UC Davis fined over dead rabbit

USDA internal audit acknowledged history of under-penalizing violators of animal welfare law

After repeated violations concerning mistreatment of laboratory animals, UC Davis has been fined $5,000 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The fine results from a nearly two-year investigation after a “rabbit died under anesthesia when a valve was inadvertently left closed,” according to an April release from the university.

Jeremy Beckham, a research associate from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ laboratory investigations department, contended the fine wasn’t large enough to curb practices at the public university, a world leader in animal science and research.

“These fines have shown time and again to have no effect on these labs,” Beckham said. “Five thousand dollars is just a drop in the bucket for UC Davis.”

In 2017, UC Davis received more than $234 million from 468 National Institutes of Health awards.

Over the past five years, the university has received 15 citations under the Animal Welfare Act. But the university was last fined in September 2005 when seven monkeys died from heat exhaustion.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, has a history of under-penalizing violators, according to an internal audit. In 2010, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General found that APHIS didn’t follow guidelines in lowering penalties in over one-third of the cases brought forward under the Animal Welfare Act. In 2017, over 90 percent of alleged violations were settled with a warning.

UC Davis’ first fine in a decade comes as the USDA is being unusually cryptic about the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act. Prior to February 2017, the USDA would provide monthly updates to its enforcement records. Since then, enforcement records are only available to the public through Freedom of Information Act requests, which can take more than a year to obtain.

The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee is responsible for monitoring animal research at the campus. UC Davis denied SN&R’s request to tour its primate facility and sit in on a committee meeting.

UC Davis spokesperson Andy Fell said the university sees the situation as a learning opportunity and is working on retraining staff and changing equipment.

The Primate Center houses over 4,000 monkeys for breeding and research, according to the center’s website.