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Media Coverage

Johns Hopkins Agrees to Pay $25,000 To Settle Animal Welfare Act Allegations

From the Medical Research Law & Policy Report Published 8/17/05

Johns Hopkins University has agreed to pay $25,000 in a settlement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on charges that the research institution violated the Animal Welfare Act.

The settlement, which according to USDA officials and documents occurred in February, was made public Aug. 9 by the Cincinnati-based watchdog group Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN). Joanne Downer, a spokeswoman at Johns Hopkins Medical School, confirmed to BNA the amount of the settlement, stating that the payment does not mean the university either affirms or denies the claims.

According to the complaint and consent decision provided to BNA by USDA, the agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) charged Johns Hopkins with 31 alleged violations of research facility regulations and 15 alleged violations of failing to meet the minimum standards of care for animals. The charges were based on six APHIS inspections conducted between January 1999 and June 2003.

"The gravity of the respondent's violations is great," the complaint document charged.

The charges--most of which allegedly occurred between 1999 and 2000--included performing painful procedures on animals without proper sedatives or anesthetics as well as failure to provide them with proper post-procedural care. APHIS also charged that the university did not always disclose the full nature of the experiment on the animal, and sometimes failed to handle animals "as carefully as possible" so that they did not feel unnecessary pain. In one 2003 protocol, the university allowed euthanasia on animals up to seven days after the veterinarian advised that they be euthanized, the document said.

The majority of charges involving violation of minimum standards accused the university of failing to house the animals according to minimum space requirements and in some cases, especially for primates, failing to keep their housing in good repair.

"In April of 2004 we labeled Johns Hopkins one of the worst labs in the nation for violating the Animal Welfare Act at least 31 times in three years," Michael A. Budkie, executive director of SAEN, said in a press release announcing the settlement. "Apparently the USDA agrees with our investigation, which uncovered a wide array of illegal activity at Johns Hopkins."

Budkie said USDA should take more meaningful enforcement actions, arguing that $25,000 easily could be absorbed in a research budget of the size overseen by Johns Hopkins.

Improvements Made at Hopkins.

In 2004, Downer said the university's medical school had almost $450 million in research grants and contracts from the National Institutes of Health. "We conduct a lot of research here," she said, but the amount of the USDA settlement is not as important "as the improvements in our system and reducing the chances that anything could go wrong in our housing of research animals. As an institution and the people within the institution, the safety and care of our animals is very important."

Downer said Johns Hopkins had made significant improvements in how the university cares for its laboratory animals before the USDA complaints were filed. She said the changes were not based on the complaints--which she said Johns Hopkins only received last year--but rather represented an effort to adopt best practices.

Most of the recommendations came from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International, a nonprofit organization that provides voluntarily accreditation and assessment of animal research programs.

Downer said Johns Hopkins took an important step when it elevated the position of the institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) and other animal care responsibilities from a division within each department to a stand-alone office. Under the changes, which she said occurred three to four years ago, IACUCs now report directly to a dedicated vice provost.

The new system consolidating research animal oversight into a single entity has formalized animal care at Johns Hopkins, providing for greater consistency, Downer said. She said the university also has opened new facilities for research animals in the last several years.

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