Group alleges research animals mistreated at USM

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Please contact the Director of the USDA’s Eastern Regional Office to insist that they take immediate action against the University  of Southern Mississippi for allowing rabbits and hamsters to literally be eaten alive by ticks.

Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer USDA/APHIS/AC
920 Main Campus Drive, Suite 2000
Raleigh, NC  27606
(919) 855-7100
[email protected]

Group alleges research animals mistreated at USM

By Ed Kemp,, Tuesday, December 11, 2012

An animal rights watchdog group has filed a complaint against the University of  Southern Mississippi for negligent treatment of its research animals.

Southern Miss staff members “have exhibited a continuing multi-month pattern of disregard for the well-being of these animals, there (sic) suffering and debilitation, wrote Michael A. Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, in his complaint letter to the United States Department of Agriculture.

SAEN, which focuses on animal research violations at more than 1,000 research facilities across the U.S., based its complaint on a USDA report from September of a Southern Miss research facility where tick research was being conducted.

Southern Miss officials said the tick research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“The research is well-respected in the scientific community and important in determining the transmission of disease by ticks. We regret that the agreed-upon protocols were not followed exactly as outlined,” said Gordon Cannon, vice provost for research.

In one example, the report noted prolonged tick-feeding of a rabbit that caused large holes in the rabbit’s ears, as well as ear discoloration and rectal bleeding.

There were also examples of rabbits and hamsters suffering anorexia and weight loss.

In one case, a visiting high school student was allowed to assist in the tick harvesting of a rabbit, despite the fact that the ticks carried a pathogen deemed moderately hazardous.

In many of these instances, the research facility violated its own protocols by either having too many ticks on the animals or by allowing the feeding to go for too long.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” said Budkie, calling the report’s finding “some of the worst animal suffering that I have ever had the displeasure to read about.”

You can find the full USDA report on the Hattiesburg American’s website.

The university sets up its own animal research standards through the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which, according to U.S. federal law, must be used by all institutions that use laboratory animals for research or instructional purposes.

Southern Miss has a 10-member committee.

USDA spokesman David Sacks said the USDA inspection reports only show acts of noncompliance with IACUC.

With the SAEN complaint, he said the USDA will now review the Southern Miss research conduct to see whether a full investigation into violations of the Animal Welfare Act should occur.

“That would be a step down the road. Once we have a chance to digest what we’ve discovered, then we will see if an investigation is warranted,” said Sacks.

Southern Miss Chief Communication Officer Jim Coll said the animal-based portion of the research has ceased on the Hattiesburg campus.

“The research related to the USDA citations was conducted on the Hattiesburg campus but it is my understanding that plans were already in place for the animals to be housed at another university at the time of the citations due to the relatively small size of the Southern Miss facility,” said Coll. “The portion of the research involving interaction with the animals is no longer being conducted at Southern Miss.”

The AWA is the only federal law that regulates the treatment of research animals.

The maximum penalty is $10,000 per infraction at a research lab. Sacks said that the USDA determines whether to issue a warning or a fine to a violating agency, based on factors such as severity of the abuse and the agency’s past history. 

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