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April 29, 2004

Pitt Denies lab Animal Charges

Pitt officials deny an animal rights group’s charge that the University has “substantially violated” federal regulations for humane treatment of laboratory animals.
Stop Animal Exploitation NOW (SAEN), a Cincinnati-based animal rights organization, reviewed three years of U.S. Department of Agriculture records for 25 labs across the country and found that Pitt was cited for 27 violations between 2000 and 2003. Based on that record, SAEN recently ranked Pitt as the 9th worst offender among U.S. research institutions in violating animal research regulations.
But University officials say Pitt complies with all federal laws as well as regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health regarding the use of animals in research. Pitt’s animal-testing facilities have not been fined by the federal government since 1987, the University points out.
And the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which inspects research labs such as Pitt’s, says compliance with animal protection regulations generally is “very good” here and at other universities.
SAEN pointed to three alleged violations, or patterns of abuse, in particular at Pitt:
• An experiment that deliberately deprived primates of water. “While this is not illegal (though it is obviously inhumane), regulations require it to be done carefully, and only when the animals are being monitored closely,” a SAEN news release stated. “The officials at Pitt were not monitoring the animals sufficiently to ensure their safety.”
• “Many instances” where primates were unnecessarily isolated. “At least one of the primates had begun to engage in the type of stereotypical pacing that indicates mental pathology in captive primates,” the SAEN release said.
• An experiment in which rabbits were to be restrained for 30 days while their legs were kept continuously moving.
John Fedele, Pitt assistant director of news, said the rabbit experiment was never performed as originally proposed; instead, its duration was scaled back to 96 hours. The University promptly took action to correct all of the infractions cited by APHIS and subsequently detailed by SAEN, he said.
A Pitt statement noted that the University’s Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) – composed of research faculty, a Pitt veterinarian and a member of the local community – “reviews all proposed research projects involving animals according to established criteria, including: Can the proposed species be replaced by a lower organism; can the number of animals be reduced; and are the experimental procedures humane?”
Of the thousands of regulated lab animals at Pitt (the exact number varies, Fedele said), 95 percent are rodents or fish, Fedele said.
One other Pennsylvania institution made SAEN’s list of animal rights offenders: The University of Pennsylvania, with a reported 5,060 lab animals and 36 violations, ranked No. 4. At the top of SAEN’s list was the University of California at San Francisco, with a reported 3,365 animals and 51 violations.

At a University Senate plenary session last November, former Senate president Gordon MacLeod described a number of citations against Pitt labs during the preceding year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University’s IACUC: cleaning and sanitation problems in the surgery area, expired drugs, and inadequate care of primates recovering from anesthesia, among others.
MacLeod said such violations might have been avoided if faculty had a larger voice in University governance (the subject of November’s plenary session) and more influence over day-to-day functions in Pitt research labs.
Randy Juhl, Pitt vice chancellor for Research Conduct and Compliance, replied that the violations, while taken seriously and quickly remedied by Pitt, were “rather minor in the greater scope of things” and that at least one of the violations MacLeod mentioned – continuation of a research protocol beyond its approved date – had been reported by Pitt itself.
See Nov. 23, 2003, University Times, available electronically at: Click on “back issues.”
Juhl was unavailable for comment this week. In an interview Tuesday, MacLeod claimed that Pitt could have been spared the “considerable embarrassment” of recent news reports about animal rights citations – and cost overruns for construction of the Petersen Events Center – if faculty played a larger role in University governance.
– Bruce Steele

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