LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - UCLA is being accused of violating the Animal Welfare Act in connection with the death of two rabbits and a pig at its research labs, an animal-advocacy group announced Wednesday, but the university disputed the organization's "characterization of these events."
The group Stop Animal Exploitation Now says it obtained a previously unpublished UCLA report revealing that multiple animals developed encephalitis, including one pig who died, and that two rabbits died from what the organization described as negligence, one from choking and one from anesthesia.
SAEN filed a federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, alleging the deaths and injuries violated federal law and multiple federal regulations for animal handling, veterinary care, proper feeding, personnel qualifications and other matters.
The complaint seeks the maximum federal fine of $10,000 per infraction/per animal.
"Any laboratory which allows animals in a project to develop encephalitis and kills another with faulty anesthesia should not be trusted to perform scientific procedures," SAEN co-founder Michael Budkie said in a statement. "Supposedly `scientific' data coming from UCLA animal labs cannot be trusted."
UCLA officials disputed the accusations.
"We disagree with SAEN's characterization of these events. As always, we will fully cooperate with any investigation by external regulatory bodies," Bill Kisliuk, UCLA's director of media relations, told City News Service on Wednesday.
"At UCLA, the Animal Research Committee is responsible for overseeing an animal program involving approximately 950 protocols for over 400 different principal investigators. Despite the complex nature of this program, we are proud to report that unexpected problems such as these are infrequent. When they do transpire, they are investigated promptly and modifications to procedures are implemented where necessary," he said.
According to SAEN, UCLA reported the incidents internally to the school's Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee. That report allegedly states that on May 10, 2021, two rabbits "died prematurely. First rabbit was suspected to have choked on its food as autopsy by our lab showed food pellets in airway. ... Second rabbit, died during surgery. Premature death was attributed to anesthetics used by DLAM."
The report also allegedly discusses the death of a pig, and illness of a second one on Feb. 19, 2021.
"We've had 2 cases in which our pigs have contracted some form of encephalitis or neurologic issues, one pig suddenly dying, while the other recovered a few days later," the report states, according to SAEN.
SAEN claims that "animals who are cared for in compliance with requirements for adequate veterinary care should never develop encephalitis."
Last year, SAEN accused USC of similar offenses, saying unauthorized staff members amputated the ears of multiple mice in acts that were not connected to scientific experiments, overdosed other mice with painkillers leading to their deaths, and inflicted excessive stab wounds in the necks of pigs during surgeries.
The group said USC officials placed the lab's animal use protocols on suspension for at least 90 days, denied access to the animal facility for the individuals involved with the amputations, and suspended all animal use activity at the lab where the mice were overdosed.
"It was the university that first discovered these incidents and self- reported them to National Institutes of Health," USC said in a statement to the Daily Trojan. "The university has since taken a number of steps, including enhanced retraining, to help ensure that they don't reoccur."
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