January 13, 2015
High Suffering, Low Penalties
Report highlights need for reform at animal research labs
by Karen E. Lange
Thirty monkeys died when a lab room overheated and staff ignored alarms. The penalty? Just $10,000—though the USDA could have asked the lab to pay $300,000.
A year later, an inattentive employee for the same company sent a monkey through a cage washing machine. Scalded by 180-degree water, that monkey also died. Rather than the $10,000 maximum allowed, the lab was asked to pay only $4,500.
In response to incidents like these, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General is urging stiffer penalties for research labs that violate the Animal Welfare Act. According to an audit report issued in late December, OIG found that during one period USDA fines averaged just 14 percent of the maximum $10,000 per incident per day. The USDA reduced penalties even in cases where animals died, levying the lowest fines in a decade. The audit also found USDA rarely cited labs that misreported the animals they were using or the amount and type of pain animals had to endure.
There really has to be a cost to violating the law." Tell the USDA »
Kathleen Conlee, HSUS vice president of animal research issues, said the OIG report is the third to find USDA is not using its power to protect animals.
“USDA regulations aren’t going to be taken seriously unless there are meaningful penalties,” Conlee says. “There really has to be a cost to violating the law.”
That includes rules requiring labs to carefully follow research plans for animals to minimize pain and suffering, which the OIG report found needs better enforcement. In one case, researchers were supposed to place chili pepper flakes below an animal’s eyes to cause tearing. Instead, they placed them directly in the animal’s eyes.
USDA cannot shut down research labs, says Conlee, but higher fines could spur labs to better train employees and develop routine safeguards that could reduce misery and save animals’ lives.