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April 28, 2010

Article Explores Serious Animal Welfare Problems at Federally Funded Animal Research Facilities

Majority of incidents resulted in animal suffering and death

A recently published article in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science reveals numerous instances of animal pain, suffering and death when research institutions failed to follow minimum legal standards. The paper, authored by The Humane Society of the United States, examined reports submitted to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare by research facilities that collectively receive hundreds of millions in federal funding to conduct animal research. The facilities include large universities such as Cornell University, Duke University, Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Virginia and University of Washington.

"We are seriously concerned about the extent of animal suffering and death that has occurred at these facilities as a result of simple rules not being followed. Many of these cases are above and beyond the suffering and death actually caused by experiments using animals," says Kathleen Conlee, HSUS director of program management of Animal Research Issues and one of the co-authors of the paper. "We urge the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare to take steps to prevent and eliminate commonly reported problems and to impose significant consequences on institutions when noncompliance leads to animal suffering and death."

The analysis was based on 124 noncompliance reports submitted by 91 institutions over a three-month period. There were at least 1,000 animals affected—including monkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice and rats. This number is likely much higher since institutions are not required to, and in many cases did not, report the number of animals affected by each event.

The most common problems were related to animal care and management, such as not providing pain relief following surgery, as was the case with a monkey who underwent brain surgery; improperly killing animals who were later found alive in the freezer; and failing to provide adequate food and water, in one case leading to the death of 15 rats.

In many cases, investigators performed animal studies without proper approval, including studies that involved painful procedures, such as unapproved major surgery that was performed on two rats, and monkeys on a nerve study who underwent unapproved surgery on their tracheas.

OLAW currently relies on institutions to self-report and self-correct when violations arise. Common problems affecting animal welfare at institutions are unlikely to decrease unless OLAW takes a more proactive and assertive approach to noncompliance.

Facts

  • The article, entitled "Noncompliance with Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals: An Exploratory Analysis," was co-authored by Leah Gomez, Kathleen Conlee and Martin Stephens.
  • Institutions that conduct animal research with NIH funds must adhere to the Public Health Service care and use standards. Institutions deviating significantly from the PHS's animal care and use standards must report these incidents to the NIH's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare.
  • The HSUS obtained institution-submitted reports to OLAW from May through July 2005 through the Freedom of Information Act.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.

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