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Citing 11 Animal Welfare Violations, USDA Fines HMS $24,036

By Steven R. Watros, Crimson Staff Writer

The federal government has fined Harvard Medical School $24,036 for multiple animal welfare violations, including numerous infractions that resulted in four primate deaths in fewer than two years. The fines were announced on Dec. 18 by officials from the Department of Agriculture.

As stated in a citation released by the United States Department of Agriculture, between February 2011 and July 2012, Harvard researchers—mostly those at the New England Primate Research Center in Southborough—violated 11 regulations of the Animal Welfare Act.

On two separate occasions, primates had to be euthanized due to dehydration. Another died after it became entangled in its cage, while other animals were subject to inappropriate care from under-qualified staff, according to the citation.

Despite these violations, a statement put out by Harvard Medical School said that the school has again been granted full accreditation from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, an organization that assesses animal care standards.

The statement also called the USDA review and associated fine “appropriate.”

“The leadership of the School cares deeply about upholding exemplary standards of care and attributes these outcomes [of the AAALAC and USDA reviews] to the excellent work of those members of our community who took aggressive action to institute rigorous quality improvements that benefit animal safety and welfare,” the statement reads.

The NEPRC first came under fire for animal welfare violations in 2010. Since then, the center has made leadership changes and announced in April that it will close in 2015. According to a statement released by Harvard officials in April, the planned closure of the Southborough lab is not a result of animal welfare violations but rather is needed because of financial constraints.

According to the Globe article, the center could have faced a larger financial burden if the USDA had decided to impose the highest possible fine, $10,000 per infraction. Such a scenario would have resulted in a total fine of $110,000.

“For an institution that receives $185 million annually in taxpayer funds alone, half of which is spent on animal experiments, a $24,000 fine for years of abusing and neglecting monkeys won’t motivate Harvard to do better by animals,” wrote Justin Goodman, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), in an email to the Boston Globe.

Still, the USDA rarely financially penalizes academic institutions, according to the Globe article. Although labs are often cited by the USDA for animal welfare violations, only eight such research facilities have been fined in the last two years.

—Staff writer Steven R. Watros can be reached at steven.watros@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveWatros.

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