KANSAS CITY — Primates used in research at the University of Kansas Medical Center are dying or suffering severe pain because of negligence by researchers or their staff, an animal rights group said in a complaint seeking a federal investigation.
Stop Animal Exploitation Now, a group based in Milford, Ohio, filed an official complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tuesday asking for an investigation of primates' treatment and "the most serious action allowable" under the federal Animal Welfare Act.
The USDA cited the medical center last year for 160 violations of federal animal protection laws during research projects between August 2008 and June 2009. Those violations largely involved procedural and paperwork violations, not involve animal welfare, USDA spokesman Dave Sacks said. The medical center was fined $62,500.
Sacks said the USDA has received Stop Animal Exploitation Now's complaint and is looking into it.
"Whenever we get formal complaints like this, our standard policy is to send in an inspector to look into the allegations," he said.
Sacks said he couldn't comment in detail on the allegations until an unannounced inspection was done. He didn't know when that might be, but said it's typically done within a couple of weeks of receiving a complaint.
"Everything that we do stems from our commitment to ensuring the welfare of animals that we regulate," he said. "So we hold all USDA-licensed facilities to the standards of the Animal Welfare Act and certainly pursue enforcement actions from those who are not complying with the act."
The medical center appealed a number of the 2009 violations and "immediately" made changes to improve the facility, said Stephanie Sharp, the center's director of community relations.
"At this point, filing a complaint with the USDA will most likely not be a productive effort since we have been working with the agency for a number of months to ensure that we have the highest standards for animal care in our research facility," Sharp said.
Citing internal medical center documents that it obtained using a public records request, the animal rights group's complaint said two primates died of severe dehydration March 31, 2008, after the facility had problems with water pressure. It alleges that the death of a third primate two days earlier was likely also a result of dehydration and inadequate care.
The complaint also claims that other primates being used to research morphine withdrawal were allowed to suffer for days before being euthanized, and that several monkeys died of gastric bloat, also known as a twisted stomach, after receiving inadequate care.
The earlier investigation found incidents of monkeys with an infectious disease suffering from extreme weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea and neurological disorders for at least a day after they should have been euthanized.
"The information in the primate records indicate that the university has not done anything to change what they do (since the earlier violations)," Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, said Wednesday. "There are a number of violations clearly still in existence."
Budkie said the medical center also has not met federal requirements for annual reporting that discloses when research animals do not receive pain relief. The medical center documents cited by the group discuss animals that are screeching, vomiting, grimacing, not eating or unable to move.
Stop Animal Exploitation Now said the medical center did not report having any animals in experiments involving unrelieved pain in 2006-2008.
Budkie said his group would prefer that the money being spent on animal research go instead to clinical research on humans, which he said provides more beneficial medical treatments.