Federal complaint alleges Lehigh researchers violated research animal rules
Media Coverage About SAEN Stop Animal Exploitation Now

ACTION ALERT:

Contact USDA to DEMAND MAXIMUM FINE against Lehigh University:

Dr Elizabeth Goldentyer
Director, USDA, Eastern Region
Betty.J.Goldentyer@usda.gov; aceast@aphis.usda.gov
919-855-7100

Please LEVY a MAXIMUM FINE against this repeat violator, Lehigh University, for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) when their negligence killed a hamster, denied food/water to another hamster, and their administration failed to follow the AWA and investigate the incident in a timely manner.

Federal complaint alleges Lehigh researchers violated research animal rules
By Laura Olson, McCall.com, January 15, 2016

Hamsters at Lehigh University research center received improper care, according to animal welfare group.

A national animal-advocacy group says two incidents involving hamsters at a Lehigh University laboratory and the actions of a researcher in response to the incidents violate a federal law protecting animals used in research.

The Ohio group Stop Animal Exploitation Now has filed a complaint against the university with the U.S. Department of Agriculture after obtaining a document from the National Institutes of Health detailing incidents last year in which a hamster was not properly euthanized and another lacked food or water for 36 hours.

Two individuals were barred from a university animal research facility in response to the incidents, but an internal review panel was not properly convened to assess what happened, according to a July letter in which a Lehigh administrator reported the incidents to the NIH.

Michael Budkie, co-founder of the organization that filed the USDA complaint this week, said the internal panel should have been informed immediately of the incidents.

"The system was not being utilized properly. What else happened that nobody else found out about?" Budkie said. "If their staff cannot handle basic animal husbandry, why should we believe they can perform science?"

University officials confirmed the accuracy of the letter and said it was sent as part of the school's "commitment to self-reporting to federal officials." NIH officials "expressed satisfaction" with the university's corrective actions, according to Lehigh.

"Lehigh University remains committed to protecting the safety, health and welfare of all animals," university spokeswoman Lauren Weaver said in a statement.

Budkie's organization, which monitors animal welfare at research institutions, learned of the incidents at Lehigh during one of its regular requests for federal documents regarding laboratories at those institutions.

The July letter from Alan Snyder, vice president and associate provost for research and graduate studies, details two incidents involving hamsters.

The first occurred in March, when an animal facility manager found a hamster had been left without food or water for 36 hours, violating care procedures. The manager reported the incident to the animal facility director, according to the letter.

A second incident occurred in late April, when research staff tried to euthanize a hamster using carbon dioxide. Afterward, the hamster was placed in a bag in a freezer, but was later discovered outside the bag, indicating that the animal did not die until it was in the freezer.

A manager also reported that incident to the same director. By May, the unnamed director had barred two individuals, one involved in each incident, from the animal facility, but had not convened a required review panel, known as an institutional animal care and use committee, according to the letter.

The director was described as a "principal investigator" responsible for procedures when the first incident occurred, and also served as chairperson of the review panel.

The panel was eventually informed of the incidents, though it's unclear how that occurred. The letter states that its members noted "the potential for reticence to report issues to the [Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee] when the facility director serves as IACUC chair."

As of July 24, when the letter was drafted, the facility director was removed as the review panel's chairperson, but remained "a key resource" to the panel in its oversight duties. The university also issued new guidance to researchers on when incidents must be reported to the internal review panel.

Budkie said those steps were inadequate, arguing that the director should have been prohibited from working with animals. He also called for Lehigh to consider eliminating its use of animals in research.

"The use of animals is old technology, and I would hope that a progressive university like Lehigh would want to stay on the cutting edge," Budkie said.

In his organization's complaint to the USDA, Budkie urged federal regulators to charge Lehigh with the maximum $10,000 fine for each infraction.

USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said the agency is reviewing the complaint to see whether the actions described violated the federal Animal Welfare Act.

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