National watchdog calls for new federal fine against UTMB

By David Yates | Sep 12, 2018

Editor's note: UTMB said it voluntarily reported the incident and no action was taken against it as a result

GALVESTON  – The University of Texas, Medical Branch (UTMB), has admitted the strangulation death of a monkey in a report filed with a federal agency, according to a national research watchdog group.

“UTMB immediately self-reported this accident to the USDA, said Raul Reyes, director of media relations for UTMB. "A subsequent USDA inspection of animal and university  IACUC*  records found “No non-compliant items”  and no penalties or fines were assessed.   UTMB always strives to be as transparent as possible and information about this accident and the USDA visit has been posted on our website for months.

“Many diseases that plagued the world are now preventable, treatable or have been eradicated because of medical research involving animals. In fact, when you take antibiotics, get a vaccine, a blood transfusion, dialysis or chemotherapy, you’re able to do so because of animal testing and research.   

“We at UTMB realize that there are organizations that oppose the use of animals in research but such research is necessary and required to improve human health.  Scientists worldwide believe that halting scientific research that involves animals is unrealistic and would greatly reduce medical advances and discoveries.”  

Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) is urging a new penalty be leveled against the lab, which paid a $33,000 fine in late 2016 for other violations of federal law, a press release states.

Not only has UTMB admitted the strangulation, but the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture has also cited the lab for another primate fatality following an escape, and the deranged state of yet another monkey, said SAEN, an Ohio-based nonprofit watchdog group that monitors U.S. research facilities for illegal activity and animal abuse.

A federal report obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, and received just last Friday, describes the monkey who was " . . . discovered dead in his home cage during daily health monitoring checks on Sunday February 11th. . . . The monkey was able to slip his head through a small loop of chain that held the toy into his cage and became stuck.  We believe that the monkey panicked, and his actions drew the chain tighter, asphyxiating him."

A previously obtained USDA report documents two earlier federal violations at UTMB. One was associated with a monkey escape that resulted in injury and euthanasia. In the other incident, one monkey showed "signs of psychological distress,” losing more than 20 percent of his/her hair.

"You would think that after paying a federal fine, and being found out of compliance with federal standards by multiple agencies that UTMB would make some attempt to actually follow regulations and keep animals alive and healthy," said Michael Budkie, A.H.T., co-founder and executive director at SAEN.  "Apparently they are incapable of meeting basic standards,” he added. 

SAEN's USDA complaint and related documents are available at: https://saenonline.org/media-University-of-Texas-Medical-Branch-Complaint-9-11-18.html

Additional background from the UTMB website: UTMB is a major research university dedicated to improving human and animal health through medical discoveries. Some of the most important laboratory work on campus involves the use of research animals. And, as required by the federal government, potential therapeutics such as vaccines must be tested on animals before they can be offered to patients.

We want you to know that researchers can’t arbitrarily decide to use animals in their studies; they must meet and maintain a strict set of rules to ensure that animals are treated humanely. UTMB is committed to responsible and ethical research that is overseen by highly-skilled veterinarians, federal and state agencies

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