Southborough primate research center may face fines

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Southborough primate research center may face fines

By Laura Krantz, MetroWest Daily News, Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Harvard Medical School could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines after a third monkey died at the school’s Southborough research center, a U. S. Department of Agriculture spokesman said yesterday.

A squirrel monkey’s death on Dec. 26, 2011 was one of three new citations Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center received in a Jan. 31 inspection. The results of that inspection were released Sunday.

“To look at this inspection report and see three direct non-compliances — that’s a big deal,” said David Sacks, a USDA spokesman.

This is the third primate death in 19 months at the facility.

The latest inspection describes three incidents where several monkeys were injured and one died because of employee carelessness.

Sacks said the latest report is especially serious because all three citations are “direct non-compliance issues,” meaning the animal’s welfare was directly affectedby each misstep.

“That’s kind of top on the list you don’t want to be on,” Sacks said.

According to the report, a malfunctioning water dispenser led two monkeys to become dehydrated. One recovered but the other was euthanized.

In addition, a squirrel monkey’s leg was fractured in a cage door. A rhesus macaque monkey injured his foot after he and others escaped from a pen.

Harvard Medical School on Sunday released a lengthy statement about its shortfalls.

“Our recent systems lapses are unacceptable and deeply troubling to us,” the statement says.

These are the latest in a string of USDA violations at the facility in two years, many of which Harvard reported itself.

Two other primates died in Southborough, one in October and one in June 2010. Another died at a different Harvard Medical School facility in February 2011 from an anesthesia overdose.

“They’re not having a good stretch right now,” Sacks said.

The Southborough facility conducts research on the cause and treatment of HIV and other diseases including colon cancer and sickle cell anemia.

The facility has 2,058 monkeys and a staff of 190 faculty, fellows and support personnel. It has been registered with the USDA since 1967 and has made many major breakthroughs including producing the first unambiguous evidence that AIDS is caused by a virus.

Sacks said the USDA has not yet determined the penalty Harvard will face. The investigation could take up to a year.

USDA investigators are combining past and recent citations to determine how many times the facility violated the Animal Welfare Act.

“It’s all going to get wrapped up into one big investigation,” Sacks said.

Each violation is punishable with a fine of up to $10,000.

“They’re looking at a penalty, no doubt,” Sacks said.

Harvard’s statement is the only communication it has issued since the report’s release on Sunday.

The document outlines steps it plans to take to address the problems, including more closely monitoring the watering system and cages and re-training staff.

Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Cruelty Now! said his animal rights organization would like a more in-depth investigation of the facility.

“There is clearly a system-wide epidemic of fatal negligence at all of these Harvard-connected facilities,” Budkie said.

Per USDA guidelines, the facility will be subject to an unannounced reinspection in the next 45 days.

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