USDA warns institute after animal burned

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USDA warns institute after animal burned

By Scott Travis, Sun Sentinel, Friday, December 28, 2012

The Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience has received an official warning from the federal government after a ferret was severely burned in laboratory testing this summer.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the German-based Max Planck, which operates its Florida headquarters in Jupiter, violated the Animal Welfare Act, which requires that animals be handled in a way that does not cause harm or unnecessary discomfort, according to the November warning.
On July 3, the animal sustained a severe burn to the abdomen because a heating pad wasn't properly insulated, according to the inspection report.
"The burn incident…resulted from a faulty heating unit that caused a second-degree burn to a laboratory animal and was, of course, inadvertent," said Ivan Baines, chief operating officer for the Florida institute.
Baines said a veterinarian was informed immediately and instructed the staff "on the proper treatment which led to the animal's recovery." The faulty unit was replaced, and precautions such as water jackets and infrared heating units were adopted immediately after the incident to minimize the likelihood of it happening again, he said. A follow-up inspection a month later found no issues of non-compliance, Baines said.
Max Planck uses rats and small vertebrae animals to conduct research on neurological and psychiatric disorders.
The USDA report and warning were obtained through a public records request by Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an Ohio-based group that opposes animal testing. Officials from the group said they were alarmed by a policy passed by Max Planck in June to require that veterinary services be performed at an off-site location unless specifically requested by a manager. A veterinarian reported to the USDA that he receives only infrequent updates on a small percentage of the animals at Max Planck.
"Forcing the veterinarian to be off-site prevents adequate care," said Michael A. Budkie, executive director of the animal welfare group.  "Either the Max Planck Institute is attempting, fatally, to cut costs, or there is something that they don't want their veterinarian to see."
Max Planck countered that the Animal Welfare Act does not require veterinarians to be on site.
"We employ an attending veterinarian plus a back-up veterinarian to ensure that animals receive needed care and treatment at any time of day or night, seven days per week," Baines said.
The inspection report mentions a second incident, where a ferret was euthanized. But Max Planck did not receive any discipline in that case. The company said the animal had a condition known as dystocia, which is a difficulty in giving birth.
"The staff that was monitoring the animal frequently recognized the problem and consulted the veterinarian, who decided that the humane course of action was to euthanize the animal," Baines said. "The report referred to the incident, but properly did not cite it as a noncompliance issue."
Animal testing in Florida has come under scrutiny in recent years. Last year, at the University of Florida, an animal rights group distributed leaflets at buildings, picketed alumni meetings and protested at the homes of scientists who used animals for research. A company called Primate Products, which supplies monkeys for scientific research, has also been the subject of protests. 

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