Department of Agriculture Assesses HMS Lab Protocols

A facility responsible for the Harvard Medical School’s laboratory animals has been cited by the United States Department of Agriculture for failing to review exemptions that allowed it to house primates alone.

The new report reveals the findings of a July 31 inspection, which cited the Harvard School for Comparative Medicine for housing the rhesus macaques alone. The Animal Welfare Act, overseen by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service states that primates, as social creatures, should not be housed alone in order to prevent potential harm that could result from the stress of living alone.

The Animal Welfare Act regulations state that dealers, exhibitors ,and research facilities using primates must develop an environment enhancement plan that addresses “ the social needs of nonhuman primates of species known to exist in social groups in nature.”

David Sacks, a spokesperson for the USDA, said that the Harvard School for Comparative Medicine was granted exemptions allowing them to house the rhesus macaques alone.

Paula S. Gladue, a veterinary medical officer inspector, cited the center for failing to review these exemptions every 30 days.

The Harvard Medical School said in a prepared statement that “the Center for Comparative Medicine has revised the system of documentation for social housing.”

This citation follows a string of citations for facilities affiliated with the Harvard Medical School over the past two years. The New England Primate Research Center, in Southborough, Mass. has seen four primates deaths in less than two years.

Most recently, a cotton-top tamarin monkey died of thirst in February as a result of not having a water bottle in its cage. Other incidents at the NEPRC include a primate that died after being overdosed with anesthetics in July 2011. The animal could not be saved after it experienced kidney failure and was later euthanized. In Oct. 2011 a marmoset died after escaping from its cage, being caught, and undergoing an imaging procedure. In June 2010 a primate was found dead after allegedly going through a mechanical cage washer.

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

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