OHSU fined by USDA for monkey deaths and escapes at Oregon National Primate Research Center in 2009

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OHSU fined by USDA for monkey deaths and escapes at Oregon National Primate Research Center in 2009

By Nicole Dungca, The Oregonian, Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Oregon Health & Science University has been fined $11,679 for incidents that led to the escape of nine monkeys and deaths of five at its primate research center in Hillsboro, the USDA announced today.

The university's Oregon National Primate Research Center was found to be in violation of the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates treatment for animals used in research or for commercial purposes.

All five deaths occurred in the months following an April 2009 escape of nine macaques, all of which were captured within days. One monkey died from improper sedation, and two died from dehydration from a malfunctioning drinking apparatus. In addition, one died and one was euthanized after being given the incorrect medication.

In a May letter to the university about the disciplinary action, the USDA acknowledged the fine was "much lower than the maximum civil penalty," which could have reached up to $10,000 per violation.

Michael Budkie, of the Ohio-based Stop Animal Exploitation Now organization, said the low penalty amount sends a troubling message.

"They're literally being allowed to get away with murder," he said. "They're getting away with it essentially because this is what we like to call 'science.'"

OHSU said it will pay the fine in full, and that the center has already implemented controls that responded to each incident. Those include a secondary fence, and retraining for the employees who mistakenly administered the sedative or medication.

OHSU spokesman Jim Newman said 2009 was a "very unusual year," and the institution made quick adjustments to address the incidents.

"We took them all very seriously," he said.

The 2009 incidents resulted from human error and differed from animal cruelty, he said.

"These are four disconnected, separate incidents involving things that hadn't been dealt with before," he said.

An institution such as the primate center recognizes it can't be 100 percent error-free, he said. "Incidents like these occur."

The Hillsboro center has been criticized in the past by animal rights advocates. In 2008, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claimed the center showed a "climate of abuse" after obtaining internal records detailing monkey deaths and injuries.

OHSU added training and banned a researcher from animal contact in response to some of the incidents, but PETA's complaints later led to a warning letter from the USDA. Newman said that was rare for OHSU.

The center, which currently has about 4,800 monkeys, has spot inspections about twice a year by the USDA. The 2009 incidents were reported by the university, Newman said, and were investigated separately from the inspections.

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