Government Panel’s Review Underscores Severe Problems at USDA Meat Animal Research Center
Washington, DC—This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal Handling and Welfare Review Panel, established in response to the New York Times’ shocking exposé of animal cruelty at the department’s Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Nebraska, released a report entitled “Findings and Recommendations on the Animal Care and Well-Being at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center to the Secretary of Agriculture and the REE Under Secretary.”
While the Animal Welfare Institute commends Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for directing the panel to undertake a review of animal welfare at additional USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) facilities that conduct experiments using farm animals, it is sorely disappointed with the panel’s report on MARC. The panel’s visit focused on current processes rather than on the incidents of cruelty and the culture that allowed these practices to continue for decades.
Nonetheless, the panel did find many serious failures in oversight and protocols. It found, for example, that MARC (1) “did not comply fully with the intent or guidance within the Guide for the Care and Use of Agricultural Animals in Research and Teaching”; (2) has no written agreement with the University of Nebraska at Lincoln or other partners regarding lines of responsibility for animal care; and (3) has no “clearly defined animal handling training program.” Further, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) failed to fulfill its role and responsibilities.
In response, AWI president Cathy Liss stated the following:
“Despite these and other serious shortcomings, all of which would have an impact on animal welfare, the panel found ‘no deficiencies’ in animal care. That conclusion strains credibility. But given the ample amount of time MARC staff had to prepare for this scheduled visit, the findings are not a surprise.
Even more troubling is the fact that the panel completely ignored the instances of extreme cruelty reported by the New York Times. I have to wonder why—especially given that even agricultural industry publications have questioned the merits of the bizarre and gruesome experiments conducted at MARC, and bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Congress to address MARC’s problems. The fact that the Office of Inspector General is reviewing the reports of cruelty did not relieve the panel of its obligation to factor them into its own review.
We find some relief in the panel’s recommendation that USDA should not initiate new experiments at MARC until the IACUC is compliant with ARS policies and procedures, but are dismayed that the panel only reviewed research processes, not research practice. The egregious treatment of animals must be investigated, preferably by a truly independent panel comprised of people knowledgeable about farm animal care and welfare. Secretary Vilsack already has the authority to enact changes to improve research oversight and animal welfare. He should exercise that authority.”
For more information on AWI’s efforts to stop the cruelty occurring at MARC and what you can do to help, visit www.awionline.org/MARC.
Amey Owen, 202-446-2128, firstname.lastname@example.org