Georgia Regents University was found this year to have committed five violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act in its research labs, several of which are repeat offenses from previous U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections.
During a routine inspection Feb. 26, the USDA found that only six of 45 macaques in one lab were housed in pairs, and the university had minimal documented proof of attempts to place the others in social groups, according to the inspection report.
The Animal Welfare Act requires research labs to house nonhuman primates in social groupings to meet their high psychological needs, except when the primates are ill, violent towards each other or if an experiment requires the animal to be housed alone.
GRU was also found to be noncompliant with this requirement during the December 2013 USDA inspection, and in both instances did not document reasons for housing the animals in isolation.
In a written statement Thursday, the university said the USDA reports do not contain “any findings of illegal activity or negligence affecting animal welfare at GRU.”
The USDA inspector in February also observed researchers using a bag of sodium chloride that had expired three years ago on a pig during a surgical procedure.
GRU was found to be noncompliant in the same area in December 2013, when an inspector found a
10-month expired bottle of Nolvasan and a two-year expired bottle of Betadine in the laboratory space, according to USDA records.
GRU was also found to be noncompliant with record-keeping requirements in February because it did not properly document why researchers were depriving primates of food.
In 2014, a researcher asked for an exemption from the university’s food restriction policy to allow for more deprivation in a particular experiment, according to the inspection report.
The USDA inspector found there was no discussion by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, or IACUC – the internal group formed in all research labs that is required by law to approve all animal testing – with a veterinarian about the change but that the committee allowed the higher food deprivation via an e-mail vote.
Despite this apparent bump in food restriction, veterinary records reviewed by the USDA contradict the action.
Veterinary records from the same time period “document a treatment plan to increase the (primates’) daily intake to allow them to gain weight,” according to the February inspection report.
“The IACUC records provided and veterinary records are not in agreement,” the report states.
The USDA inspector in February also noted noncompliance for improper handling because a pig died unexpectedly in July after a surgical procedure, stating that the incident is now under USDA review.
GRU was also noncompliant with housing requirements for a wall behind primate cages that had a 4-inch hole.
On Thursday, the nation’s leading watchdog group that monitors animal research labs filed a complaint with the USDA about GRU’s violations.
Michael Budkie, the executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, said these repeat violations show a long-term pattern of negligence and disdain for the animals and federal law.
“When we’re talking about laboratories that cannot follow basic animal welfare regulations and animal husbandry standards, we must begin to raise questions about their basic level of competence,” Budkie said.
He urged the USDA to hand down the harshest penalties for the negligence, which can include up to a $10,000 fine per violation per animal.
In general, the USDA gives research facilities short deadlines to correct each case of noncompliance and usually returns for a re-inspection to determine whether enforcement actions, such as fines, are needed.
The February inspection report says GRU has until its next IACUC meeting in “March 2015” to correct the record-keeping problems and until April 13 to repair the wall. The USDA did not indicate a deadline in its requirement for GRU to develop a social housing plan for the primates.
GRU’s statement said its IACUC, the internal committee of scientists and community members, “carefully vets every use of animals in biomedical research.”
“GRU will continue to pursue the highest standards of animal care in medical and scientific research that is lessening the burden of disease on society and improving patient lives,” the statement said.