Federal authorities investigating rabbit death in MIT research lab

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Tell the USDA to fine MIT $10,000 for the negligence which killed a rabbit in a cage washer.

 Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer
Director of USDA's Eastern Region
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Federal authorities investigating rabbit death in MIT research lab

By Yasmeen Abutaleb, BostonGlobe.com, Thursday, June 5, 2014

Federal authorities are investigating the death of a rabbit  used in research at MIT after a technician failed to remove the animal before its cage was doused with boiling hot water.

The worker responsible for the accident resigned, said officials at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In a letter to the National Institutes of Health, MIT officials said that a technician transferred two of three rabbits Jan. 16 before sending their dirty cage through a cage washer with one rabbit still inside. The technician found the rabbit dead in the cage after it was sent through the washer.

The US Department of Agriculture acknowledged that it is looking into the incident, but declined to comment further.

The technician responsible for the rabbit’s death worked in the school’s Division of Comparative Medicine for 11 years, according to MIT’s letter. He regularly performed rabbit husbandry and rack and cage sanitizations.

The employee was put on unpaid administrative leave while MIT investigated the incident, the letter said, before voluntarily resigning Jan. 31.

An animal activist group is calling on the Agriculture Department to fine MIT $10,000, the maximum for a single infraction. The correspondence between MIT and NIH was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Michael Budkie, executive director of the animal activist group Stop Animal Exploitation Now.

NIH-funded institutions are required by law to report violations of the Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals policy. The rabbit was not supported by NIH funding, the letter stated.

“MIT deeply regrets that the accidental death of a rabbit occurred,” MIT said in a statement. “MIT took immediate steps to put in place new protocols to prevent this from happening again.”

Those measures include having two employees ensure that cages are empty and that the bottoms are inverted before the cages are washed.

NIH said the university has taken appropriate action in response to the accident.

But Budkie, the animal rights activist, said MIT should be penalized for the “extremely serious” event.

“This is a horrible death, and as a result we believe they should face the maximum penalty,” Budkie said.

“Their negligence not only killed an animal, but literally would have boiled this rabbit alive.”

Harvard Medical School has faced scrutiny for 11 violations of the Animal Welfare Act at its New England Primate Research Center in Southborough, which is expected to largely shut down by 2015.

Harvard was fined $24,036 for the violations.

Documents obtained by the same activist group in January revealed previously undisclosed animal care issues in Harvard’s primate research operations. 

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