Animal Writes
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From 10 July 2005 Issue

Animal Advocacy Group Says UNR Has “Worst Research Lab” in Nation

Stop Animal Exploitation Now: Top research university offenders * USDA animal welfare violations * University of Nevada, Reno — 46 in 10 months. * University of California, San Francisco — 51 in three years * University of Florida — 47 in three years * University of Connecticut — 43 in three years * University of Pennsylvania — 36 in three years Source: USDA documents, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, Inc. and news stories.

A national research watchdog organization has dubbed the University of Nevada, Reno the “worst lab in the nation” because it accumulated more federal animal welfare violations in less time than any other research institution.

“UNR has broken federal law 46 times in less than one year, and these serious violations jeopardized the lives of dozens of animals,” said Michael A. Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an Ohio-based animal advocacy group. “The University of California San Francisco lab, that we previously named as the worst, had only 17 violations in a comparable period of time. UNR eclipsed that in just a period of months, so they essentially tripled the UCSF record.”

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited UNR for 46 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act and levied a “reduced” fine of $11,400 against the university system. UNR paid the settlement rather than fight the citations and risk the “higher civil or criminal penalties” threatened by the agency.

Marsha Read, interim vice president for research and dean of UNR’s graduate school, said the group’s designation of UNR as the nation’s “worst lab” isn’t credible. She said that’s because Stop Animal Exploitation now “does not have published standards for animal care programs and their goal to abolish animal research presents a conflict.”

The 46 USDA violations included seven incidents of depriving animals of water, three incidents of animals being deprived of food or fed in an unsanitary way, three citations for inadequate veterinary care and six in which the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee failed to enforce the Animal Welfare Act.

Read made a distinction between the mistreatment and neglect of animals cited by the USDA and “abuse” of animals.

“I want to underscore that the USDA investigation did not result in any findings of animal abuse,” she said. “...We have implemented the majority of recommendations for facilities and administrative improvements from these reports and implementation of the remainder is in progress. As President John Lilley has firmly stated, we are committed to the appropriate and humane treatment of animals under our care.”

A USDA official said this week the agency doesn’t keep statistics of the number of inspections or citations issued. But news reports about federal animal welfare violations at other universities support the research group’s contention that UNR has collected more violations in a shorter period than any other research university.

The animal rights advocates said their goal to end animal testing has nothing to do with the facts of the case because the numbers can’t be dismissed.

“UNR (has) a truly dismal record,” said Budkie, an animal health technician trained at the University of Cincinnati who said he has been working on animal lab issues since 1986. “When compared with other labs mentioned in our reports, UNR is far and away the worst in the nation even though they are pretending the USDA citations are no big deal.”

Budkie said his group was founded in 1996 and is dedicated to educating the public about animal exploitation, abuse and waste of research dollars. He said UNR’s $11,400 fine is “grossly inadequate” considering the severity of the violations. But he said because the USDA has “a record of lax enforcement of animal welfare problems at universities,” it’s significant that UNR was fined at all and received so many citations.

“When universities are fined, the standard is a few hundred or a few thousand dollars,” he said. “As research labs go, UNR is relatively small and so even a reduced fine of $11,400 is remarkable. But in the long run it isn’t much money; it’s not going to make much of a difference.”

A federal Office of the Inspector General report on USDA concluded in 1996 that the agency has a history of levying fines that are almost meaningless to offenders. The agency “cannot assess monetary penalties for violations unless the violator agrees to pay them, and penalties are often so low that violators merely regard them as part of the cost of doing business.”

Lilley last week said the penalty was a “nominal” fine.

Darby Holaday, USDA spokesman, said the agency is doing its job. He said it acted swiftly to investigate animal abuse and neglect complaints lodged against UNR by College of Agriculture faculty whistle-blower Hussein S. Hussein.

The USDA report confirms agency inspectors and investigators made five unannounced visits to the campus between September and March and verified 24 violations of the Animal Welfare Act. In addition, the investigators took sworn affidavits from witnesses and collected photos and other evidence to document 22 other violations. The agency didn’t cite UNR for the deaths of 45 pregnant sheep who died in October 2002 after being left without food or water for up to four days, an incident the College of Agriculture Dean David Thawley has said remains “a mystery.”

Holaday said the agency will continue to monitor UNR’s progress in complying with the Animal Welfare Act.

“Because of the university’s prior non-compliance investigations and violations, we’d certainly recommend more inspections,” he said.

Jane Tors, UNR spokeswoman, said the institution welcomes further scrutiny.

She said UNR generated $121 million in sponsored and research projects last year, and about a third involved animals. According to USDA reports, the university system last year had 1,854 animals that fell under federal regulations, with 283 of those animals — including 198 sheep — subjected to experiments in which pain and suffering are alleviated by drugs.

“We have continually made improvements over time, and will continue to do so in the future,” Tors said. “For example, we have invested $350,000 in animal facility improvements over the past few years. A new on-demand watering system was installed for (pigs) at the Main Station Farm last fall. More recently, the University has been focusing time and resources on recommendations by agriculture and research experts, and items noted through the most recent USDA inspections.”

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