UW National Primate Research Center under USDA investigation
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Contact:
Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Western Region USDA/APHIS/AC
2150 Center Ave. Building B, Mailstop 3W11
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117
(970) 494-7478
[email protected]

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Please contact Dr. Robert Gibbens to demand a major fine against the University of Washington, Seattle, for the negligence which allowed three monkeys to be killed. Their utter disregard for the animals and the Animal Welfare Act CANNOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law. 

UW National Primate Research Center under USDA investigation
By Timothy Kenney, DailyUW.com, March 29, 2016

The UW National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) is currently the target of an open case investigation by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The case was opened in January 2015.

Since the investigation is ongoing, the USDA could not comment on the specific events that prompted this open case. After every inspection or investigation closes, the USDA files a public report that is available on its website.

The USDA is the federal agency tasked with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act in all accredited animal research facilities. When the organization progresses from a routine inspection to an open case, it notifies that facility’s institutional official.

At the UW, that official is David Anderson, executive director of the Health Sciences Administration and former director of the WaNPRC.

In an interview March 15, Anderson had no knowledge of any ongoing investigation by the USDA. Only after reaching out to USDA officials did he become aware of the open case.

“What I can say is the USDA investigative personnel have not contacted us regarding any interviews or onsite inspections,” Anderson said in an email. “It’s obviously not something they’re particularly concerned about or they would have worked on it much more quickly.”

Past open cases at UW facilities have typically been closed within one week to one month. The longest investigation in the past three years lasted six months due to a lengthy appeal process.

This investigation has continued for more than a year.

The USDA conducts unannounced inspections of all the UW’s animal research facilities, including the university’s primate breeding colony in Arizona. The Animal Welfare Act stipulates that facilities must be inspected annually, and the USDA inspects larger facilities with a history of violations more often.

The UW facilities are usually inspected every 8-10 months due to the large number of animals housed by the school and the potential for animal welfare violations.

“If the USDA finds anything they are concerned about, then it becomes an open case,” Anderson said. “They can, and do, look at every aspect of our facility.”

An open case can result in several different outcomes. If the facility is found to be in compliance with research protocol and the animals are receiving appropriate care, the case is closed with no enforcement action.

If the USDA still has concerns, concludes animal care was unsatisfactory, or finds instances of non-compliance with research protocol, it can issue an official warning or citation. An official warning is essentially a slap on the wrist, whereas a citation is more serious and would constitute protocol or personnel changes at the given facility.

In cases of extreme injury or death of animal subjects due to negligence or non-compliance, the USDA can levy fines against these facilities or prosecute. The UW has not been fined since 2008, when it was ordered to pay $20,000 to the federal government for unauthorized primate surgeries.

More recently, the UW’s animal research facilities have received one official warning in 2014 and one official citation in 2015, both of which have been corrected and concluded.

Other drafted citations have been withdrawn by the USDA during the appeal process, in which research facilities are given a chance to make their case before official enforcement action is carried out.

Investigations can also be prompted by third-party complaints filed with the USDA against a certain facility or research project.

“If somebody files a complaint with the USDA, then the USDA most often will start an investigation,” Anderson said. “They tend to be particularly cautious, so any complaint could prompt an investigation.”

Animal rights activist groups, such as Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), often file official complaints in hopes of prompting an investigation and legal action.

This case was not the result of a SAEN complaint, but SAEN co-founder Michael Budkie applauds the USDA’s action, though he remains skeptical of the organization’s effectiveness.

“The authority of the USDA is limited,” Budkie said. “[It doesn’t] have the ability to close a laboratory, no matter how bad it is.”

Mei Brunson, a UW sophomore and president of Campus Animal Rights Educators, hopes that USDA investigations like this will help illuminate the realities of animal research.

“Transparency is key,” Brunson said in an email. “It enables the students and public to make an informed decision on how they want their university to treat nonhuman lives and bodies.”

There is no indication that this open case will result in fines or any other enforcement action because the USDA has yet to release details or effectively notify UW personnel. The circumstances that prompted this open case are still unclear.

More information will be available once USDA investigators conclude and publish their report.

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