The accidental deaths of two more monkeys at an Oregon Health & Science University-operated research facility in Hillsboro has prompted an animal rights group to file a federal complaint.
On Aug. 13, an animal care technician at the Oregon National Primate Research Center placed a 6-foot-tall rack of monkey cages into a cage-washing machine and turned it on without realizing there were still two monkeys locked in one of the top cages, OHSU said in a statement Aug. 28.
"The technician quickly realized the error and immediately called veterinary staff for help, but one monkey died and the second was later humanely euthanized," read OHSU's statement. "All cage washing immediately ceased and the director of animal care and use, Vickie Jarrell, Ph.D., was notified."
Jarrell reported the deaths to two federal regulatory agencies overseeing animal research as soon as she learned of the incident, according to the OHSU statement titled "OHSU grieves loss of two nonhuman primates." She also contacted an international organization that offers voluntary accreditation for animal research programs.
The incident has drawn the ire of the Ohio-based animal rights advocacy group Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN), which filed a complaint Aug. 30 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's division overseeing animal welfare.
"(This) device sterilizes with heat, meaning these monkeys were boiled alive," SAEN said in a statement, referring to the cage-washing machine where the monkeys were killed.
The incident violates the Animal Welfare Act, of which OHSU has been cited in violation 19 times in the last four years, according to the complaint.
OHSU chief research officer Peter Barr-Gillespie plans to establish "an independent, external review committee to more broadly examine hiring, training, safety and operations in animal care" at the research center, OHSU said.
The university's institutional animal care and use committee is also conducting an internal investigation, which will take several weeks to complete, OHSU said.
OHSU's animal experimentation programs, particularly those on monkeys, have prompted complaints, lawsuits and protests for years.
SAEN filed a complaint with the USDA in 2019 after the death of one primate.
In mid-August, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals renewed its calls for OHSU to shut down all experiments on monkeys and close the Primate Research Center after the group made public videos showing monkey experiments. A Multnomah County judge had ordered OHSU to turn over videos of experiments to PETA after the group sued the university to force their release.
"OHSU's negligence continues to kill animals incessantly, piling up double-digit citations," said Michael A. Budkie, SAEN co-founder and director, in a statement. "The USDA needs to throw the book at OHSU."
The infractions are connected to the deaths of 13 other animals from four different species.
"I would urge you to conduct a full audit of all animal health care records for OHSU regulated species to allow for a complete prosecution of this career criminal," the complaint adds.
In the complaint, SAEN also highlighted an OHSU report discussing an incident this January in which a monkey was injured after becoming trapped in a drain opening, left uncovered by OHSU staff.
SAEN is calling for the maximum penalty the USDA can issue, $10,000 per infraction or per animal.
"Even if OHSU is eventually only fined for the animal deaths, the resulting six-figure fine would be one of the largest ever issued by the USDA," SAEN said.
The Primate Research Center has been internationally accredited for more than 30 years, according to OHSU.
USDA inspectors visit OHSU at least once yearly to review the animals, facilities, food supply, medications and records, OHSU said. USDA inspection reports are available for public viewing.
OHSU's international accreditor praised the primate research center after its most recent accreditation visit in 2019, the university said.
The Primate Research Center houses nearly 5,000 monkeys, many of which are part of a breeding colony that supports National Institutes of Health-funded research on human and animal health, including research into potential vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, OHSU said.
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