By Gregory B. Hladky
4:50 PM EDT, October 16, 2012
For the second time in five years, the University of Connecticut Health Center has been hit with more federal fines for violating animal welfare laws in laboratories. This time around the health center paid $12,429 for being cruel to rabbits.
In 2007, the taxpayer-subsidized UConn facility had to pay $5,500 for violations that included neuroscience experiments where researchers drilled into the heads of lab monkeys.
The new charges cover 10 separate instances in 2008, 2009 and 2010. In one citation, the UConn lab was accused of using improper procedures that involved jabbing bunnies in the chest 12 to 14 times per session.
According to the federal settlement agreement agreed to by UConn officials, the health center lab failed to use “appropriate methods to prevent, control, diagnose and treat diseases and injuries” to the rabbits.
Another case cited by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors concerned rabbits that died unexpectedly after misuse of anesthesia and “adequate pre-procedural and post-procedural care” of the animals.
“Clearly they haven’t learned their lesson,” says Justin Goodman, associate director of the laboratory investigations unit of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Here is an email response from Jeff Small, an associate vice president at the UConn Health Center:
"Researchers at the University of Connecticut Health Center are at the forefront of basic and translational science research leading to the development of therapies, treatments, and cures that will improve, prolong, and save human life. We strongly value the potential benefit our researchers’ work will have on people throughout our state, nation and the world. Part of this research effort involves the humane and ethical treatment of animals. The UConn Health Center cooperated fully with the investigation, as we are committed to full compliance with all relevant animal welfare laws and guidelines followed by major research universities throughout the country. We constantly monitor and evaluate our use of animals in research to remain in compliance and improve the quality of our animal care activities."
PETA officials say it was their complaints about the use of “archaic and deadly medical training exercises” involving rabbits that triggered the most recent federal investigation of the UConn Health Center facilities.
Goodman was also involved in the 2007 UConn Health Center animal welfare controversy. He as a graduate student at UConn at the time and made the original complaint that lab monkeys were being abused.
David Sacks, a USDA spokesman, says the UConn Health Center paid the $12,429 in current fines in September. The original citation letter was issued in July of this year.
According to Sacks, the USDA doesn’t release information on such cases until after settlement agreements with the violating institutions have been signed and all fines paid.
Goodman says federal animal welfare laws don’t cover “99 percent of the animals used in lab experiments.” Mice, rats, birds and cold-blooded creatures aren’t protected under the federal statutes, he explains.
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