Health Center fined for mistreatment of lab rabbits
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 1, 2012 22:11
The UConn Health Center must pay a fine of $12,429 to the United States Department of Agriculture for ten violations of the Animal Welfare Act due to the mistreatment of laboratory animals at the UCHC campus.
The violations, dating back to April 2008, involve a lab using rabbits as test subjects. The USDA determined that the rabbits were not being cared for properly; that alternative, less painful techniques were not thoroughly considered; and that a lack of proper training of laboratory personnel was endangering the animals.
In one instance, improper training of technicians in monitoring animals under anesthesia resulted in the death of a rabbit. A deviation from the approved method to administer general anesthesia was also noted in the rabbit’s death. Neither the UConn Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee nor the lab’s veterinarian knew about the breach in protocol until the death of the rabbit was reported, according to the USDA citation issued to UCHC dated July 26, 2012.
Also mentioned in the citation was a lack of proper documentation and procedure. The semi-annual report from the lab was incomplete, and a complete description of the use of the animals, including the use of x-rays, anesthesia and approved methods of restraint, was not included in the lab’s research proposal.
Justin Goodman, associate director of PETA's Laboratory Investigations Department, said in an email, “Two of the incidents cited in the penalty were the result of a 2008 complaint by PETA regarding archaic and deadly medical training exercises in which rabbits had needles repeatedly stabbed into their chests.”
In an official statement released by UCHC, Associate Vice President of the Office of Research Administration and Finance said, “We strongly value the potential benefit our researchers’ work will have on people throughout our state, nation and the world. Part of this research effort involves the humane and ethical treatment of animals.” He added, “The UConn Health Center cooperated fully with the investigation, as we are committed to full compliance with all relevant animal welfare laws and guidelines followed by major research universities throughout the country.”
PETA’s Goodman explained that this is not the first time a UConn campus has been fined for animal rights violations. In June 2007, UCHC was fined $5,500 for maltreatment of monkeys that involved injecting unapproved substances into their brains. In one particularly gruesome instance, a monkey’s eyes bled as a result of having been dragged by its metal collar. The 2007 complaint was filed by then student activist Justin Goodman, who is now the Associate Director of PETA’s Laboratory Investigations Department. In 2001, UConn’s main campus at Storrs was fined $129,000 for 99 violations of animal welfare laws.
The current violations against UCHC concern the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act that was passed in 1966 and has since been amended to strengthen protection of animals used in laboratories, according to “The Animal Welfare Act: Background and Selected Legislation,” which can be found on the USDA’s website. The act was put in place to prevent pets from being stolen and sold into laboratories and to ensure the human care and handling of lab animals.