Animal deaths at the University of Iowa: A pattern of abuse or side effect of research?
Media Coverage About SAEN Stop Animal Exploitation Now

ACTION ALERT:

Contact:

Bruce Harreld, President,
University of Iowa
[email protected]

President Harreld,

University of Iowa negligence has killed over 244 animals from hyperthermia, starvation, failure to provide veterinary care, etc. This carelessness must not be tolerated. You must launch an internal investigation of all University of Iowa animal experimenttaion and terminate all responsible lab staff.

 

Animal deaths at the University of Iowa: A pattern of abuse or side effect of research?
By Aimee Breaux, Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 2, 2018

An animal advocacy group is calling for the University of Iowa to launch an independent investigation into its research practices after digging up what the group describes as multiple animals deaths because of negligence.

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, a nonprofit Ohio-based organization, brings attention to animal testing at universities across the U.S. In March, the group filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service about UI's treatment of ferrets. Now the group alleges that the university's negligence extends beyond the treatment of ferrets.

By the group’s count, at least 244 animals — including ferrets, mice, rats and 200 fish — were killed because of negligence by UI researchers in 2016 and 2017.

The public has a window into these animal deaths through the documents researchers are obligated to create. When lab staff intentionally or unintentionally don’t comply with federal policies or regulations, they must report the incidents to the agency providing the funding for their work.

Compiling 21 such reports sent in 2016 and 2017, SAEN argues that the university shows a “multi-year pattern of abuse, neglect and incompetence." University officials say the incidents were unfortunate mistakes that are addressed immediately but come with the territory.

The animals that have died in UI labs

Included in the mandatory reporting was an incident in October of 2017 that prompted SAEN to file the complaint with USDA. An animal care technician found a dead female ferret, or a jill, alongside two ferret babies, or kits. A remaining pregnant jill produced at least three dead kits before lab staff found her to be in too poor of health and euthanized her.

According to the report, the jills gave birth five and 10 days earlier than expected, possibly due to genetic testing on the animals.

In at least two accounts, a total of five mice died of starvation after lab staff failed to check in on the animals. Other deaths are preceded by lab staff failing to alert veterinarians of animals facing ill health. Two hundred fish died after an animal care technician incorrectly adjusted pH levels.

Four mice died after equipment malfunctioned overnight, causing their living space to overheat.

Two rats died in January of 2017, though according to the report, scientists are not sure why. Another six rats were euthanized in September 2016 after the researcher incorrectly injected the animals during an experiment. Later that month, another eight mice died before researchers figured out the correct dose of an experimental drug to use on the animals.

Wrapped into the reports were accounts of about 30 animals that did not die but were improperly handled. In late September 2017, lab staff cut off the tails of two mice without providing an analgesic, or painkiller. Less than a month later, a lab technician cut off the tails of 22 mice without providing an analgesic.

UI's explanation of the reports

Each report included the university’s response to the mishap — the subsequent training to prevent the same mistake in the future and, when applicable, a promise to return the appropriate funds to the grant provider.

This is part of animal research, says Stephen Pradarelli, strategic communications director for the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

“The University of Iowa takes the health and safety of animals in its care seriously, for ethical reasons and because they are valuable resources in the effort to develop new treatments for a range of health conditions and diseases, including cancer, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, macular degeneration and many others,” he said. “Unfortunately, adverse events sometimes occur because of mechanical failures, human error or for other reasons.”

When mistakes happen, Pradarelli says, the University of Iowa’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee immediately investigates and evaluates whether there needs to be staff retraining, equipment replacement or protocol changes.

The university doesn't currently have plans for an independent audit. Pradarelli said the university is an accredited member of the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International, a private nonprofit organization that reviewed the program in March.

But assurances by university officials that researchers take the humane care of animals seriously seem insincere, says Michael Budkie, executive director of SAEN.

“For if it were true, there would be no reports of non-compliance, and no USDA Official Warning would have been issued against the University of Iowa," Budkie wrote in a letter to University of Iowa president, Bruce Harreld. "Allowing animals to die of starvation, hyperthermia, cervical dislocation without anesthesia, etc. clearly violates these guidelines.”

The group turned some of it’s attention to the University of Iowa in early 2016, after a goat escaped from the unviersity captivity, leading the university and law enforcement on a 10-day chase.

The goat, which was part of orthopedic injuries experimentation, was euthanized upon capture to the dismay of animal-rights groups keeping tabs on the goat search. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service investigated the goat's treatment following a complaint by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and cited the university for mishandling the animal.

Following the citation, Pradarelli said the university amended protocol, retrained staff and implemented new security measures for animal transfers.

See also:

Return to Media Coverage