Texas A&M lab practices under investigation after death of pig

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Texas A&M lab practices under investigation after death of pig

By Caitlin Perrone, TheEagle.com, Sunday, September 14, 2014

Texas A&M University was cited twice by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for infractions regarding the Animal Welfare Act in July, and now a national animal watchdog organization has filed a complaint against the university, saying negligence by a research lab led to the unnecessary death of a pig.

Officials from the USDA, which enforces the federal Animal Welfare Act, will now determine whether the university will be investigated for noncompliance, a spokesperson said by email Friday.

During a routine inspection by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in July, Texas A&M was cited for using an unapproved amount of a chemotherapeutic drug on a pig. According to the federal report dated July 31,"this animal subsequently died and it is not definitely known if the unapproved amount of drug administered was related to the death."

According to the documents, the pig was given 10 milligrams of the chemotherapeutic drug, though the maximum dose approved was 6 milligrams.

The research lab was also cited for using four animals in a pilot study to determine appropriate drug doses. According to the federal documents, only two animals had been approved for use.

The Animal and Plant Health department inspects research facilities at least once a year, though will inspect facilities more frequently if they find a history of noncompliance or receive a complaint, said Tanya Espinoza, a public affairs specialist with the USDA who would only reply Friday by email.

"If we find any noncompliances, those are annotated on the inspection report and the facility is given a time frame to correct that noncompliance," she wrote.

There is no penalty fine if noncompliant items or issues are found during an inspection report, and the agency is given a deadline to correct the problem. If any issues remain uncorrected, the department will consider legal action.

In the inspection report, the university was told to approve significant changes to animal use activities and provide an appropriate rationale for animal use numbers in the future.
Texas A&M released this statement late Saturday:

"This report is not final, therefore Texas A&M University cannot comment at this time. At Texas A&M, our animal care programs are accredited by AAALAC International [Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care]. We provide the highest standard of care, while complying with all state and federal regulations."

According to federal documents, Texas A&M also received a routine inspection on July 15. All regulated animals and animal facilities were inspected, and no noncompliance items were found.

But the animal watchdog organization Stop Animal Exploitation NOW, or SAEN, said Friday it has filed an official complaint with the USDA, alleging negligence on behalf of Texas A&M staff lead to the death of an animal.

"We have received the complaint and are looking into it," Espinoza said Friday by email. "If necessary, we may open an investigation into a facility that is noncompliant."

That investigation could result in an official letter of warning or a stipulation penalty, or the case can be sent to a federal judge, who can assess a penalty fine, Espinoza said.

The maximum penalty for violating the Animal Welfare Act is $10,000.

And SAEN is seeking the harshest penalty possible, said Stacey Ellison, a research associate with the organization.

"We hope that it will be $10,000 per infraction, because it did lead to the death of an animal, so it is a severe infraction, or a severe violation of the Animal Welfare Act," Ellison said.

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