Following a routine inspection of Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center on Sept. 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued the Center a citation for two instances of non-compliance with the Animal Welfare Act. The citation was issued for the alleged negligent deaths of two nonhuman primate research subjects.
The first of these deaths occurred in early March, when the University reported the euthanization of an 11-month-old monkey that had been held down by a rubber band tied to its wrists to undergo a tattooing procedure for identification purposes. The Emory research staff neglected to remove the rubber band, which subsequently became embedded in the monkey’s body. This caused drastic deterioration in the animal’s neurological health over the following two months, leading to its ultimate euthanization.
Later in March, another monkey died from traumatic injuries. The monkey had been accidentally placed in the wrong enclosure, and came into contact with an unfamiliar group of monkeys. The monkey suffered fatal wounds that were the direct result of fighting with the unfamiliar group.
Michael Budkie, executive director and co-founder of Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN), an animal rights organization dedicated to ending animal experimentation for research purposes, originally filed a formal complaint with the USDA on Sept. 18 regarding the two monkey deaths. In his complaint, Budkie regarded the deaths of the research subjects as a clear, blatant violation of the Animal Welfare Act.
“I am gratified to see that [the USDA] is taking these animal deaths very seriously,” he wrote in an email to the Wheel. “Hopefully [this citation] will lay the groundwork for prosecution by the USDA, because it clearly demonstrates that Emory staff have broken a federal law.”
Budkie also noted that the second death was not a unique occurrence, as Emory had previously received a citation for similar reasons on July 19, 2012, when a different monkey died from attack wounds after being placed in the wrong enclosure.
Additionally, in September 2013, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a complaint with the USDA over alleged negligence at Yerkes, although federal prosecution never ensued. PETA claimed that an infant rhesus monkey died inside its cage after becoming entangled in a frayed fire hose.
Budkie stated that, since “Emory University has a history of animal welfare violations,” SAEN intends to continue their investigation to expose all instances of abuse, while simultaneously pushing the USDA to levy the maximum fine allowable under the Animal Welfare Act — $10,000 per infraction/per animal.
Yerkes Chief of Public Affairs Lisa Newbern wrote in an email to the Wheel that Yerkes self-reported both incidents to Emory’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) and the USDA well before Budkie submitted his complaint.
According to Newbern, the Center worked with Emory’s IACUC to investigate the incidents’ circumstances, review procedures and implement additional safeguards, including rewriting standard operating procedures and training staff in newly-implemented protocols to prevent any similar occurrences.
“We believe these modifications enhance our animal care program and reflect our ongoing commitment to provide the highest level of care to the animals at Yerkes,” she wrote.
Going forward, Budkie is adamant that Emory’s only possible course of action is to close down Yerkes.
“Eliminate the use of nonhuman primates,” he said. “Monkeys are still essentially wild animals and are not suited to captivity.”
Budkie says that adapting to a laboratory setting is extremely taxing on monkeys, a stressor which often causes psychological abnormalities and self-destructive behavior. He said that the general public would be better served if the funding currently supporting Yerkes were redirected into clinical, epidemiological or cutting-edge research, such as organ-on-a-chip or bioprinting technology.
However, Newbern indicated that the positive aspects of Yerkes far outweigh the negatives.
Newbern says that the Center’s success in research advances, such as developing vaccines for infectious and noninfectious diseases, developing new treatment strategies for improving social functioning in social disorders, interpreting brain activity through imagining, treating drug addiction, and increasing understanding of progressive illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, speaks to the continued need for animals in scientific study.
According the Center’s website, Yerkes is one of only seven National Institutes of Health-designated National Primate Research Centers and is home to approximately 3,200 nonhuman primates used in biomedical and behavioral research to improve the health and well-being of humans and animals. The Center has maintained full accreditation from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International for 32 years.
Newbern also noted that, during the inspection on Sept. 22, the inspector agreed with the steps Yerkes took to address the deaths. She reviewed information related to these two incidents and concluded that, while the Center was found non-compliant because of the animal deaths, “Yerkes personnel put appropriate corrective and preventive actions in place and provided additional training for staff,” she wrote.
“Please note that the USDA has not used the words negligent and violation; those are Mr. Budkie’s terminology,” Newbern added.
USDA Public Affairs Specialist Tanya Espinosa confirmed Newbern’s statement in an email to the Wheel.
Additionally, Espinosa wrote that there are no penalties for non-compliances to the Animal Welfare Act found during an inspection. If one is found, it is documented on the inspection report and the facility is given a timeframe to correct it. Emory has already addressed one of its non-compliances, and has until Oct. 31 to correct its second non-compliance.
“At some point, our inspector will be back to re-inspect the facility,” Espinosa wrote. “If the non-compliance is not corrected, than we may take further action.”