Animal Abuse Abundant in Spite of AAALAC Accreditation

In February, a cotton-top tamarin at the New England Primate Research Center died due to dehydration— the fifth primate to die at the Center in the past 19 months - Photo by Willem van de KerkhofThe mission of the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC) is to “enhance the quality of research, teaching, and testing by promoting humane, responsible animal care and use,” and the organization awards accreditation to institutions that are deemed to “meet or exceed AAALAC standards” regarding animal care. However, it appears that a number of research institutions that have been cited repeatedly by U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) veterinary inspectors for apparent violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) are nonetheless accredited by AAALAC.

USDA inspection reports document hundreds of AWA citations at AAALAC-accredited research facilities. The following accredited institutions all were cited by USDA for apparent violations including failure to meet minimum requirements with respect to Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) responsibilities and provision of adequate veterinary care: Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI), SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Wellesley College, UCLA, UCSF, UC Davis, University of Utah, Brandeis University, Princeton University, Harvard University’s New England Primate Research Center (NEPRC), University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC), and University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center (see “Forgotten Monkeys Die at Primate Research Facility,” Summer 2011 AWI Quarterly).

KUMC has remained accredited despite vast numbers of citations by USDA inspectors over the past four years.  A 29-page report from just one 2009 USDA inspection of the facility cites myriad problems including failing to provide proper pain relief to animals following intrusive procedures such as craniotomies, subjecting nonhuman primates to multiple survival surgeries, and failing to provide for the needs of the primates who were observed actively plucking or stripping hair from their bodies and engaging in stereotypic behaviors such as flipping or swaying—many of whom were not provided enrichment under a generic exemption approved by the IACUC. KUMC signed a settlement agreement with USDA acknowledging some violations, but USDA inspectors have continued to cite the facility for its apparent ongoing failure to meet the minimum requirements under the law.

At Harvard’s NEPRC, inspectors discovered repeated instances of primates housed in cages significantly smaller than federally mandated. On two separate occasions monkeys died from dehydration because staff failed to ensure they had water. And in another flagrant blunder by personnel, a dead monkey in a cage wasn’t discovered until after the enclosure had been through a mechanical cage washer.  Mishandling by staff apparently led to the death of one primate and another suffered a broken leg. 

At UC Davis, a 2011 inspection report states that a primate with a history of progressively worsening medical and behavioral conditions was subjected to four studies before being euthanized, causing the animal “unnecessary discomfort, distress, and pain.” At LRRI, a report indicates that a dog died during a research activity due to inadequate oxygen flow through an anesthesia machine (after the machine had previously been involved in a near-death incident), and a Rhesus monkey choked to death struggling to free himself from a hook caught in his jacket. At UCLA, lab personnel physically blocked entry of USDA inspectors to a surgical area, and appear to have intentionally provided false information to the inspectors, according to USDA.

The overwhelming number of instances uncovered by USDA inspectors at AAALAC-accredited facilities suggests that AAALAC needs to be far more vigilant in its administration, and far less lackadaisical in pursuit of its stated mission to promote humane, responsible animal care.

For access to the detailed USDA documentation referred to in this article, see www.awionline.org/USDAdata.