Harvard Medical School logged its latest lab-monkey death this past spring when a cotton-top tamarin monkey died of thirst for lack of a water bottle. Then 41 deer mice died in April at a Harvard facility after their water source got cut off.
As with the monkey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the country’s oldest institution of higher learning an official warning. In less than two years, four monkeys have died in Harvard labs, including one left in a cage as it went through a mechanical washer.
“When you see multiple incidents at the same facility over a period of time, that’s when you realize that this is indicative of a system-wide problem,” said Michael Budkie, executive director of the nonprofit Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, in a phone interview.
The Milford, Ohio-based SAEN has placed Harvard on its top-10 list of animal-welfare violators for the first half of 2012. The existence of enough violators to glean a top 10 helps indicate the scope of lab-animal abuse nationally.
The Animal Welfare Act, enforced by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, requires labs to handle research animals as “carefully” as possible to prevent “trauma,” overheating, physical harm, “behavioral stress or unnecessary discomfort.”
TRS Labs Inc., based in Athens, Georgia, ranked first on SAEN’s list with 23 violations affecting about 70 animals, Budkie said. TRS was cited for housing cats in a room that was 88 to 89 degrees. It also failed to separate two gerbils that had been fighting in a cage and to protect dogs from suffering injuries, according to a USDA report.
Several calls to TRS executives seeking comment weren’t returned.
Santa Cruz Biotechnology Inc. in California, which researches antibodies and animal health-care products, ranked second on the SAEN list with 11 citations affecting 85 animals. In April, an Aphis inspector found a goat with a broken leg whose cast had come off, according to the USDA report. The attending veterinarian said she didn’t have “time to attend to the goat” because of her work load.
“This facility was basically understaffed and it couldn’t offer good care,” Budkie said. Santa Cruz Biotechnology officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Along with vigilance and public exposure, animal-welfare activists are trying to end the use of animals in research projects.
Last month, the Washington-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals persuaded Air China Ltd. to join Delta Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines Inc. in agreeing to end shipments of monkeys into the U.S.
“If you stop the pipeline into the U.S., that will curtail the number of monkeys used for research,” said Justin Goodman, associate director of PETA’s laboratory investigations department.
Harvard University ranks third on SAEN’s list, followed by Harvard Medical School at No. 4. The two institutions have separate licenses from the USDA to use animals for research and testing.
Aphis also is investigating the death of five monkeys at the Harvard-affiliated New England Primate Research Center, said USDA spokesman David Sacks. The center’s interim director, Frederick Wang, stepped down in March after the death of the tamarin monkey.
“Harvard thinks it’s too big to fail, and it thinks all it has to do is provide information, and they’ll just get a tap on the wrist,” said John Pippin, director of academic affairs for the Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “There is no such thing as humane animal research.”
In March, Harvard Medical School Dean Jeffrey S. Flier ordered an independent review panel to evaluate the management and care of animals used in experiments. The panel’s recommendations included the appointment of a veterinarian and biosafety officer to oversee the primate center and the development of “new approaches” to its oversight process.
“We will be unwavering in our efforts to ensure that our administrative and managerial practices are on par with our scientific standards of excellence,” Flier said in a statement issued this month.
Other labs on SAEN’s list include Tuskegee University in Alabama in fifth place with 13 citations, followed by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary; Indiana University School of Medicine; University of Puerto Rico; and Methodist Research Institute in Indiana.
Muse highlights include Rich Jaroslovsky on technology and Lance Esplund on art.