USDA Cites Harvard Center for Non-Compliance with Federal Law

The United States Department of Agriculture has recently cited Harvard Medical School’s New England Primate Research Center for non-compliance with the Animal Welfare Act, following the death of a cotton-top tamarin monkey in February.

The new report documents the findings of a March 7 USDA investigation into the monkey death; this latest citation is the seventh against the NEPRC since June 2010. Harvard self-reported the incident to the USDA at the time of the death, prompting the inspection.

On February 26, a cotton-top tamarin monkey died due to dehydration—the fifth primate to die in the past 19 months at the NEPRC.

Paula S. Gladue, a veterinary medical officer inspector, cited the center for failing to provide the monkey with a water bottle in its cage. The report states that on the day of the animal’s death, facility personnel noted “unusual behavior” and contacted a clinical veterinarian to examine the monkey, who diagnosed the animal with dehydration. The monkey was then euthanized.

The death led Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of the Medical School, to halt indefinitely new experiments at the center. At the time, Flier said in a statement that the animal deaths were “absolutely unacceptable, deeply regrettable, and personally disturbing to me.” Flier also said he plans to implement a three-step plan to correct the failing protocol.

USDA spokesperson David Sacks wrote in an email to The Crimson that the USDA is conducting an investigation to determine actions that will be taken against the Medical School. A USDA citation can result in a warning letter to the offending institution or a fine of up to $10,000.

This citation comes at a time when the NEPRC—which has been at the forefront of biomedical primate research since its founding in 1962—is under fire from animal rights groups due to primate deaths.

“We believe that the USDA has been going soft on Harvard in particular,” Michael A. Budkie wrote in an email. Budkie—executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an organization that focuses on preventing abuse of laboratory animals—helped organize a protest against the Medical School’s use of animals in January of this year.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to the National Institute of Health demanding that the government agency cease funding research at the NEPRC following the February death and the death of a squirrel monkey in December.

The NEPRC received five citations from the USDA in July 2011, including one for the overdose of a primate with anesthetics. The animal, experiencing kidney failure, could not be saved and was euthanized.

In October of last year, the NEPRC was cited by the USDA for multiple failures to comply with the Animal Welfare Act—namely the Oct. 2011 death of a primate that died soon after escaping from its cage. The primate was then captured with a net by NEPRC staff, and died after undergoing an imaging procedure.

And in June 2010, a primate was found dead in a cage after it went through a mechanical washer. NEPRC and USDA investigators say it died before the washing.

—Staff writer Nathalie R. Miraval can be reached at nmiraval@college.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: April 4

The April 4 article “USDA: Harvard Violated Law” said that Harvard Medical School’s New England Primate Research Center violated the Animal Welfare Act. While the NEPRC was cited by the United States Department of Agriculture for failure to comply with the Animal Welfare Act, the USDA did not determine the non-compliance to be a violation. The USDA only terms non-compliances “violations” after further investigation.

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