USDA investigating local research center
Animal welfare activists call for more oversight, penalties
SAN ANTONIO – The U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently conducting an investigation into the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.
The department would not comment on the specifics of the investigation, and even the institute's top scientists do not know what the investigators are looking for.
Since 2010, at least five primates have died at the West Side facility, where scientists study some of the most deadly diseases in the world and use animals to test various treatments as well as study their behavior.
The center is one of seven in the country under the oversight of the USDA, which conducts random inspections of the facility twice a year.
Since 2012, the institute has received 16 citations for a variety of issues, such as enclosure maintenance, veterinary care, record keeping, and drug storage.
Animal welfare activists said the citations show a pattern of negligence on the part of researchers at the institute.
"These are really basic problems that any facility should be able to handle, and instead of handling these problems the animals just keep dying there," said Michael Budkie, co-founder of Stop Animal Exploitation Now. "Sooner or later when an entity continues to demonstrate that they can't play by the rules they simply should be taken out of the game. That's what should happen with TBRI."
Institute officials fired back saying the citations are merely isolated incidents, many of which are corrected on the spot. While unfortunate, they said the primate deaths were not the result of negligence and do not reflect the level of care given to the animals at the facility. The institute released the following statement in response to the USDA's investigation:
Texas Biomedical Research Institute has a long-standing commitment to treating its animals humanely and with the highest regard for their well-being. In our last inspection by the USDA in February, we received valuable feedback and responded to observations on the day of the inspection. We work closely with regulatory agencies throughout the year to determine best practices to enhance care provided to the primates, for the sake of the animals and the quality of the research programs.
The USDA can take a variety of actions against the center if it finds evidence of wrongdoing. Penalties range from a written warning to a fine of up to $10,000. Institute officials said the investigation can take a considerable amount of time, and they will only learn the results if they are found to have violated the law. The center has been fined in the past. In 2012, the institute was issued a civil penalty of $25, 714. Prior to that, they were assessed a civil penalty of $6,094 in January of 2010.
Institute officials said citations issued after the facility's February inspection have been taken care of, and the USDA is expected back at the facility for second inspection later this year.
USDA officials are requestion anyone with complaints to contact the following:
Telephone: 970 434-7478
Copyright 2015 by KSAT - All rights reserved.