Reports Show Animal Welfare Violations at Three Labs

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Reports Show Animal Welfare Violations at Three Labs

By Frederic Frommer on
June 2009

Government inspection reports cited three research laboratories for a host of animal welfare violations, ranging from problems with surgeries that forced researchers to euthanize a dog and a primate to leaving a live hamster in a walk-in freezer.

The reports, uncovered by an animal rights group, detail violations at BioReliance Corp., Charles River Laboratories Inc., and Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

The animal rights group, Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), based in Milford, Ohio, criticized the U.S. Agriculture Department for not taking tough enforcement action against the facilities.

"These facilities should face serious consequences," said the group's executive director, Michael Budkie.

The USDA, which is charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act's standards for research animals, said it did enter into an out-of-court $10,000 financial settlement with one of the institutions, Charles River. But that settlement was for a different incident, in May, 2008, when too-hot temperatures led to the deaths of primates.

Charles River announced last August that 32 primates died in May 2008 at its Sparks, Nev., lab, saying the cause was an incorrect climate-control operation.

Budkie called the payment "virtually meaningless," saying the primates that died probably cost the company more than $10,000.

The USDA reports show that:

-At Charles River Laboratories' Shrewsbury, Mass., facility, two primates undergoing surgical procedures were handled improperly. One subsequently had to be euthanized. A dog also had to be euthanized after a gauze square was left in its abdominal cavity during a previous surgery and caused an obstruction.

Charles River spokeswoman Amy Cianciaruso said in an e-mail that since that August 2008 USDA report, "We have implemented new procedures and enhanced our processes, which has helped prevent the recurrence of similar events at this facility."

-At BioReliance Corp., in Rockville, Md., a lab assistant reported a hamster running loose inside the walk-in refrigerator, and a live hamster was found in a euthanasia bag inside the walk-in freezer. Failure to follow established euthanasia procedures "caused undue pain and distress for 2 hamsters and possibly 18 other hamsters."

Another report said a lab assistant reported finding a dead hamster in a cage in June 2008 after the cage was removed from a sterilizer. "It is assumed the animal was alive prior to being placed" into the sterilizer, the report said, and a system of checks and balances must be established "to ensure animals are not subjected to unnecessary pain and distress."

BioReliance said it reported the hamster incidents to the USDA. "The issues surrounding the events have been corrected and disciplinary actions were taken. Since these events, the company has received two clean inspections by the USDA," the company said in a statement.

-At Tufts University's School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass., a 2006 USDA inspection report faulted the school for withholding anesthesia from piglets and lambs during procedures without adequate scientific justification for doing so. The report does not identify the procedures. School spokesman Tom Keppeler said it was castration.

The piglets and lambs were part of the school's working farm, Keppeler said, and farm animals in the U.S. are routinely castrated without anesthesia.

Gail Golab, director of the animal welfare division of the American Veterinary Medical Association, confirmed that anesthesia is not usually used during farm animal castrations for a variety of reasons, such as questions about the drugs' effectiveness and residue they'd leave in the animals that are ultimately eaten.

The school appealed the citation in 2007, arguing that because farm animals used for food are excluded from the Animal Welfare Act, the castration of these animals should be excluded from federal regulation under the law. The agency denied the appeal, saying the animals are covered by the law when used for teaching veterinary students.

Piglets and lambs at the school are still castrated without anesthesia -- just not by the students.

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