Animal rights complaint alleges pattern of abuse at UF

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Animal rights complaint alleges pattern of abuse at UF

By Jeff Wchweers,, Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A national animal rights organization has filed two federal complaints against the University of Florida alleging mistreatment of lab animals the organization said shows a pattern of negligence and potential abuse.

The complaints to the U.S. Department of Agriculture allege UF violated the Animal Welfare Act for failing to give proper prescribed treatment to a dog diagnosed with glaucoma, allowing a rabbit to accidentally strangle itself in its cage, and failing to properly care for nearly two dozen goats that died or were euthanized after suffering from severe anemia.

The complaints also mention that UF previously was cited for the death of a puppy because veterinary staff didn't bottle feed the puppy overnight.

All show systemic issues at UF, the animal rights organization said.

“A pattern is being demonstrated that the UF system for monitoring the use of animals in labs is not working,” said Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! “It is to the point that animals are dying as a result.”

UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said the committee that oversees the treatment and care of research animals investigated the incidents and took appropriate corrective action.

Budkie drew his complaints from incidents that already had been reported to the National Institutes of Health as non-compliances with Public Health Service regulations -- regulations based on the Animal Welfare Act, which the USDA oversees.

“This isn't based on our interpretation of veterinary documents, but on UF itself over noncompliance issues,” Budkie said. “We're confident USDA will at least cite them for noncompliance.”

NIH cited UF in May 2013 for failing to follow veterinarian's instructions and failing to adhere to protocol requirements in treating a dog with glaucoma in the Veterinary Medicine Metabolic Building. The incident occurred from March 25 to April 9, 2013.

A veterinarian for the research project noted signs of glaucoma in a dog and prescribed treatment for five days, but signed medical records showed only one day of treatment.

“The following seven days the record keeping was unclear and inconsistent,” the NIH report said. “Clearly no treatment was given on weekends and over longer periods the records were insufficient to provide evidence that the dog received the prescribed dosing regimen.”

A subcommittee appointed by UF's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee noted the technician had a previous noncompliance issue from a year earlier and suspended her and revoked her access to the metabolic building.

The researcher, whose name was redacted from the NIH documents, left UF.

The NIH report noted several corrective actions were taken by UF.

In the case of the dead goats, the IACUC was notified in 2011 that goats which had been intentionally infected with Haemonchus contortus -- a parasite known as barber's pole worm -- were not given proper veterinarian treatment listed in the study's protocol.

Three of the goats unexpectedly died from anemia caused by the parasite, and another 19 goats were not euthanized immediately when they reached their endpoint, as instructed.

An investigation found that while the lead faculty member in charge of the study was out of town, the animals developed anemia. Veterinarian protocols and procedures were not followed, and the animals were not euthanized according to instructions.

Training was recommended for all personnel listed on the study protocol.

In the third case, a New Zealand white rabbit was found hanging from its cage. An investigation determined that the rabbit likely had been frightened by a fire alarm being tested in the Animal Care Services Housing Room, wedged itself into the bars of the cage and died from heart failure.

Another case of failing to follow veterinary protocol previously brought to the attention of the USDA by SAEN involved the negligent care of a beagle puppy in 2012. Veterinary staff was supposed to bottle feed the puppy, but records show technicians didn't follow instructions.

Budkie said the incidents show a failure to handle animals properly, adequately train personnel, failure to provide adequate veterinary care, and inadequate oversight by the university's animal care and use committee. He asked the USDA to investigate immediately and issue the maximum fine allowed -- $10,00 per infraction.

“When technicians are not feeding animals the prescribed treatment, or not following protocols and procedures, it makes you question the basic competence of their staff,” said Budkie, who was trained and educated as a veterinary lab technician himself.

Those lapses can affect the validity of research, he added. “Even if it had a chance of generating useful information, there is a question of not following protocols and procedures,” Budkie said. “It is a criminal waste, animal dying totally for nothing, and a waste of federal funding.”

The USDA is the federal agency in charge of enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. It has the authority to issue citations as part of an inspection report, issue an official warning to the institution found in violation, or levy fines of up to $10,000 per infraction.

SAEN is an Ohio-based animal rights group founded in 1996. Complaints filed by SAEN using public documents led to 12 labs being cited by the USDA.

The organization filed complaints against UF in the past, but this is the first time it filed complaints based on NIH documents, Budkie said.

“Our organization's goal is to end animal experimentation,” Budkie said. “We believe humans would be better served if funding was directed to clinical and epidemiological research.” 

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