After Another Animal Dies in Wash U Lab, Activists Call for Maximum Fines


Beagles are frequently used as laboratory animals, though it's not clear if that was the case in a recent death at Wash U's lab. - FLICKR/CLAY LARSEN
  • Beagles are frequently used as laboratory animals, though it's not clear if that was the case in a recent death at Wash U's lab.

Washington University just received its third critical citation in two years from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA. All three are for the deaths of research animals in the St. Louis-based university's labs.

In September 2016, a rabbit died after surgery in one of the university’s labs. Wash U self-reported the death and determined the cause: hypothermia. The USDA found the university at fault and issued a critical citation for failure to provide adequate veterinary care.

In June 2017, Wash U received another critical citation from the USDA because another animal died in its care. This time, a monkey called a macaque died after getting an MRI and PET scan. Hypothermia, hypotension, wet lung sounds and "fluid in the endotracheal tube during the anesthetic procedure” were all listed as causes of death.

And earlier this summer, the university received a third critical citation. The citation, first revealed in a letter yesterday by an activist group, was for the death of a dog. According to USDA's "inspection report," a dog in a Wash U research lab was recovering from anesthesia for a surgical procedure when the animal suffered complications and died. The report details how lab staff failed to report the dog’s complications to the on-call veterinarian, sought their own medical interventions and only contacted the vet after the dog had died. These actions were in violation of the research facility’s policy, the USDA wrote.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), an advocacy group based out of Ohio, is calling for Wash U to pay for the deaths of these three animals. In a letter to the USDA’s director, dated yesterday, SAEN calls for the federal agency to slap Wash U with its maximum fine: $10,000 per animal.

Michael Budkie, executive director of SAEN, writes,
I know that your office considers major violations of the Animal Welfare Act to be very serious in nature, especially when these violations unnecessarily kill animals. Since the Washington University has now committed three violations of exactly the same section of the Animal Welfare Act in three inspections within sixteen months and all three of these citations were considered to be CRITICAL, and all three of these citations were directly linked to the death of an animal, I must insist that you take the most severe action allowable under the Animal Welfare Act and immediately begin the process of issuing the maximum fine allowable against Washington University at the completion of your investigation — $10,000 per infraction/per animal.

As long as your office continues to consider enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act a priority, you must take serious action against labs which repeatedly kill animals. You must THROW THE BOOK at Washington University. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future about the fate of this facility.
"Even first-year students would know enough to contact veterinary staff if complications occur following surgery,” Bunkie says in a prepared statement. “Washington University deserves the maximum penalty for violating federal law and carelessly killing three animals."

This isn’t the first time SAEN has criticized Wash U for its citations. In October, the Riverfront Times reported on the advocacy group’s calling for the halt of publication of research experiments related to the rabbit and monkey’s deaths. Budkie wanted the university to receive maximum fines at that time as well.

The university says it was not fined in either of the previous incidents.

In a prepared statement, Washington University School of Medicine tells the RFT,
The respectful care and treatment of animals in research studies is paramount to Washington University. Recently, a dog recovering from a surgical procedure developed serious complications, and the research technicians monitoring the animal did not promptly consult the on-call veterinarian staff as required by the university and federal regulations. Unfortunately, the dog died.

Washington University voluntarily reported the animal’s death to the USDA, and the research technicians involved in monitoring the dog were immediately suspended from all activities involving animals while the university conducted an investigation of the incident. Washington University is working proactively to prevent future incidents. This includes increasing oversight and retraining laboratory personnel about the criteria and responsibility for contacting the veterinary staff when complications occur.

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