UC Davis Interim Chancellor Ralph Hexter called Friday for a comprehensive review of animal care on campus after federal inspectors found more than a dozen research violations in the last three years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been investigating the university since July 2015 in response to reports of animals dying or suffering injury due to alleged negligence of staff. In some cases, animals suffered because of unnecessary surgeries or delays in medical treatment, according to USDA reports available on the department’s website.
Primate escape and injury appears to be the biggest repeat problem at UC Davis; three escapes were reported this year.
USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said she couldn’t offer specific information because the investigation remains open. She explained that “investigations may be opened when a facility has a history of repeat noncompliance or a particularly grievous noncompliance.”
UC Davis responded in a statement that it “has thousands of animals in our care, and incidents involving animal care are rare. We follow all applicable laws, regulations and guidelines, and we will carefully consider any report from the USDA when it comes. Any incident is disturbing, and we take all measures to prevent such incidents and to continually improve our standards of care.”
The school plans to review animal health care operating protocols as part of months-long effort to transfer animal care responsibility to the Office of Research, the university said Friday. UC Davis did not say which program is currently responsible for animal care.
“The interim chancellor is really concerned about this,” UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis said. “He is interested in establishing a better culture of safety for our animals and how we can do more to mitigate anything down the road.”
In 2015, the most recent year data are available, the UC Davis research facility reported that it had experimented on 2,719 non-human primates, 30 dogs, 419 cats, six guinea pigs, 59 hamsters, 315 rabbits, 125 sheep, 90 pigs and 2,117 other farm animals. It also reported that it had 3,359 non-human primates that it had yet to use for research.
The primates are used in research on diseases like the Zika virus, HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease, said university spokesman Andy Fell.
The most recent monkey escape happened in September when two “non-compatible” male macaques were injured after UC Davis staff failed to lock a door separating them. The door was found open and the primates injured. One of the monkeys had to be euthanized.
In June, a macaque escaped an enclosure by bending a metal sliding door. The animal was tranquilized with a dart gun and recaptured, but its health declined later in the day and it was euthanized. In March, a young macaque fractured both of its legs after escaping through an unlocked door in its cage. The monkey recovered after treatment.
In April 2015, a male macaque broke a leg when it tried to escape while being restrained during intravenous fluid treatment. The report said UC Davis had no requirement to document required checks of restrained animals, so it could only substantiate checking the monkey twice during the four hours it was restrained.
The USDA also cited the university when a rabbit died because a valve to anesthesia was left in a closed position during a procedure. Federal officials also cited cases in which sick animals did not receive immediate care because veterinary staff had to wait for authorization from researchers.
In May 2014, inspectors reported that ewes were subjected to “unnecessary” abdominal surgery to determine pregnancy in order to avoid the cost of an ultrasound.
Animal research opponents brought attention to the violations this week.
“The most recent citation is because an animal escaped and was injured and was euthanized because UC Davis staff couldn’t be trusted to close up an enclosure to ensure the animal couldn’t get out,” said Michael Budkie, co-founder of Stop Animal Exploitation Now. “Repeat citations for such basic operations have to call into question the competence of the staff at UC Davis. If they can’t close a cage door correctly why should we believe they can do science?”
The California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis is funded by the National Institutes of Health and research grants. Its total funding for 2015-16 was $35 million, of which federal agencies funded $32 million. The remaining $3 million came from various sources including state agencies, foundations and corporate sponsors, university spokesman Fell said.
Budkie said the university should lose its federal funding because of the violations. “Some of the research they do has nothing to do about human medicine, it’s about bringing in the $40 million a year (in federal grants),” he said. “The writing is on the wall for animal research.”
Investigations can result in an official letter of warning or a monetary penalty, Espinosa said. She said there is no time frame for completion of the investigation. Fines can be as much as $10,000 for each violation, according to the USDA website.