No evidence of noncompliance found in labs
Federal inspectors found no evidence of noncompliance with animal welfare regulations in a surprise inspection of University animal laboratories that followed a Feb. 10 request by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
In a March 8 release, the University stated that an unannounced inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service during the week of Feb. 27 found the University in full compliance with the AWA and USDA regulations.
“The inspectors did not identify or corroborate any instances of noncompliance with animal welfare regulations, as documented in an inspection report provided to the University on March 3, 2017,” the release stated. The USDA report is posted at www.news.pitt.edu/sites/default/files/USDA-Inspection.pdf.
In a letter to the USDA director of animal welfare operations, PETA senior laboratory oversight specialist Alka Chandna had requested an inspection and investigation in response to claims that Pitt violated animal welfare regulations governing animal experimentation.
In the 17-page letter, Chandna stated that an eyewitness worked at Pitt from September 2016 to February 2017, primarily in the Rangos research building in Lawrenceville, during which time “the eyewitness documented, including with video recordings and photographs, numerous apparent violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).”
A video billed as “PETA eyewitness footage captured in laboratories hidden from public view at the University of Pittsburgh” is posted at http://investigations.peta.org.
Kathy Guillermo, PETA senior vice president for laboratory investigations, took issue with the USDA inspection report that found no evidence of noncompliance. Guillermo stated: “The U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection report is not comprehensive and gives only a glimpse of some aspects of any laboratory. The Animal Welfare Act, which the USDA enforces, is comprised of regulations that deal primarily with cage size, housekeeping issues and establishing minimal requirements. It entirely excludes mice and rats — the species most used at the University of Pittsburgh — so federal inspectors didn’t even look at these animals. No experiment, no matter how painful, scientifically flawed or redundant is prohibited. So we’re not impressed.”
In a March 9 media release, PETA called for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to withdraw Pitt’s research funding. According to Pitt’s fiscal year 2016 financial report, sponsored research activity totaled $726.5 million in 2016 and $713.9 million in 2015, with about two-thirds awarded through NIH.
In addition to its request to the USDA, PETA on March 9 asked the NIH laboratory animal welfare compliance office to investigate the University’s use and treatment of animals, citing in a 32-page letter what it said were violations of the Public Health Service (PHS) policy on humane care and use of laboratory animals.
Pitt’s March 8 release states: “The University follows the provisions of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, an internationally recognized standard for care.
“Educational use of animals at the University of Pittsburgh complies with all applicable laws and voluntary accreditation standards. The programs and facilities at the University are USDA registered and covered under an Animal Welfare Assurance with the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) of the Public Health Service. The University remains committed to the humane care and use of all animals within the context of the advancement of science and medicine.”
OLAW monitors NIH-funded institutions to ensure their compliance with animal welfare laws and policies. NIH-funded institutions must conduct research in accordance with the PHS policy, and must report promptly to OLAW any violations.
An NIH spokesperson told the University Times that “NIH generally does not discuss whether or not animal welfare-related investigations are taking place, and NIH does not comment on ongoing investigations if such investigations are underway.”
Additional details about how OLAW conducts its compliance oversight are described at: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/olaw/ComplianceOversightProc.pdf.
However, Chandna told the University Times that OLAW has informed PETA that it will investigate the concerns outlined in the complaint. Chandna said such investigations typically don’t include a visit to the facility, but often are conducted via email correspondence, adding that OLAW may inquire about particular incidents and ask what steps the University plans to take to ensure that any violations do not recur.
The University did not respond to a request for further details on any OLAW investigation.
—Kimberly K. Barlow