An Ohio-based animal rights organization filed an official complaint against UNC to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Monday, citing incidents related to the University’s animal research that the organization called “clear violations of the Animal Welfare Act.”
The animal rights organization, Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN), is urging a USDA investigation into UNC that could result in a maximum fine of $10,000 for each lab-animal use infraction and for each animal affected by those infractions.
Infractions include improper animal handling and unqualified personnel.
The primary incident cited in SAEN’s complaint was first reported last month by The Daily Tar Heel in a piece documenting 65 instances of mistreatment of lab animals. These violations, which occurred over the last four years, were self-reported by UNC to the National Institutes of Health.
The incident in question was described by UNC in February. The University's report stated that researchers had euthanized a pig after an “apparent human error” caused a malfunction in an anesthesia machine the pig was hooked up to, leading to breathing issues and distress.
“The negligence at this lab caused a pig to suffer unnecessarily and die,” SAEN research analyst Stacey Ellison said in a press release. “This carelessness and negligence must be punished so corrections can be made.”
SAEN has filed similar complaints to the USDA over the last decade regarding improper lab-animal use at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Harvard Medical School. Federal investigations were opened into each institution, and they were fined $127,100, $38,571 and $24,036, respectively.
A UNC spokesperson said in a statement that the University is committed to the humane treatment of animals in its care.
“Following the incident mentioned, the University contacted the proper federal oversight agencies, including the USDA, to report the matter,” the spokesperson said in the statement. “The University also conducted a thorough review and instituted corrective actions to prevent similar incidents in the future."
Andre Bell, a spokesperson for the USDA, declined a request for interview. Bell said in an email that the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service “is aware of SAEN’s complaint against UNC.”
The APHIS reviews and investigates alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act like those raised against UNC. Some cases result in warning notices and civil penalties like fines and license sanctions, according to the agency’s website, while others go to the department’s general counsel office for further legal review.
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