UW animal welfare investigation: Questions arise

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Sifting and Winnowing:

Yesterday, January 1, 2010, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that UW-Madison has been cited for conditions found to be in violation of federal regulations governing animal research laboratories.  The citations followed from a surprise visit by federal inspectors sometime in December.

Why is this news relevant to the Graduate School restructuring plan?  Because the threat of exactly such citations and the risk of substantial fines or even loss of accreditation have been central to the provost’s case for the restructuring. That we have not yet seen a clear explanation of how splitting up the Graduate School solves this particular problem is beside the point.

Seen in this light, the timing is interesting.   The inspection by the Ofice of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) appears not to have been random but rather was likely undertaken in response to “allegations involving animal welfare brought to [OLAW’s] attention.”    We do not know who made the allegations.

It’s good to see these kinds of questions asked by bloggers. It’s this kind of analysis that is increasingly neglected by the impoverished local media.

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8 Responses to “UW animal welfare investigation: Questions arise”

  1. Holly Says:

    I wouldn’t worry about the citation threat. The article made me so angry as it completely distorted both the severity of the allegation and the 20 “violations”. There is no way the university will be fined.

    • Alec S Says:

      What were the inaccuracies or distortions that you mentioned in the article?

      • Holly Says:

        First of all, of course the article would open up with a line about “depressed and vomiting dogs” so it can cruise along on emotions and catch people’s attention.

        As to that specific dog violation, the inspectors did NOT walk in on the dogs that were ill; the article makes it seem like they were the first to see and “rescue” the dogs. The animals had been sick at one point long before the inspectors came. At that time, the animal caretakers had been slow to bring their illness to the attention of the attending veterinarian; the animals were left in their sick condition for a few days. Yes, these people severely messed up. However, disciplinary action had been taken against the individuals responsible by UW, and the whole issue was sorted out by the Animal Care and Use Committee (ACUC). When the inspectors caught wind of this on their recent visit, they gathered all the data they could and, this time, cited UW for the actions of those responsible for the dogs. The dogs were gone by the time they even arrived.

        The other violations directly involving the maltreatment of animals had to do with a single sick gerbil, which was caused by the same problem as the dog, and improper restraint of a nonhuman primate. Yes, these are definitely welfare problems and researchers should strive to see which personnel caused these problems and take appropriate action if it hasn’t already done.

        The rest of the violations are minor imperfections: several cases of faulty wording on protocols, untimely notification of protocol suspensions, a kick bucket that was just beginning to rust, some medicines that reached their expiration date, one slippery floor, a hose with a slightly damaged outer layer, some flies, spots on a wall, dusty vents (in a room where animals weren’t even being housed), and one case of peeling paint.

        Now, I understand that, when listed altogether, one might conjure up an image of a dirty, dark, smelly building with miserable animals and a corrupt research system. Understandable. That’s exactly what the WSJ article is going for.

        The point: there are hundreds of PI’s, thousands of protocols, and tens of thousands of animals being used in research. The ACUC, a committee of vets, resource officials, and members of the public, takes special care to review every single protocol and defer or reject it if it isn’t as clear as possible or if the research will not produce significant or useful results. Yes, there were technically 20 violations, but think of the enormous number of animals (past and present), rooms and buildings, protocols (past and present), researchers (past and present), instruments, tools, analgesics, medicines, and SOP’s that belong to UW. Multiply all of those things together: there are, what, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of things that could have been wrong, if not more. Four inspectors spent nine days digging up old information, reviewing new information, and inspecting every room, protocol, and binder of minutes from committee meetings years back. And they found 20 things. Twenty. I look at that as UW having a 99.98% success rate of following procedures for animal welfare.

        Most importantly, what neither the report nor the WSJ included was that the inspectors verbally told officials that, overall, Wisconsin had very well-maintained facilities with animals that were being properly taken care of.

        It’s important to remind ourselves that we are human. We make mistakes. No program is going to have a perfect research facility. Contrary to popular belief, there has been so much progress made – but it will never be 100% perfect. It is good for inspectors to come and double check what is going on so that the facility can strive for perfection, but articles like this that inflame only the bad and omit the much, much, MUCH more significant and telling good are dangerous. Vets and PI’s at UW got to ring in the New Year with letters filled with threats and obscenities because of these “violations” committed by a substantial few and by mistake. In my opinion, they ought to be praised for going through tedious protocol procedures for years to makes sure that the other 99,998 research animals feel little or no pain and for the purpose of saving the lives and curing the illnesses of both other animals and humans.

        If one doesn’t believe a word I say, the mere fact that no citations are going to be issued ought to show that even the USDA agrees that UW is doing a fine job as it is. There were allegations, and they were forced to conduct an investigation, which inevitably led to finding at least a few things wrong, but UW’s animal care and use provisions and protocol procedure are among the best in the country.

  2. pjmad Says:

    “That we have not yet seen a clear explanation of how splitting up the Graduate School solves this particular problem is beside the point.”

    If that’s beside the point then what is the point? Either you make a specific case for how restructuring the grad school will prevent incidents like this or they’re unrelated issues.

  3. SaW Says:

    The point that we were trying to make is that, even if no practical connection has actually been demonstrated between restructuring the Grad School and animal lab compliance, the provost has nevertheless linked the two very clearly in his rhetoric at town hall meetings, which MAKES them related whether they deserve to be or not. The question we are asking is whether this new incident will be given undue prominence by those trying to justify a restructuring that, to date, has not been well-justified by any reasonable standard.

  4. SaW Says:

    In view of Holly’s latest comments, I think the question raised in my latest comment (and in our original S&W posting) becomes even more pertinent: Who made the initial allegations prompting the inspection, who tipped off the WSJ, and what was their true motivation?

    I would like to invite Holly (and others, if they feel so moved) to post a comment on the S&W article as to whether they think there might be something to S&W’s paranoid conjecture. I sincerely hope there is not, but if there is, we need to know.

  5. Jack Says:

    I WISH YOU GUYS WOULD COMMENT ON THE MORE RECENT POST ON THE TOPIC!

  6. notafactoryfarmer Says:

    If we treated our pets the way factory farmed animals are treated you would be breaking the law. In other words one law for pets. Another for farm animals.

    You might be interested in my book ON THE MENU:ANIMAL WELFARE (website ame name!) – which tells, for the most part, a horror story, NOT imagined, but something that is happening every moment of every day. It draws attention to the animals on factory farms that never see natural light; or the seasons change; or feel the earth beneath their feet. Incarcerated in vast barns their lives are automated, unnatural, controlled as they are treated as nothing more than any other farm product and become grotesque parodies of their natural selves.

    This book describes the whole production process – from before conception to the way the animals we use for food are presented on the supermarket shelves: the chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese; the laying hens, quail and the pheasants reared for sport; the pigs and lambs; the dairy cattle, beef cattle and veal calves; and also the rabbits as well as the fish and shellfish.

    Published by Pen Press and available from Amazon at £8.99; from public libraries in the UK and Ireland; and also Ingrams (in the USA).

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