University of Nevada Cited for Violations of Lab Animal Care

A paddock full of dehydrated pigs with foaming mouths was only one of the horrific sights Hussein S. Hussein witnessed at facilities owned by the University of Nevada at Reno (UNR).

Following a seven-month investigation, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) cited the UNR College of Agriculture with 46 violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) between May 2004 and March 2005. UNR President John Lilley reported only "areas of administrative and facilities' non-compliance" were found, but offenses documented by the USDA include a failure to provide water, adequate housing and veterinary care. To avoid a hearing before an administrative law judge, the university agreed to settle the matter by paying a civil penalty of $11,400.

The investigation was spurred by allegations made by Hussein, a well-known animal nutrition researcher and UNR associate professor with a dedication to improving research conditions. "I love animals, just as a person," Hussein said. "I chose my profession to care for animals."

Hussein first became aware of animal welfare problems at the university in July 2002, when another faculty member informed him an entire herd of Angus cattle owned by the school was being starved and neglected. "That really disturbed me at the highest level," he said.

Soon after, Hussein learned 45 pregnant sheep died after being left without food or water for four days. He was appalled by the fact that no one was punished or even held responsible for the deaths and began to question the university's entire program. Unfortunately, sheep and other livestock used for agricultural research are not protected under the AWA.

In light of the situation, Hussein shut down his own research facility. "I felt it was unethical for me to continue to teach my students how to care for animals," he said. Hussein explained he still does not approve of the school's environment, and will not re-open his facility until something changes.

But the animal abuse at the university is not his only problem. After Hussein contacted the USDA, the university apparently went after him instead of trying to change its ways. When Hussein tried to make a case to the USDA, there was insufficient evidence to charge the university with retaliating against him for serving as a whistleblower. Currently, no further action is being taken by the agency.

Despite the university's payment of the stipulation, the situation has not been mended. Hussein has three animal abuse-related lawsuits against the university system in action, and UNR has not owned up to the cruelty occurring on its grounds. "I keep going to court because what they're doing is wrong," Hussein said.