USDA cites University for death of five hamsters

Updated: April 22, 2015 at 1:13 a.m.

Federal authorities issued the University a citation for the mistreatment and death of five hamsters after a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture investigation.

During an inspection in March, a USDA inspector read over Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee minutes that reported a researcher found five dead hamster pups in a cage, and a female hamster that had its sex misidentified, according to an inspection report by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The University will be required to document the updated procedures in writing and provide formal training to all necessary personnel. The research and husbandry staff must receive training on the new process for sexing hamsters as well, according to the USDA Inspection Report.

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, a national animal rights organization, filed an official complaint with the USDA’s Eastern Regional Office earlier this month, claiming GW violated the Animal Welfare Act, a federal law that prohibits the mistreatment of animals in research.

The organization’s official complaint calls for additional citations for inadequate veterinary care and animal handling of the hamsters, and a federal fine that could be close to $10,000 for each infraction.

“Changes in procedures should be documented in writing and formal training provided to all pertinent personnel. The research and husbandry staff must receive training on the new process for sexing hamsters,” the documents read.

The IACUC, a national organization that protects animals used in laboratory research, did not verify that GW researchers had completed formal training in the process of identifying hamsters’ sexes.

GW’s Office of Research Integrity called the incident “unfortunate” and said measures had been implemented to avoid future instances.

The office declined to provide details of the incident, including the name of the researcher, the type of research being done and the school in which the research was completed. It also declined to provide the exact measures being taken and or detail the training personnel received before completing the research.

The University provides space, equipment and care for laboratory animals used for research and teaching purposes. Experiments that have involved GW research animals include causing multiple organ dysfunction in rats before dissection, and other tests that cannot be done to live test subjects, according to documents compiled by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The Science and Engineering Hall will have a holding area for animals used in research on the unfinished eighth floor of the complex, according to the Office of the Vice President for Research. The majority of animals, which the University uses to test vaccines and medical devices, will continue to be held in the basement of Ross Hall.

Stacey Ellison, a research associate at Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, is asking for the most severe action and maximum fines and citations to be placed against the University.

“We believe that the staff of George Washington University is clearly incompetent and has caused unnecessary animal deaths and is deserving of a severe penalty,” Ellison said in a press release.

Marissa Price, the president of GW Animal Advocates, said that these citations are a prime example of issues that can arise during animal experimentation. She also added that the University should instead focus their time and energy on the use of animal-free research methods.

“I completely agree with [Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!] that the death of five animals in GW’s care is a major violation of the Animal Welfare Act and severe action must be taken against GW,” she said. “Otherwise, the USDA would be condoning neglect and cruelty of the animals that GW has been entrusted with.”

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that a USDA inspector had found the five dead hamster pups. The researcher using the hamsters had discovered their deaths earlier in the year and reported them to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. The inspector issued the citation after reading over IACUC’s minutes during the USDA’s routine inspection in March. We regret this error.

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