THE BLOG
09/08/2014 02:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Grim Report From Laboratory Handling Ebola

The report is grim reading; even grimmer for the animals that died at Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute located in Albuquerque, NM. According to a 2014 inspection report, multiple rabbits died when they struggled to get out of mechanical restraining devices designed to force them to inhale substances through their nose.

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Five monkeys also died or were euthanized. A male rhesus monkey was "accidentally" irradiated twice because the technician misread his ID number! A cynomolgus monkey was euthanized when it was found to have a fractured leg and facial injury, possibly due to being placed in the wrong pen. Another rhesus monkey was euthanized after suffering a head injury caused by a protruding bar in the transfer tunnel and one was found dead in its cage from becoming entangled in a chain.

These fatal incidents are all violations of the Animal Welfare Act according to a federal complaint filed by Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!

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On the company website a statement reads, "Research involving laboratory animals at LRRI is heavily monitored and regulated by multiple state and federal agencies. All requests to use animals in research undergo a rigorous review by an independent committee of well-informed scientists, veterinarians and members of the general public to ensure scientific necessity and humane treatment. The review requires an extensive search for alternatives to minimize the use of animals."

This statement does not seem to align with the USDA inspection reports. In fact in one part of the report it clearly states that the IACUC (the "independent committee" mentioned above) did not actually review the researcher's procedures properly, and no alternatives were considered. Subsequently, rabbits unnecessarily endured painful and distressing procedures resulting in their deaths.

Lovelace was also cited for having untrained personnel handling ferrets used in infectious disease experiments. Four ferrets were exposed to a disease that were not part of the study when personnel did not remove protective equipment. This incident is extremely troubling considering the recent Centers for Disease Control mishaps involving five mistakes involving deadly pathogens and the fact that Lovelace handles Ebola! It doesn't inspire much confidence in these research labs when they cannot even hire trained personnel but we are supposed to believe, as again stated on their website, "Employees are trained to provide the highest level of quality care for our animals, and we believe the quality of our research depends upon the quality of our animal care. Our employees are held to the highest standards that meet or exceed those mandated by the Animal Welfare Act, which is overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA."

The USDA felt differently. It not only cited Lovelace for the lack of training in the ferret handlers but also cited them for at least two other un-authorized personnel performing procedures without training. The USDA reports go on to explain that the number of trained personnel available at Lovelace is in fact "limited." An infectious disease study involving non-human primates (Ebola perhaps?) was noted as being "a very dangerous situation for the personnel involved, and the animal welfare of the research animals." One primate involved in the study apparently escaped because personnel did not lock the enclosure properly. The study was a biosafety level 3 experiment meaning it involved potentially deadly virus and toxins transmitted by inhalation -- level 4 being the highest level of danger.

Lovelace was fined $21,750 in 2011 for six violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which also included unqualified employees performing procedures and failing to adequately research alternatives to experiments that would cause pain and distress to animals. Violations, which sound horribly familiar in the most recent 2014 report.

It would appear that Lovelace, in fact, does not care to adhere to the Animal Welfare Act even after being fined for infractions. Unfortunately, Lovelace is not unique in their abuses. So many animal experiment laboratories are in violation of the Animal Welfare Act, which barely protects animals as it is, it would be impossible to list them all.

What does need to happen here is the USDA needs to issue a fine that is meaningful and has an impact on Lovelace or better yet, lets end the archaic use of animals in experiments all together. There are alternatives available to the research community that actually provide better results.