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The HSUS Highlights Animal Research Violations at Virginia Commonwealth University

Reports show that animals died of starvation, suffocation and overheating

The Humane Society of the United States has obtained government reports showing that Virginia Commonwealth University has violated federal standards of care for animals in laboratories. Violations included death of animals due to starvation and overheating, death of an animal sent through a cage washing machine, failure to provide adequate veterinary care, and inadequate plans to ensure psychological well-being of non-human primates.

The HSUS learned of the violations through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's online inspection reports and documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act request to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare.

"The public doesn't want animals to suffer in research laboratories," said Kathleen Conlee, director of program management for Animal Research Issues for The HSUS. "Especially in light of these disturbing incidents, Virginia Commonwealth University should publicly affirm its commitment to minimizing the suffering of animals in its research labs."

The HSUS renews its call for Virginia Commonwealth University to join other institutions in adopting a policy ensuring that no animals in its laboratories experience severe and unrelieved suffering. Advertisements urging VCU to adopt such a policy are appearing in the university's student newspaper beginning this week.

In a recent journal article, The HSUS explored broader trends in a sampling of reports of noncompliance with legal standards at federally funded research facilities. The reports show numerous instances of animal pain, suffering and death. VCU was among the many universities submitting these noncompliance reports.


According to reports by the university to NIH's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare

March 2009: Nine mice starved to death. Ten other mice also starved to death as part of an experiment restricting the amount of food given to the animals.

March 2008: Thirty-four mice suffocated when their cages were carelessly stacked on top of each other.

May 2005: A rabbit suffered and died when his cage was sent through a cage washer with the animal still inside. Cage washers typically can reach temperatures of up to 180 degrees.

February 2005: After a heating and air conditioning malfunction, 132 mice died from hyperthermia.

According to inspection reports filed by of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

May 2008: A number of monkeys were housed alone, in violation of the standard to promote the psychological well-being of these social animals. Social isolation can cause considerable distress to non-human primates, as HSUS undercover video from a different laboratory shows. The facility was cited for inadequate plans for environmental enhancement to promote the psychological well-being of non-human primates.

February 2007: In an experiment, researchers failed to give animals painkillers until nine hours after surgery. The facility was cited for inadequate post-procedural veterinary care.


  • In July 2009, The HSUS sent a letter to Virginia Commonwealth University asking them to adopt a policy that the animals in their laboratories would not be subjected to research or conditions that would cause severe and unrelieved pain or distress. To date, the university has not responded to our request.  
  • The USDA regulates animal research on some animal species under the Animal Welfare Act. The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare ensures that Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals is followed by institutions receiving federal funds for animal research. However, federal law does allow animal research involving severe and unrelieved pain and distress. Therefore, following federal law is not enough to prevent severe animal suffering.
  • Fifty-five U.S. colleges and universities have affirmed to us that they have policies preventing severe and unrelieved animal pain and distress. 


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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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