CSU’s use of animals in research closely watched

In order to use animals in a laboratory research study, institutions such as Colorado State University must comply with a multitude of federal and university standards.

Throughout the year, representatives from federal agencies will conduct assessments to ensure the institution is in compliance with the regulations. If an institution is out of compliance, a citation will be issued. If multiple citations are issued, a fine could be given, as well as orders to correct the infractions.

In 2011, CSU was fined $23,821 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for repeated violations dating back to 2007, according to records from USDA Investigative and Enforcement Services.
As documented, these infractions included failure to store feed in leak-proof containers, wire protruding from a holding pen, failure to provide rationale for the number of animals requested for a study and excessive flies at a facility housing horses, among others.
Kathy Partin, CSU assistant vice president for research and director of the Research Integrity and Compliance Review Office, said that while being in compliance is something CSU does not take lightly, issues can occur. If an infraction is noted, faculty and personnel will do the best they can to fix the issue while the federal agent is still present.

“There are several internal processes to prevent noncompliance; it’s a layer of checks and balances,” she said. “If (an inspector) finds something during their assessment, we will always try to correct the situation while they’re still here.

While infractions may have occurred regarding facilities and food, Partin said, CSU has had no citations directly involving animals.

“It’s critical that we’ve not had any direct animal welfare violations,” she said. “Institutionally we focus on animal welfare issues. What do the animals look like? Are protocols being followed? Being incompliance is important, but not more so than the ethics and ensuring animal welfare and well-being.”

The CSU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approved the NASA study protocol in 2011 for the use of up to 50 sheep. The project was inspected by a monitoring team in 2013 and is scheduled for another inspection this year by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.

In addition, the USDA monitors CSU’s animal use via annual unannounced inspections, performed by the USDA Veterinary Medical Officer.

The sheep, specifically, are covered by both the Animal Welfare Act and the PHS Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

Although the CSU researchers believe that using sheep is the best way to understand bone loss in space, other scientists believe alternative research methods – those that don’t rely on live animals – should be used.

Kathleen Conlee, vice president for animal research issues at the Humane Society of the United States, said more alternatives need to be considered before putting animals under unnecessary duress through testing and research.

“Any proposed use of animals should really be justified where there no alternatives available,” she said. “In the field and in research, we’re finding more and more that universities are engaging animal use more than companies.”

The Humane Society of the United States is a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect animal welfare. Advocates closely monitors laboratories using animals for research, including universities, to ensure that they are complying with the Animal Welfare Act, The organization has no regulatory oversight at these institutions.

In addition to federal agencies and nonprofits that monitor the use of laboratory research animals, there is a high-level of self-regulation and weight on the honor system as well, said Partin. All of these agencies and organizations work together toward a common goal: the welfare and well-being of animals.

“It’s a partnership instead of a regulatory sledgehammer,” Partin said. “That’s the beauty of bioethics.”

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