In a complaint filed with the United States Department of Agriculture on Monday, the animal rights organization Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN) urged the USDA to impose a $60,000 fine on Yale for multiple self-reported animal welfare violations.
In February and August 2012, associate vice president for research administration Andrew Rudczynski informed the National Institutes of Health of the three violations, as required by NIH funding regulations. SAEN obtained the reports through a filing with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). While the names of the researchers and locations of the labs are not included in the self-reports, as required by FOIA regulations, the filings detail a series of human errors that led to 33 animal deaths in Yale laboratories between August 2011 and June 2012.
“Yale has clearly demonstrated incompetence that has killed multiple animals,” said SAEN executive director Michael Budkie in an April 1 press release. “This bungling laboratory deserves the maximum penalty allowable under the law.”
University Spokesperson Tom Conroy said in a Thursday afternoon email that Yale has not been notified of the complaint, but will be fully cooperative if notified.
According to the University reports, on Aug. 1, 2011, a dog died after an oxygen tank malfunctioned. Seventeen hamsters died on June 28, 2012, the same day a laboratory staff member failed to perform standard morning monitoring of the animals. Fifteen mastomys — a type of rodent — also died on June 28 after receiving an oral vaccination.
The USDA has not yet taken any legal action against the labs in the four days since the complaint was filed. Of the five most recent complaints filed by SAEN with the USDA, excluding Monday’s, four have produced fines.
“I’ll take an 80 percent effectiveness rate any time,” Budkie said Thursday.
All laboratories that receive funding from the NIH must self-report any violations of the Public Health Service Policy (PHSP), the NIH’s animal welfare regulations. The NIH itself cannot enforce penalties; only the USDA can levy penalties on labs that have violated animal welfare regulations. The USDA enforces the less stringent Animal Welfare Act which, in contrast to the PHSP, explicitly excludes rats, mice, birds and all cold-blooded animals.
The FOIA-obtained self-reports reveal more than the three incidents detailed in the SAEN complaint. On Sep. 18, 2012, Rudczynski reported an incident that occurred on Aug. 14 of that year, in which 204 mice and rats were accidentally disposed of in a trash compactor. After the incident, all of the animals were removed and subsequently euthanized.
Other incidents revealed through FOIA filings include failure to euthanize mice in a timely manner and failure to euthanize mice using the proper chemicals.
According to Budkie, SAEN did not file any complaints involving mice and rats because the AWA, which the USDA enforces, does not cover these animals. Budkie added that the NIH is not required to communicate with the USDA when it hears of any animal violations that would also fall under USDA authority.
“One government agency is sitting on…an immense stack of information which thoroughly documents major violations of the AWA by labs across the U.S.,” Budkie said. “It’s literally withholding the information from another branch of the federal government that is charged with enforcing that law.”
Conroy said Yale had followed the NIH’s Public Health Service Policy by self-reporting these incidents to the NIH’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW). After self-reporting, the University received a response from OLAW stating that Yale had taken the appropriate actions to correct the issues and that the Office would not further pursue the matter.
“Yale takes seriously its responsibility for the humane care of animals; our self-monitoring programs meet or exceed federal regulations and independent accreditation standards,” Conroy wrote.
Rudczynski, who wrote the Yale reports to the NIH, could not be reached for comment. Pat Preisig, who was the Yale’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Chair during the time of the incidents, declined to comment.
The NIH provided approximately $457 million to Yale researchers in fiscal year 2011.