The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) just slapped Harvard with a $24,036 fine for animal welfare violations that included the unnecessary deaths of four monkeys, but some animal advocates don’t think it’s enough.
The decision to issue the fine followed a lengthy investigation of Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center (NEPRC) and Longwood Medical Area, which also led to some big changes and quite a bit of unwanted publicity.
The school had previously been warned about animal welfare violations in 1993, 2006 and 2010, but no penalties were issued. In 2010, a cotton-top tamarin was found dead in a cage that had just gone through a washer, but no one had noticed it. It was later discovered that the monkey had died before going through, but how someone could have missed it is baffling.
That incident incited a warning, and Harvard initiated a review that exposed more problems and led to a change in leadership, a suspension of new research and changes in training, oversight and procedures.
Unfortunately, all the changes weren’t enough to prevent more injuries, escapes and four more primate deaths since then that were a result of human error. Another primate was euthanized after being improperly anesthetized, which led to acute renal failure. Then two more incidents occurred where monkeys had to be euthanized because of dehydration after employees failed to notice a watering device wasn’t working for one and failed to provide water for another. The final death involved a macaque who died after wrapping the chain from an enrichment toy around its neck.
In 2011, the school was cited for “inadequate supervision, inadequate housing of animals, unsanitary conditions in operating rooms, and performing procedures on research animals that were not described in the center’s approved uses,” but problems continued.
The fines levied by the USDA are for a total of 11 incidents that occurred in 2011 and 2012, but some don’t believe it’s enough, especially considering the amount of funding the school gets from the National Institutes of Health.
Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, (SAEN) told the Boston Globe he was “appalled” and pointed to higher fines at other schools for fewer violations, including the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, which was fined close to $39,000 for just two citations that led to three primate deaths.
SAEN is also pursuing problems at other universities and is calling for investigations and fines over questionable deaths, negligence and other violations of the Animal Welfare Act. In just the past two months a number of universities have been highlighted for problems with animal treatment, including South Dakota State University, the University of Houston, Vanderbilt University, the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, the University of Idaho and the University the Pennsylvania. SAEN is also in the process of suing the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for failing to produce public records regarding testing on primates that led to their deaths.
Still other schools have been called out for ridiculous experiments and sickening levels of animal cruelty, all while researchers continue to claim using animals in biomedical research is a necessary evil.
While the USDA’s fine could have been $10,000 per incident, the fact that it fined the university at all is a fitting end for the NEPRC, which houses an estimated 1,800 primates. In April, Harvard announced it would be shutting the facility down by 2015, and while it claimed the decision was based on finances, it’s hard to believe the continuing problems had nothing to do with it. Either way, it’s closure will spare thousands of lives from unnecessary suffering. Hopefully as ongoing problems with animal research in higher education continue to be brought to light at other facilities, they’ll face greater public scrutiny and the opposition that’s needed to end using animals.
Photo credit: cuatrok77