Just months after Harvard stunned the research community by announcing the closure of the half-century-old New England Primate Research Center (NEPRC)—as reported in the Summer 2013 AWI Quarterly—USDA announced that it had fined Harvard Medical School a paltry $24,036 for 11 violations of the Animal Welfare Act that occurred between 2011 and 2012. Included within the infractions were the deaths of four monkeys at NEPRC. In one instance, a monkey died of liver failure after a laboratory worker overdosed the animal with anesthetic. In another, a monkey was strangled to death by a chain attached to a toy. In two separate instances, monkeys had to be euthanized after being deprived of water and becoming severely dehydrated.
USDA could have fined Harvard up to $110,000. The university issued a statement asserting it was back in good graces with the authorities after “the excellent work of those members of our community who took aggressive action to institute rigorous quality improvements that benefit animal safety and welfare." Most of the 11 violations, including those involving the four monkey deaths, occurred at the off-campus NEPRC, and it appears to AWI from some of the statements the university has made to the media that Harvard wants the public to believe that NEPRC’s closure will solve the matter.
Such a conclusion, however, does not square with the systemic, longstanding issues of compliance that are not confined to NEPRC. Since 2011, Harvard University, which is registered separately from the medical school and NEPRC, has been cited by USDA for violations strikingly similar to those causing the deaths of three of the four monkeys referenced in the fine. These violations include (1) preventable dehydration deaths of 41 mice (dehydration being the cause of death of two of the NEPRC monkeys, and the near death of another NEPRC monkey); (2) failing to provide adequate veterinary care by, among other things, injecting four times the recommended dose of anesthetic, resulting in the post-operative death of one goat (which mirrors the overdose death of one of the four NEPRC monkeys); and (3) failure to adhere to Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee requirements.
Harvard will continue to experiment on animals, including nonhuman primates, at a site on the medical school campus. Given Harvard’s track record, AWI will continue to monitor the situation closely.