Feds to inspect New Iberia research center

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Feds to inspect New Iberia research center

By Marsha Sills, TheAdvocate.com, Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Primate deaths anger animal rights group

LAFAYETTE — Federal animal welfare inspectors will visit the New Iberia Research Center for a “focused inspection” in response to recent allegations made by an Ohio animal rights group, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman said Tuesday.

The inspection, in response to a complaint filed by Stop Animal Exploitation Now, will likely take a “significant period of time” since the allegations involve the injuries and deaths of research animals dating back to 2010, David Sacks, a USDA spokesman, wrote in an e-mail response.

Michael Budkie, the group’s executive director, held a news conference in Lafayette Tuesday to discuss his allegations that research animals’ injuries and deaths in 2010 and 2011 “may have been caused by or were related” to violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette research center manages more than 6,000 primates at the New Iberia facility.

Budkie’s complaint specifically lists 11 trauma-related primate deaths. In comparison to the total number of animals at the site — which is “close to 6,000” — the deaths are “not statistically significant,” said veterinarian Dr. Thomas J. Rowell, research center director.

Several of the injuries and fatalities in Budkie’s complaint involved rhesus macaque monkeys. The animals are housed in groups to reflect a social structure “that they would have in the wild,” but the monkeys are a “very aggressive species and even low levels of aggression may result in injury,” said veterinarian Dr. Babette Fontenot, head of behavioral sciences at the research center.

Fontenot said efforts are made to relocate more subordinate animals, but there will still be “some low level aggression that you can’t protect them from.”

Federal inspectors last visited the center in November and did not uncover any issues, according to the USDA inspection report.

The November visit was based on another Budkie complaint, Rowell said.

The center is associated with two ongoing USDA investigations that began last year, Sacks confirmed. Because both cases remain open, Sacks said he was unable to provide additional information. One investigation involves the May deaths of three rhesus macaques, which the center self-reported to the USDA, Sacks confirmed. A June news release by Budkie alerted media of the deaths. The decomposed remains of the animals were found in a chute in one of the outdoor housing cages. Last year, Rowell told The Advocate that three animals “did not receive the level of care that they were accustomed to having at this center.”

On Tuesday, he said he expects that the center will face a fine for the incident and that corrective actions to prevent another similar incident have already been taken.

The second investigation involves the May death of a chimpanzee that was being transported from Bioqual, a research facility in Maryland, to the New Iberia Research Center by Stone Oak Farms and Transport of Opelousas. The animal was one of four chimpanzees being transported to the facility and it died of Type 1 hypersensitivity and anaphylactic shock, Rowell said. The cause of the allergic reaction is unknown, he said.

He said the center has used Stone Oak previously without incident. A voice message left with Stone Oak Farm and Transport early Tuesday afternoon was not returned.

On Tuesday, Budkie referenced the two ongoing investigations and called the center negligent. He said the USDA should levy the “largest fines allowed by law.”

“They should be punished and severely,” Budkie said.

The center paid the USDA $18,000 in 2010 as part of a settlement related to alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act uncovered in a March 2009 federal inspection. In paying the settlement, the university waived a right to a hearing, but it was not an admission or denial of violations.

The federal inspection was a result of video documented by an undercover Humane Society of the United States worker. 

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