Live vole left in UCSF freezer prompts complaint from animal welfare group
Media Coverage About SAEN Stop Animal Exploitation Now



Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Western Region, USDA
(970) 494-7478
[email protected] 
[email protected] 


Please levy the MAXIMUM FINE against the University of California, San Francisco, for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act when their negligence dumped a living vole in a carcass freezer and also allowed to monkeys to be injured during a fight. Their behavior should NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Live vole left in UCSF freezer prompts complaint from animal welfare group
From Nanette Asimov,, April 2, 2019

A live rodent was abandoned in a freezer for up to two days last summer at a UCSF research lab, according to a letter obtained by The Chronicle in which the university acknowledges that it failed to comply with federal animal welfare regulations.

The rodent, a vole used in a research study, was euthanized by lab staff who found it in the freezer. The vole was the fifth animal death tied to Animal Welfare Act violations in less than two years at UCSF, according to a complaint filed Monday with the U.S. Department of Agriculture by the animal protection group Stop Animal Exploitation Now.

Two pigs and two voles died in the earlier incidents discovered in 2017 by inspectors with the USDA, which enforces the Animal Welfare Act with unannounced visits. Repeat violations can lead to fines.

“Since UCSF has a long history of animal abuse which has led to multiple animal deaths and/or injuries, I must insist that you take the most severe action allowable under the Animal Welfare Act,” Michael Budkie, SAEN’s executive director wrote in his complaint, which asked for a $10,000 fine for each violation.

In a statement, the university said it “takes great care to ensure that as few animals as possible are used in research, and that they are treated well. UCSF seeks to report all instances when research does not adhere to the protocols established by the UCSF Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.”

UCSF has one of the largest medical research programs in the country and relies on hundreds of thousands of animals — including rodents, fish, amphibians, reptiles, primates, birds and rabbits — in its search for treatments for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other ailments. It also has a site to report concerns about animal welfare.

Researchers reported the freezer incident to UCSF’s committee on Institutional Animal Care and Use, and to the lab animal welfare office of the National Institutes of Health, one of its research funders.

“A single live vole was found in a closed cardboard container in a mouse lab freezer,” Associate Vice Chancellor Brian Smith told the NIH on Sept. 11. He noted that after the animal was euthanized and autopsied, “it appeared that the vole had been without food for 1-2 days.” Despite questioning the lab staff, “it is still not known who put the animal in the freezer,” he wrote, adding that the vole lab staff would be retrained.

In his complaint to the USDA, Budkie cited four other animal deaths in recent years, including that of two pigs.

In 2017, lab staff euthanized a pig after researchers gave it 50 times the amount of steam allowed during a gallbladder operation to test whether steam ablation can be a viable alternative to surgery, according to USDA inspectors who discovered the violation. Researchers gave the pig 200 puffs of steam instead of the four permitted by lab protocols. The pig stopped eating, and an autopsy found its stomach had been perforated, the inspectors reported.

In the second incident, a pig died mysteriously after a CT scan. The lab staff disposed of the body before determining why.

Although Budkie is urging the USDA to punish UCSF to the full extent of the law, he acknowledged that that may not happen under the Trump administration.

The agency, which oversees 8,000 labs, zoos and other animal facilities, issued 60 percent fewer citations for Animal Welfare Act violations between 2017 and 2018, the Washington Post reported in February. Last year, the agency issued fewer than 1,800 notices of violation, down from more than 4,000 the year before, the Post reported.

The article cited a shortage of inspectors, changes to the agency’s enforcement process, and a resistance to public scrutiny that led the USDA to remove violation records from its website in 2017. Some were restored but redacted.

Over the years, UCSF has received strong scrutiny from the agency, and in 2005 paid more than $90,000 to settle violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

A subsequent Chronicle analysis of federal inspection reports found that between 2005 and 2012, lab errors or negligence led to gruesome examples of animal mistreatment. Among them were rodents and birds enduring surgeries without anesthesia, mice and primates deprived of food and drink for extended periods, and a rhesus monkey that remained in a brain study for two years despite chronic and painful complications.

Last year, the research lab’s accreditor, Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, renewed its authorization with praise that singled out UCSF’s “excellent program of laboratory animal care,” and its “comprehensive training program for rodent surgery.”

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