Science Shines Harsh Light on Research Chinchilla Suppliers

I would not allow animals from this facility into my program. So stated Tracy Parker, president of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), in a hard-hitting article by Meredith Wadman in late May in the prestigious journal Science. Parker was referring to Moulton Chinchilla Ranch (MCR) in Chatfield, Minnesota, a supplier that was the subject of an article in the spring 2020 AWI Quarterly. She indicated that MCR is included in the AALAS Buyers Guide simply because it is licensed by the US Department of Agriculture. It is up to researchers and institutions, Parker says, to check for compliance with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

USDA inspection reports, according to Science, indicate MCR and another chinchilla supplier—Ryerson Chinchilla Ranch (RCR) in Plymouth, Ohio—“failed to identify and treat sick and injured animals, kept them in filthy barns and excrement-laden enclosures, and failed to clear dead animals.” USDA inspectors documented numerous AWA violations by MCR and RCR, the two suppliers “most often cited in recent papers in journals including Cell and Science Translational Medicine.”

A hearing before an administrative law judge of the charges against MCR—an operation with a “9-year record of violations”—was scheduled for April 6 but has been postponed indefinitely. Against RCR, the USDA has taken no action, despite a 2017 citation “for failing to disclose the existence of 1000 chinchillas and for using an unspecified ‘painful’ and ‘unacceptable’ method of euthanasia.” Both suppliers have been cited repeatedly by the USDA for failure to provide appropriate veterinary care. 

A University of Rochester geneticist who used MCR chinchillas in a study several years ago called the USDA complaint against MCR and photos from two 2017 inspections (obtained by the nonprofit Animal Folks) “‘disturbing.’” She added, “‘There is no excuse for such preventable injuries as sores under tight-fitting collars. … I hope an alternative vendor with higher standards would be available for the research community.’”

AWI, which provided information to Science for the article, believes this exposé illustrates a callous disregard for animal welfare—extending to many in research. In fact, according to Science, “most authors of chinchilla papers and their institutions did not respond to Science’s queries about their suppliers.” Their silence suggests they’d prefer such questions were not raised.

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