USDA investigates University over animal deaths

By Lilly Mashayek, Staff Writer

The University is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) after the recent deaths of 22 animals who were under the care of clinics on campus.

“Five of these incidents involved farm animals, and like any farming operation, there is a small number of unexpected animal deaths,” said Robin Kaler, University spokesperson, in an email. “In the three additional incidents, animals in biomedical research died unexpectedly.”

The animal deaths being investigated include one lamb, “several” pigs, and two rams, according to a document containing the Illinois Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Meeting Minutes from May 2016.

“SAEN had filed two different complaints against the University of Illinois,” said Michael Budkie, executive director of the organization, Stop Animal Exploitation Now! (SAEN), that filed the complaint against the University. “One of them was spurred by the deaths of five cows … after we saw the incident of negligence we filed a public records request for the University of Illinois and obtained internal documents which discussed the deaths of approximately 22 additional animals … and that was what spurred us to file the second complaint.”

Budkie said he first noticed possible animal negligence occurring at the University in 2015 after five cows died after surgery. He wants the more recent animal deaths to be added to the USDA investigation.

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    “The University self-reported the unexpected death of five cattle to the USDA last year and that matter remains pending,” Kaler said.

    Tanya Espinosa at the USDA said the more recent deaths are currently under investigation. “Because there is an open investigation I can’t really go into details,” Espinosa said. The investigation started in Oct 2015 and faculty have been notified.

    “There is no USDA investigation about these (recent) deaths, and the USDA hasn’t contacted us about this letter,” Kaler said. “If they request a visit, we would welcome that.”

    In the statement, Kaler considered the University’s follow-up and remediation of the animal deaths “appropriate.”

    “I’m not sure if they would include all of (the 22 animals), but certainly a significant number of them would be, and I think should be, included in the USDA’s investigation and as a result be part of the penalty,” Budkie said.

    If the University is found to be guilty of the complaint filed by SAEN, it will most likely be required to pay a fine.

    “The reason we contacted the USDA is because laboratories in educational institutions like the University of Illinois are governed by the Animal Welfare Act, which is enforced by the USDA,” Budkie said. “The maximum penalty under that, that we’re aware of, is $10,000 per infraction, per animal.”

    Budkie said the actual amount that the University would have to pay in fines if it was found guilty would depend on how many of the animals are actually included in the investigation by the USDA. He said he is “confident” that a large number of the other animals will be added to the investigation.

    “We would like the see the University of Illinois receive a sig-figure fine,” Budkie said. “Because I think that would be reasonable for what’s happened.”
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