman said MIT has “taken appropriate corrective actions to prevent recurrence.” NIH-funded institutions are required to promptly report violations of the Public Health Service’s Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

MIT now requires technicians to remove and invert the bottom halves of dirty cages before sanitizing them — steps that must be confirmed by two staff members, according to the MIT letter.

The USDA, which enforces the Animal Welfare Act, has received SAEN’s complaint and is “looking into it,” according to a spokeswoman. If it determines the incident pertains to the act, an inspector will visit the MIT facility for an unannounced inspection, she said.

USDA inspectors found no noncompliance issues during regular, unannounced inspections at MIT in 2012 and 2013, according to the USDA’s database, which goes back three years.

SAEN credits itself as the driving force behind Harvard Medical School’s decision to close its New England Primate Research Center in Southboro next year. The school was fined $24,000 in December for 11 violations relating to its care of monkeys. 

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