University accused by animal rights watch group
A national animal rights group has issued a complaint against the University to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, citing a November 2013 USDA report that disclosed the death of a University-owned rabbit that, if proven to be true, could cost the University fines of up to $30,000.
The group Stop Animal Exploitation Now filed the complaint in December, claiming that the University did not meet the federally mandated standards of care.
SAEN Executive Director Michael Budkie sees a national trend of animal rights infractions. He said that institutional-animal-care-in-use committees, which were created to enforce legislation on animal welfare, are composed of employees of the laboratories in question, creating a conflict of interest.
“U of Houston is part of a national pattern of abuse and negligence,” Budkie said in an email. “One of the misconceptions people have about the (Animal Welfare Act) is that it effectively prohibits anything that would be considered abusive to animals in laboratories. The reality is that it does have standards associated with it. Animals are supposed to be given water depending on the species … supposed to be given food on a regular basis, they’re supposed to use anesthetic for painful surgical procedures, that kind of thing.”
While the committees are required to have one non-affiliated member, their votes may be drowned out by the other affiliated members, Budkie said.
The UH Division of Research is monitored by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, a federally-mandated committee that ensures that laboratory animals are treated safely and humanely.
“According to an IACUC investigation, a rabbit used under Protocol 13-006 died because of inadequate monitoring while undergoing anesthesia during an approved activity,” the November USDA report said. “The individual performing the procedure and responsible for monitoring anesthesia failed to observe respiratory and/or cardiac distress in the animal in a timely manner … The person identified to supervise was not in the room when the anesthetic-related death occurred.”
The IACUC enforces the Animal Welfare Act, a 1966 act that regulates the treatment and care of animals in everything from research to entertainment.
Office of Research Policies, Compliance and Committees Director Kristin Rochford issued the University’s official statement upon questioning.
“The leadership of the University of Houston cares deeply about animals and takes pride in not only meeting the federal standards, but exceeding the federal standards for animal care,” the statement said. “The University of Houston is also proud of the contributions to biomedical science and medicine that have been made while using only as many animals as reasonably necessary, ensuring that any pain or distress animals experience is minimized, and ensuring that alternatives to live animals are utilized wherever possible.”
The complaint also stated that the University deprived primates of water. Roughly $158,054 in federal fines was filed against American research institutions last year, according to SAEN.