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UCSF Faces New Animal Research Criticism

Jesse Jenkins

Seven years ago, the university was fined more than $90,000 for animal welfare violations. Now the school is responding to new criticism of its animal research program.

In 2005, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) was fined $92,500 by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for violations against federal animal welfare guidelines. But now, the university is facing new criticism of its treatment of research animals.

UCSF has responded to new criticism of its treatment of research animals. Source: UCSF

The criticism is in response to recently disclosed UCSF internal documents from 2004–2009 and recent USDA inspection reports.

The UCSF internal documents list several incidents reported to the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

The most severe case detailed in the reports involved a rhesus monkey that sustained a head wound and endured severe complications. The primate—named Petra—sustained those injuries after the removal of an implanted device from its skull during a Parkinson’s disease study in July 2008. The primate remained on the study for 23 months before the monkey was euthanized one month after a USDA inspection in October 2010.

As a result, the USDA cited the facility for this incident in January 2011. In the report, the inspector stated: “Allowing an animal to remain on a study for almost two years while undergoing repeated invasive treatments for chronic complications of the study is not consistent with…the Animal Welfare Act.”

Other UCSF reports detail additional incidents of alleged research animal mistreatment. These incidents include laboratory mice that had their toes surgically removed without anesthesia, a lack of post-procedural pain medication for animals, and mice that died from dehydration.

The reports were requested and made public by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) under the Freedom of Information Act.

In response to the new criticisms, UCSF vice chancellor Barbara French said: “All violations identified by UCSF and the USDA were addressed quickly. Those that were identified by UCSF were self-reported to the U.S. Organization of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW).”

“As the records indicated, UCSF’s corrective actions were noted and accepted upon re-inspection by OLAW,” she continued.

The USDA most recently inspected the facilities in June 2012. The inspector’s report indicated: “No non-compliant items were identified during this inspection.”

Justin Goodman, director of the laboratory investigations for PETA, said that the incidents detailed in these reports show that the 2005 fine had little effect on the university’s treatment of research animals. “Despite UCSF’s failure to adhere to relevant laws and guidelines, it’s continued to rake in half a billion dollars a year in taxpayer funding to support these experiments that are violating the law,” he said. “So, there hasn’t been an incentive for them to comply.”

A more significant penalty, said Goodman, would be to require UCSF to return the grant money used in the Petra experiments.

“[National Institutes of Health] guidelines say that money spent on an experiment while it’s not in compliance with federal animal welfare laws must be returned. In the case of the Petra experiment, $2 million was given to that grant. While that experiment was taking place during the 23 months, it was in violation of the law,” said Goodman.