The University of Wisconsin has reminded its
researchers about U.S. Department of Agriculture rules for reporting lab
animal pain and distress after an animal welfare group complained to
USDA that the school was underreporting such information for its primate
In an Oct. 24 letter to USDA's Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service--the part of USDA charged with enforcing the Animal
Welfare Act in the nation's research laboratories--Michael A. Budkie,
executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, accused the school
of massively underreporting pain and distress in its primate lab, one of
eight National Institutes of Health-funded primate labs in the country.
Each year schools are required to report to APHIS the
number of animals they house--excluding rats, birds, and mice--and how
they are being used. If animals are experimented on without anesthesia
or pain killers, the school is required to list them in "category E" on
the annual report and explain why that approach was used.
Mining grant applications, necropsy reports, and other
publicly available materials, Budkie said he found incidents in which
primates were bolted into chairs for 100 hours or more, began
self-mutilating and showing other signs of profound distress after being
held in isolation for days, and died of encephalitis and traumatic
injuries related to experiments.
Not one of the 109 primates involved was reported in
category E, Budkie wrote to USDA. By not reporting the animals as having
experienced unrelieved pain and distress, "I believe the University of
Wisconsin, Madison has violated the animal welfare act," he said.
Dr. Tim Mulcahy, University of Wisconsin associate
vice chancellor for research policy, disagreed. What to report in
category E is, he told BNA, "a difference of opinion between the
research community and animal rights groups."
However, the complaint caught the university
administration's attention--especially after it was covered in the
school's newspaper, The Cardinal. Mulcahy and his colleagues
launched a universitywide campaign to tell investigators "that animals
in pain or distress--regardless of the reason--that is not alleviated
right away have to be put into category E," he said.
There was no change in policy. The school simply
reiterated USDA requirements, Mulcahy noted.
There remains considerable disagreement among
researchers over what pain and distress mean. Regulations "do not say
that any time an animal is in pain or distress it has to be reported in
category E," Mulcahy said.
He estimated that the University of Wisconsin has
about 4,500 reportable animals in its labs. From October 2001 to
September 2002, 15 animals (dogs) were reported in category E. No
animals were reported in category E from October 2002 to September 2003.
Researchers, regulators, and animal welfare groups
have been working for years to clearly define pain and distress to take
the ambiguity out of the reporting process, Mulcahy said.
But conflicting interests have made agreement
difficult. Category E reporting, Budkie explained, is problematic for
schools because the annual inspection reports are available to the
Experimenters must explain and justify why they did
not relieve animals' pain or discomfort, "and in doing so, you usually
have to explain what the experiment is," he said. The potential public
scrutiny is an incentive to keep animals out of category E.
Behind the underreporting, Budkie said he fears
animals are suffering needlessly.
In a response to the Cardinal article, the
Humane Society of United States--a leading animal welfare group--noted
the University of Wisconsin in the past "opposed USDA's attempts to
define distress when comments were solicited on this very topic."
Hopkins and Harvard.
Budkie, who trained as an animal lab technician before
becoming an activist, said he suspected underreporting at schools across
the nation. His Oct. 24 letter to USDA included similar complaints about
misreporting of 605 primates at Harvard University's NIH-supported
He estimated that there are about 25,000 primates in
NIH's eight centers. Despite thousands of invasive experiments performed
on them each year, Budkie said he is aware of only a handful of primates
being reported by the centers in category E.
"It strains credibility when you see the numbers they
are reporting in [category] E versus the number of animals used in
experiments," he said.
On Dec. 3, Budkie filed a complaint with APHIS against
Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for failing to report in category
E primates overdosing on or withdrawing from methamphetamine.
USDA has cited Hopkins animal labs repeatedly for
underreporting or undertreating pain and distress in animals whose limbs
had been paralyzed, whose heads had been implanted with mechanical
devices, and whose stomachs were permanently cannulized to the outside
of their bodies. In one experiment, Hopkins was cited for not reporting
in category E dogs whose induced congestive heart failure was allowed to
progress to the point of "severe edema," far past the point when they
should have been euthanized, according to USDA inspection reports
obtained by BNA.
Neither Hopkins nor Harvard has responded to Budkie's
By M. Alexander Otto
Budkie's report on the state of primate research in
the United States is available on the Web at
Copyright 2003, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.,