Two federal agencies responsible for monitoring the welfare of animals in research labs came to different conclusions about Georgia Regents University’s compliance with the law after receiving complaints from the Humane Society of the United States, according to reports released this month.
In November, the Humane Society released findings of a three-month undercover investigation, which alleged issues with a dental experiment conducted on dogs, psychological distress by primates, a lack of care for mice and insufficient staff training.
Meanwhile, the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, the oversight arm that monitors animal testing conducted with public funding, did not substantiate the allegations that GRU had violated the Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, according to a report released Feb. 11.
In response to the Humane Society complaint, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found five violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act during an on-site inspection in December, according to a report released Friday.
Not all of the violations were related to complaints made by the Humane Society, but are considered violations of federal law, a USDA spokesperson confirmed.
Kathleen Conlee, Humane Society vice president for research issues, said the OLAW report is troubling because the agency did not do an on-site inspection. Instead, the agency conducted its investigation by reviewing written records provided by GRU, according to OLAW, which monitors research funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Conlee said the OLAW findings do not necessarily show that written policies in place to address animal distress are actually being carried out.
“What they say on paper and what they do in practice we found to be two different things,” Conlee said. “It’s self-reporting. You leave it up to the institution to say how bad things are. They don’t want to lose their (NIH) funding, so they’re going to stretch the truth or not be totally honest.”
The Humane Society gave OLAW footage of primates pulling their hair out, drinking their urine and spinning obsessively in their cages. Conlee said this is a result of the primates being singly housed, instead of socially grouped, and without adequate enrichment.
OLAW reported the 52 primates are being housed alone based on scientific justification, veterinary exemptions or incompatibility, as allowed by law, according to its report. GRU also provided evidence of enrichment policies in place to provide toys, foraging boards, pipes, varying fruits and vegetables and other stimulants for primates showing self-injurious behavior.
Conlee said although those procedures are on paper, the Humane Society undercover investigator found that not all those enrichment methods were being provided. Conlee said the primates had already mastered the puzzles given to them long ago and that the enrichment attempts were not serving their purpose of mental stimulation.
The Humane Society also provided the agency with e-mails between its undercover investigator and GRU supervisors showing it took more than 24 hours for staff to euthanize a mouse that had its eyes eaten out by another mouse. OLAW, however, found rodents “are monitored daily and problems such as barbering or cage mate aggression are reported to veterinary staff.”
OLAW also found a dental implant procedure conducted on dogs in 2013 did receive the proper approval from the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, a group of faculty and community members required by federal law to approve all animal testing.
The USDA found the following violations during its on-site inspection in December:
• The university did conduct a search for alternatives for an experiment on dogs testing an antimicrobial coating to prevent infection from colonizing dental implants, but researchers left out an alternative search for “dental extractions.”
Whenever an animal is involved in research, the Animal Welfare Act requires laboratories to first search for a way to conduct the experiment without using animals or for a way to reduce pain or distress.
GRU did conduct a search for alternatives for the experiment but did not look for a way to do it without extracting the teeth from the dogs, said USDA public affairs specialist Tanya Espinosa.
• GRU researchers did not document why they are housing roughly 50 non-human primates in single cages rather than in socially grouped housing, which is recommended for psychological well-being. If primates are housed alone, the AWA law requires researchers to document and regularly review the specific reasons why.
• One bottle of Betadine, an antiseptic, being used on animals had expired in 2011 and a bottle of Nolvasan, a disinfectant, had expired in February 2013.
• A log documented that hamster enclosures were only being cleaned once a month and the inspector found excessive fecal matter in the enclosures. In a written statement, GRU officials said the hamster cages were being cleaned every two weeks, but one of the two staffs was not documenting the cleanings. The cages are now being cleaned by one staff, the university said.
• There was an excessive amount of dust and debris on the top of three primary enclosures, on a light fixture and on the ceiling around an air vent.
Espinosa said GRU was not fined or issued sanctions for these violations. The USDA inspector returned in January and found no evidence of further violations, according to a report.