Media Coverage About SAEN Stop Animal Exploitation Now

U of M Lab Called “Worst In U.S.” On Animal Welfare After USDA Inspection



Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Animal Welfare Operations, USDA-APHIS
[email protected] 
[email protected] 

Please Please LEVY a MAXIMUM FINE against the University of Memphis for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) when their negligence allowed dozens of voles and mole rats to die unnecessarily. Their behavior must NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.


U of M Lab Called “Worst In U.S.” On Animal Welfare After USDA Inspection

From Toby Sells,, October 14, 2022

One violation killed 12 voles, small rodents related to hamsters.

A University of Memphis (U of M) research laboratory violated numerous federal protocols concerning the care of test animals over the last year resulting in numerous animal deaths and a national animal welfare group wants the lab investigated and penalized.

The violations were found during a routine inspection of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in August. Agents with that group found nine violations in the lab, which is not specifically identified in the report.

It is unknown how many animals are in the lab. The report does list at least 270 rats. But for scale, consider that the Memphis Zoo with its vast menagerie had no violations during its inspection in the same time frame, and neither did other research facilities like the University of Tennessee Health Science Center or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

A federal group, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), oversees animal welfare in research settings. It produces protocols for which laboratories must adhere to test on animals.

One of the U of M lab’s major violations of these protocols came on April 1st this year. The building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) broke overnight, causing higher temperatures and a lack of ventilation in a room containing animals. When lab attendants returned to the lab, they found 12 dead voles, which are small rodents related to hamsters.

The report says U of M did not have an alarm or monitoring system in place at the time to warn of ventilation problems. The lab fixed the problem before the August inspection.

Other critical violations for the lab came as ”animals [were] simply found dead, suffering with broken bones, or missing a limb. One vole was euthanized for having a swollen, red, hairless, left, front limb.” Lab officials could not tell inspectors what research study the animal was on, nor could they find any care records for it after attendants found it injured.

Another vole was discovered missing a “rear leg with a fight from other voles.” The animal was euthanized. On another occasion, voles were discovered with a broken rear leg, a hurt leg, and an eye swollen shut. They were euthanized “due to fight wounds on the head and face.” The report says the animals may have been agitated because lab attendants put a noise-making dehumidifier in the room and left the lights on in the room around the clock. Both issues were corrected, the report says.

Another, simpler protocol mandates daily observations of lab animals. However, during the August inspection the “assistant director stated that this is not being done and has not been done in a long time.”

Another violation said the lab did not list exactly how many animals it had. It also incorrectly listed species of animals it had.

“The facility submitted an annual report for [fiscal year 2021] which listed 217 common mole rats,” reads the report. “The associate director stated that the facility did not have any common mole rats in [fiscal year 2021], instead they had approximately 270 ‘Damaraland mole rats’ which are a different species than common mole rats.

For this and more, the national group Stop Animal Exploitation Now! (SAEN) filed a federal complaint and wants the lab investigated further and fined at the national maximum of $10,000 per violation.

“Amassing a total of nine federal violations, including three criticals, clearly shows that the University of Memphis is the worst lab in the U.S.,” said SAEN co-founder Michael Budkie. “University of Memphis staff apparently can’t tell when animals are sick because they are just found dead, and even when they determine an animal is seriously ill and needs to be euthanized, they can’t even find the veterinary records.”

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