A watchdog group accused Harvard’s research laboratories of being one of the country’s worst violators of animal rights in a report released this week.
Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN) cited 32 federal violations by Harvard in a nine-month period. The violations included cases in which a “researcher strangled a primate through negligence, monkeys are deprived of water, rabbits and wallaby’s receive improper anesthesia.”
A Harvard Medical School spokesman, Don L. Gibbons, contested the validity of the report, claiming that all but one of the violations were reported because of clerical errors, and did not actually involve animal abuse.
The one exception was the incident of the asphyxiated primate, which Gibbons called “an unfortunate accident.”
In the experiment, a monkey was drinking grape juice through a hose and “loved the grape juice so much, it stuffed the tube down its throat,” Gibbons said.
The researcher could only see the back of the monkey’s head and didn’t realize the monkey was suffocating until it was too late, according to Gibbons.
But reports of other violations were the result of procedural failures, he said.
SAEN cited a Harvard lab for depriving monkeys of water, part of an experiment that involved giving monkeys grape juice as an incentive. To make the monkeys crave the juice, they were not given water—normally a legal practice, Gibbons said.
Gibbons said the lab received a violation because researchers did not file the proper paperwork for the experiment which would have allowed the monkeys to not be given water.
In another violation which SAEN referred to in its report, researchers did not note they had anesthetized animals such as wallabies during operations in their procedural reports, Gibbons said. The use of anesthetics or other implements to reduce pain during certain procedures is part of the Animal Welfare Act.
Michael A. Budkie, executive director of SAEN, defended the report.
“We’re very careful to base everything we say off government documents,” Budkie said. “This is not even a new situation. Harvard has a pattern of violations.”
Harvard came in second to the University of Pennsylvania. Penn topped SAEN’s list with 77 violations of the Animal Welfare Act, a set of federal regulations enacted in 1966 and enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Budkie said that other institutions with more registered lab animals than Harvard received fewer violations, such as the University of Wisconsin.
SAEN has cited Harvard in the past for its federal violations.
With research institutions taking in millions of dollars, Budkie said the penalties are “just a part of doing business.”
Fines are set in the four- to five-figure range, according to the Animal Welfare Act.
“When they know they are not going to be penalized, what motivation do they have to pay attention to regulation?” Budkie asked.