Technicians at Oregon Health Sciences University, Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories, Harvard, & Bristol-Myers Squibb have managed to do it
HILLSBORO, Oregon––An Oregon Health Sciences University internal investigation into the deaths of two rhesus macaques who were killed on August 13, 2020 when their cage was run through a cage-washing machine with the monkeys still inside it has concluded that the animal care technician responsible was inadequately trained, failed to follow written directions, and had not been confirmed competent to handle the cage-washing job without supervision.
The deaths occurred, Oregon Health Sciences University said in an August 28, 2020 prepared statement, when the animal care technician pushed a 6-foot-tall rack of monkey cages into the cage-washing machine and turned it on without realizing the two monkeys were still locked into one of the top cages.
Quick response was not quick enough
“The investigation found that the technician mistook a clean rack of cages, where the monkeys had been previously placed, for a dirty rack. The technician left the room, noticed the mistake, and stopped the cage washer,” summarized Max Egener for the Pamplin Media newspaper chain on November 25, 2020.
Continued Eigner, “Veterinarians were alerted and responded to the cage washing area within two minutes, Oregon Health Sciences University said.”
One of the macaques, however, had already been scalded to death. The other macaque was euthanized due to the extent of his/her injuries.
“Negligence at Oregon Health Sciences University has killed over a dozen animals since 2016,” charged Stop Animal Exploitation Now cofounder Michael Budkie, referencing 13 fatal accidents to animals of four different species, “and has injured many more.
Changed protocols don’t help if protocols are ignored
“In this period,” Budkie said, “this lab has (failed) to follow federal regulations 19 times relevant to regulated species,” meaning mammals exclusive of rats and mice, who are excluded from protection under the Animal Welfare Act. Birds, fish, reptiles, and invertebrates are also excluded from most aspects of coverage.
The Animal Welfare Act accordingly exempts laboratories from having to account for what happens to more than 95% (and perhaps 99%) of all animals used in biomedical research.
SAEN is pressing for Oregon Health Sciences University to be fined the maximum $10,000 for each documented Animal Welfare Act violation.
Following the macaque deaths, Oregon Health Sciences University announced several changes to cage-washing protocols to avoid any repetition of the incident.
Responded Budkie, “Since the deaths occurred because the existing protocols were not followed, changing the protocols may not prevent future accidents if those new protocols are also ignored.”
Total cage-washing deaths could be upward of 6,500 per year
The ANIMALS 24-7 archives include files on at least three other instances of monkeys being killed in cage-washing machines at U.S. laboratories since 2007, all in cases brought to light by Budkie and Stop Animal Exploitation Now.
“There aren’t that many monkeys killed in cage-washers,” Budkie told ANIMALS 24-7 of the hard-to-explain accidents. “It is much more frequent with rabbits,” Budkie added, “and I found one case with a cat.”
While five such deaths in 13 years may not sound like a lot, the ratio of monkeys used in biomedical research to the use of rats, mice, birds, and other non-regulated species suggests that the actual number of animals run through cage-washers each year could be upward of 6,500, with no accountability for any of those animal deaths––and not even any record-keeping requirement to establish the exact numbers.
“Potential to negatively impact health, well-being, & safety”
The monkeys-left-in-cage deaths at Oregon Health Sciences University appear to have been the first reported at a U.S laboratory in nearly 10 years, but at least three such fatalities occurred between November 2007 and July 2010––all of them after the Association for Assessment & Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care in February 2007 put the University of Washington on probation and warned the university in a nine-page letter about “serious deficiencies that had the potential to negatively impact the health, well-being and safety of animals and humans” including hot steam leaking from a cage-washing machine.
Presumably that should have put laboratories throughout the U.S. on notice to pay attention to their cage-washing equipment and procedures before a serious accident resulted.
At Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories, however, a short commute north in Everett, Washington, hidden camera footage obtained and publicized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals confirmed a whistleblower allegation that a healthy female macaque had been boiled to death in a cage-washing machine in early November 2007.
“We just don’t have accidental deaths here”
“An animal unfortunately died in an accident,” Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories vice president of operations Jim Klassen confirmed to Everett Herald writer Eric Fetters. “We, of course, immediately called the U.S. Department of Agriculture and they sent an inspector who investigated,” Klaassen said. “We wash 100,000 cages a year and have never, ever had anything like this happen before. We just don’t have accidental deaths here.”
The monkey scalding did not bring USDA charges, but nine years later, after 38 more macaques died in various other sorts of accident, the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service assessed penalties against Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories for multiple Animal Welfare Act violations totaling a near-record $185,000.
Inspector found 20-day-old corpse at Harvard
Meanwhile at the New England Primate Research Center in Southampton, Massachusetts, operated by the Harvard Medical School, a USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service staff member on June 29, 2010 reportedly found the remains of a cotton-top tamarin on the floor of a cage that had been run through a cage-washing machine 20 days earlier, on June 9, 2010.
“Results of microscopic examinations of the body are consistent with the conclusion that the non-human primate had died before the enclosure was put into the cage washer,” said USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service veterinary office Paula S. Gladue.
But Gladue did not find that any excuse.
“Whenever primary enclosures are cleaned using steam,” Gladue wrote, “primates must be removed to ensure the animals are not harmed, wetted or distressed in the process. The failure of personnel to remove a primate from a primary enclosure prior to cleaning by steam in a mechanical cage washer,” Gladue understated, “has direct and adverse effects on the health and well-being of the animal.”
Budkie of SAEN is skeptical
Budkie told reporter Evan Lips of the MetroWest Daily News that he was skeptical of the conclusion that the tamarin was already dead before going through the cage washer.
But even if that was what happened, Budkie said, “In the end, shouldn’t they have noticed there was a dead primate inside the cage?”
The New England Primate Research Center received only a warning for that possible Animal Welfare Act violation, but ran into repeated trouble in 2012 when severely dehydrated tamarins and squirrel monkeys were founded several times in cages with malfunctioning water bottles. Some of the tamarins and squirrel monkeys were euthanized as irrecoverable.
Then, in September 2012, the National Institutes of Health disclosed that it had identified eight instances of scientific misconduct by former Harvard primate cognition researcher and psychology professor Marc Hauser, who had worked at the facility.
Harvard closed the lab
Harvard finally ran out of patience with the facility after a monkey escape in October 2012 ended in the death of the animal. Harvard in April 2013 announced a two-year plan to stop the monkey business.
That, however, did not save Harvard from having to pay $24,036 in fines for Animal Welfare Act violations accumulated in 2011-2012.
Located in Southborough, Massachusetts, 30 miles from the main Harvard campus in Cambridge, the New England Primate Research Center was among eight regional primate breeding and research facilities funded by Congress in 1960. Opened in 1962, the New England Primate Research Center was among the first in operation, reportedly received the most federal money over the years, and in May 2015 became the first to close.
Stop Animal Suffering & Exploitation Now had publicized each of the incidents leading to the closure.
Two cage-washer deaths in two days
Still, the biomedical research community seems to have been slow to realize that running animals through cage-washers is not just like a person driving through a car-wash.
On July 1, 2011 a monkey was found dead on the floor after a newly washed cage was lifted out of a cage-washer at the Bristol-Myers Squibb laboratory in Pennington, New Jersey.
Just one day later, eight miles away, Covance Research Products boiled a rabbit to death in a cage-washer at a facility in Princeton, New Jersey, according to USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service data.
“Don’t do this at home, kids”
Of note is that no individual appears ever to have been criminally charged for killing an animal in a laboratory cage-washing machine, no matter how egregious the evident negligence involved.
By comparison, ANIMALS 24-7 identified six cases since 2005, four in the U.S. and two in Britain, in which individuals were convicted of killing dogs and cats in their own washing machines at home.
The U.S. offenders received a year in jail, 45 days in jail, 32 months in state prison, and 24 months in prison, respectively. The latter two cases were prosecuted as felonies.
The British offenders, both women, respectively received six weeks in jail and four months in jail, suspended.
The criminal convictions resulted from the evident malicious intent of the perpetrators, whereas the laboratory cage-washer deaths were classed as accidents.
The outcomes for the victim animals, however, were very much the same.