Animal welfare group files complaint against Pitt for monkey deaths, injuries
Media Coverage About SAEN Stop Animal Exploitation Now



Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer
Director, USDA, Eastern Region
(919) 855-7100
[email protected]
[email protected]


Please LEVY a MAXIMUM FINE against University of Pittsburgh for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) when their negligence killed two monkeys, and injured a third. This behavior must NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.


Animal welfare group files complaint against Pitt for monkey deaths, injuries

From Sean D. Hamill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 1, 2019

An animal welfare organization filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking it to investigate violations in the University of Pittsburgh’s treatment of lab animals after federal records showed that one monkey died in the lab recently, another had to be euthanized after an injury, and a third had to have two fingers amputated after an escape attempt.

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, a Millford, Ohio-based nonprofit known as SAEN, said it filed its complaint against Pitt on Friday, though USDA said it had not yet received the complaint by Tuesday.

“Collectively, these three incidents… disclose the negligent deaths/injuries of four animals at PITT in just a few shorts months,” Michael Budkie, co-founder of SAEN wrote in its complaint to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “This demonstrates a serious systemic and ongoing pattern of negligence and carelessness. This must not go unpunished.”

Mr. Budkie, whose organization regularly files complaints about violations that occur at animal testing labs all across the country, asked USDA to fine Pitt the maximum amount allowed, $10,000 per incident. SAEN, which was founded in 1996, has filed similar complaints about violations at Pitt at least four times in the last 15 years.

Pitt spokesman Kevin Zwick wrote in an email, in part, that Pitt did first self-report these more recent incidents, adding: “In addition to self-reporting, the University also took swift corrective actions, including retraining of staff and review and replacement of equipment.”

“While incidents such as these are extremely rare, we strive for continuous improvement to prevent any such occurrence,” he added.

But exactly how rare these incidents are at Pitt is not clear.

Mr. Zwick did not respond to multiple emailed questions asking for an accounting of past incidents at Pitt.

USDA, which performed an inspection in July at Pitt after the incidents were reported, only has inspection reports in its online system going back to 2017.

The National Institutes of Health — to which Pitt first self-reported the three incidents in August because Pitt receives NIH funding — has no online database of cases and NIH spokesman David Kosub in an email that “NIH does not discuss” the cases, and said NIH would only provide records in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

According to letters that SAEN obtained through its own FOIA request, George Huber, Pitt’s vice chancellor for Research Conduct and Compliance, outlined all three incidents in a letter to NIH on August 23:

• On April 27, the lab’s staff found two “non-human primates” entangled together by their chain collars, with both in “severe respiratory distress.” While staff were untangling the collars, one of the animals died before it could be released. The other animal suffered bruising to the face and was treated and survived;

• At some date prior to July 8, a marmoset was found by lab staff with a “hammock clip piercing through its mouth and lower jaw.” The animal’s mandible was broken and because of the extent of the injury, it was euthanized;

• At another date prior to July 8, a separate marmoset escaped from a “social wheel during sanitization,” injuring its hand and had to have its 3rd and 4th digits removed from its right hand.

In an email, Mr. Zwick argued that “It’s not correct to characterize these as violations. A USDA Veterinary Medical Officer investigated these incidents and determined that no noncompliance with the Animal Welfare Act and USDA Animal Welfare Regulations had occurred.”

However, in the letters Mr. Huber wrote to USDA, it was not the USDA laws that were cited, but NIH’s Public Health Service Policy – which regulates animal care in NIH-funded labs – which were violated.

USDA, which was also informed about the incidents, later did an on-site inspection at Pitt on July 8, and found “No non-compliant items [were] identified during this inspection,” according to its inspection reports.

Though Mr. Zwick maintains that there were no violations of USDA regulations or the Animal Welfare Act, Mr. Budkie’s complaint asks USDA to find Pitt in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.

The reason for that, Mr. Budkie said in an interview, is that “The Animal Welfare Act is very similar to the Public Health Service Policy. You virtually can’t violate one without violating the other, and Pitt already admitted it violated the Public Health Service Policy.”

Mr. Budkie said that past complaints from SAEN against other labs have resulted in fines, but it could take some time before USDA responds to his complaint against Pitt.

There have been other incidents in Pitt’s lab involving unregulated species - rats and mice - in recent years, Mr. Budkie noted, based on additional federal records SAEN obtained:

• At some point before December 22, 2018, two mice died after staff forgot to provide them with food;

• On May 17, 2019, four mice died after staff forgot to replace their water bottle;

• On May 21, 2019, 10 rats died after a staff member turned off an alarm that sounded indicating low oxygen level in a cage, but the staff member did not tell the animal care staff about the alarm.

“What these other cases show is that the issues with non-human primates are not unique in this lab,” Mr. Budkie said.

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