UMN animal lab deaths violate federal law, complaint alleges

An animal advocacy group filed a federal complaint on March 24.

by Helen Sabrowsky

The University of Minnesota violated federal law when at least 18 lab animals were killed or abused in laboratories over an eight-month period, according to a March 24 complaint filed with the federal government by an animal research advocacy group. 

The complaint from the group Stop Animal Exploitation Now calls for the maximum federal penalty of $10,000 per infraction, per each of the 18 animals. The University said the reports identified by SAEN had already been shared with school officials, researchers and the federal government.

“The University takes reports of problems seriously,” a University statement says. “The University voluntarily goes above and beyond those standards of animal care through its accreditation by [Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International].”

The group’s complaint is based on six letters reporting noncompliance that were sent by the University to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare between June 2017 and February 2018, in accordance with legal requirements for reporting noncompliance, said SAEN Co-Founder and Executive Director Michael Budkie.

According to the complaint, monkeys were denied adequate water for at least three months, guinea pigs were denied euthanasia after veterinary staff prescribed it and unapproved procedures were performed on pigs and sheep.

“There’s no question as to whether or not these incidents occurred,” Budkie said. “The University admits wrongdoing in their letters.”

The United States Department of Agriculture is required to investigate all incidents of noncompliance reported to the NIH. The USDA can choose to fine institutions for failing to meet federal regulations, Budkie said. However, he said the USDA is overburdened and often only chooses to charge serious violations.

Marina Kirkeide, a University student and the president of Compassionate Action for Animals, said in an email to the Minnesota Daily that the use of animals in research is an ethical grey area. 

“Some animal research is necessary and has a lot of scientific value, but a lot of it seems exploitative especially when you hear about reports of neglect and abuse,” she said in the email.

All animals in research are observed at least once a day by the University’s animal care team, the University’s statement says.

“To date, there is no comprehensive substitute for animal models in research,” the statement said. “Without research that includes animals, our ability to find cures or treatments for diseases like breast cancer, AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, depression and brain cancer will be set back significantly.” 

Budkie said in the case of nonzoonotic diseases, there is no need for animal experimentation. 

“There is clearly a pattern of animal mistreatment,” Budkie said. “It is absolutely a University-wide problem.”