Animal Welfare Act Violations at Ivy League Universities

The Physicians Committee

Animal Welfare Act Violations at Ivy League Universities

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A report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
September 2011

Findings | Review Process | Detailed Results | Discussion | Recommendations | References


Ranked from worst to eighth worst, here is how each Ivy League university fared when evaluated by the Research Misconduct Score for 2008 to July 2011:

Rank School RMS Nonsevere Violations Repeat Violations Severe Violations NIH Funding RMI At-Risk Animals
Worst University of Pennsylvania 120 52 17 11* $1,493,141,198 8 15,583
Worst (tie)
Princeton University 49 23 4 6 $142,301,409 34 81
Yale University   49  24 5 5 $1,181,618,282 5,573
Harvard University 48 19 1 9 $1,279,497,178 4 7,150
Cornell University 38 25 2 3 $598,281,857 6 13,680
Brown University 35 13 2 6 $207,849,244 17 424
Dartmouth College 33 24 0 3 $274,365,881 12 2,094
Columbia University 25 22 0 1 $1,115,495,612 2 2,542

*One violation at the University of Pennsylvania was both severe and repeated.

University of Pennsylvania

With its very high number of Animal Welfare Act violations, including repeat and severe violations, the University of Pennsylvania’s Research Misconduct Score dwarfs those of other Ivy League schools.

Two 2011 violations demonstrate the ongoing nature of the severe violations. In one incident of extreme negligence and disregard for animals, a newborn puppy was found dead, trapped beneath a floor grate. The puppy had slipped through the grate unnoticed, and an unknown amount of time passed before his death. In another incident, three gerbils died when water was just out of their reach due to unsuitable sipper tubes; these gerbils also likely suffered a long, drawn-out death. All of these deaths could have been prevented with proper equipment and facilities or with appropriate attention from laboratory personnel.

The University of Pennsylvania’s many repeat violations point to a practice of sloppy, inattentive care. On multiple occasions, investigators found that a barn holding cows was covered with an accumulation of feces and urine, dogs suffered untreated interdigital cysts, and researchers deviated from approved protocols. The University of Pennsylvania was also repeatedly cited for additional instances of unkempt facilities and for expired medications.

In one visit to the school, APHIS inspectors found that a dog was housed alone for two days without positive human contact or contact with other dogs. Other animals did not fare much better. Piglets and ferrets were forced to live on flooring with holes large enough for their feet to slip through, and horses lived in potentially dangerous enclosures with missing boards, exposed nails, and sharp edges, among other violations.

Despite its consistent violations of the Animal Welfare Act, the University of Pennsylvania continues to receive the most NIH research funding of all Ivy League schools. These results are also extremely troubling in the context of at-risk animals. The university houses an average of more than 5,000 animals per year, the most of any school in the Ivy League.

Princeton University

A pattern of deliberate, excessive water restriction in primates, among other severe violations, makes Princeton University one of the worst Animal Welfare Act offenders of the Ivy League. Starting in 2010, APHIS inspectors noticed that primates held at Princeton facilities were systematically receiving less water than the very minimum required by the Animal Welfare Act, which, as noted by one inspector, “could be expected to result in more than momentary distress.” In 2011, APHIS investigators saw the same violations; primates at Princeton were routinely forced to go more than 24 hours without water.

In addition to this illegal degree of negligence, Princeton laboratory personnel failed to notify the veterinarian in 2010 when a primate exhibited clinical signs of pain after surgery, including lack of interest in food and noticeable agitation. When a pregnant marmoset was in distress and ready to give birth in 2011, she was not provided veterinary medical care. Aside from the many animal-related violations, Princeton was cited repeatedly for incomplete and inconsistent recordkeeping. Other violations included the presence of multiple expired medications and the poor condition of primates’ research environments.

Despite this history of violations, Princeton continues to receive nearly $40 million in NIH research funding each year.

Yale University

Tied with Princeton for the second worst Research Misconduct Score, Yale University inspection reports also detailed many incidents of extreme negligence resulting in injury and death. In 2010, heating pads were substituted for warm water units in one experiment, causing baboons to suffer blistering and burns. Also in 2010, an APHIS inspector noted a dead hamster in an enclosure, and found that the deaths of multiple hamsters had gone unreported by husbandry staff for days. Personnel at Yale facilities were especially inept at keeping track of animals; reports detailed five separate incidents of primate escapes, two of which resulted in injuries.

Harvard University

Inattentiveness of personnel and researchers at Harvard has resulted in the deaths of several animals, placing the school in a virtual Research Misconduct Score tie with Princeton and Yale. In 2010, a primate was found dead inside a cage after the cage went through a mechanical washer. These industrial cage washers spray blisteringly hot water under high pressure, which means the primate was likely scalded to death. Employees had not noticed the animal’s presence while moving other primates to new, clean cages and transporting the dirty cages to the cage washer.

In 2011, a goat died while recovering from anesthesia, and it was found that the researcher had administered four times the recommended dose of anesthesia and failed to monitor the goat while he recovered. Only after a second goat was noted to have a prolonged recovery time was it discovered that both goats had received the extreme anesthesia dosage. Also in 2011, a primate suffered an anesthesia overdose that resulted in acute renal failure.

Other Animal Welfare Act violations at Harvard included untreated psychological distress in primates, unclean facilities, and incomplete records.

Cornell University

The lack of proper training and instruction at Cornell led to the death of a primate in 2009. The primate’s oxygen expiratory valve was not open during surgery, resulting in pulmonary hyperinflation. This severe Animal Welfare Act violation was accompanied by pervasive deficiencies in recordkeeping, underreporting the numbers of animals used for experiments, failure to include complete descriptions of procedures for animal experiments, and undocumented reasons for deviation from approved protocols.

Brown University

In 2010, students performed surgical procedures on three animals without approval from the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). While undergoing surgery, two of the three animals experienced complications and had to be euthanized. These needless deaths could have been prevented by adhering to approved protocols. A Brown researcher was the culprit in another 2010 incident, in which a primate went without water for three days when the researcher left town and forgot to make arrangements for the animal’s care.

Brown’s recordkeeping was also sloppy, and APHIS cited the university for various protocol inconsistencies and failure to describe the proposed use of animals. The facilities themselves were in disrepair during one inspection; in the bat house, there was a hole large enough for a bat to escape. The only escape, however, happened when employees neglected to close a primate enclosure and two primates roamed relatively free for hours, one sustaining injuries.

Dartmouth College

Although it is the smallest of the Ivy League universities,4 Dartmouth College is also a large Animal Welfare Act offender. In 2009, APHIS inspectors noticed that one of the school’s primates was so thin that his pelvic bones were easily visible. Additionally, no one had notified the attending veterinarian of the primate’s dramatic weight loss. A hamster who purportedly had been euthanized was found alive the next day in a carcass cooler.

Dartmouth’s neglect is not limited to animals’ physical well-being; their psychological health is threatened as well. Primates at Dartmouth were found to have signs of hair picking and eye poking—stereotypic behaviors that point to distress—and an APHIS inspector cited the school for failing to have records mentioning any efforts to address these behaviors through suitable enrichment measures. Other ongoing problems include equipment so dirty it could not be adequately sanitized and poor recordkeeping, with inadequacies in and deviations from approved protocols.

Columbia University

Columbia University received the lowest Research Misconduct Score and Research Misconduct Index of all Ivy League schools, but its significant Animal Welfare Act violations are deplorable for any research facility, especially one receiving hundreds of millions of dollars annually from NIH. Dirty facilities and poor recordkeeping were constant during APHIS inspections of Columbia, and in one instance, alternatives to potentially painful procedures were not even considered.