Group wants investigation of research rabbit deaths at University of Iowa

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Tell the USDA to levy a HUGE FINE against University of Iowa for multiple Animal Welfare Act violations which killed four rabbits.

Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Western Region, USDA
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Group wants investigation of research rabbit deaths at University of Iowa

By Vanessa Miller,, Wednesday, October 1, 2014

IOWA CITY — A national animal rights watchdog group has filed a federal complaint against the University of Iowa after it says four rabbits died in one of its labs without being seen by an attending veterinarian.

The complaint was filed Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in connection with a routine inspection on Aug. 26 of the UI Office of Animal Resources medical laboratories. According to the complaint, filed by members of the group Stop Animal Exploitation Now, four rabbits died between June 14 and June 16.

The principal investigator and staff members working with the animals provided care for the rabbits, according to the complaint, but they didn’t contact or consult with an attending veterinarian and his staff about the animals’ health until it was too late.

The veterinarian and his colleagues didn’t learn about the deaths until June 16, representing a failure to “ensure proper veterinary care at the facility,” according to the complaint.

“A mechanism of direct and frequent communication is required so that timely and accurate information on problems of animal health, behavior, and well-being are conveyed to the attending veterinarian,” group members wrote in the complaint.

Julia Orr, director of communications for Stop Animal Exploitation Now, said her Ohio-based group came upon the concerning report while looking through records it requested of the USDA.

The report indicates a possible violation of the Animal Welfare Act, Orr said, and the university could be fined up to $10,000 per animal.

“It is clear from the report that staff carrying out these experiments failed to call a veterinarian knowing the animals were in distress,” Orr said. “Researchers are well aware of the requirements for the safety of the animals, and their negligence killed these rabbits.”

Orr told The Gazette that her group doesn’t know how and for what purpose the rabbits were being used. She said public records don’t reveal how many UI researchers were involved and how the animals died.

“(The report) says the rabbits were under the care of the researchers, and they got into trouble during the research, and they died from complications,” Orr said.

The group is calling for a full investigation and for the university to be fined, if investigators discover a violation.

“Legally speaking, the only thing the USDA can do is issue a fine,” Orr said. “But we really hope that by issuing a fine and making the laboratory culpable for this violation, they will change their practices.”

Ideally, she said, they would “take a serious look at ways of doing experiments that don’t involve animals.”

Orr said her group often goes through USDA reports in search for violations that federal investigators might miss.

“We kind of feel we are helping the USDA out to highlight some of the cases that we feel violate the Animal Welfare Act,” she said.

And, according to Orr, reports like the one in Iowa are not uncommon.

“We find that violations of the Animal Welfare Act are pretty endemic in the industry,” she said.

UI officials did not immediately comment on the complaint and allegations. 

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