Animal research report focuses on current care
March 9, 2015
An Agriculture Department review committee that investigated the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska focused only on current animal care practices and project approval processes, and an investigation of the historical background of abuse charges in a New York Times story will be handled by the USDA Office of the Inspector General, USDA officials said today.
The Agricultural Research Service Animal Handling and Welfare Review Panel established by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack found no current problems with animal care at the center, but recommended some changes to procedures for project approvals.
The committee's report, which was released earlier today, did not address the accounts of research activities to increase animal birth dates that were featured in the January 19 Times article by Michael Moss.
Only one of the projects to increase birth rates and survivability of newborn animals cited in the article is still going on, a USDA official said. That project is the "easy care" or "pasture lambing" project in which the animals are bred so that the rate of lamb survival will increase. It is a common practice on sheep ranches for ewes to give birth unaided in pastures rather than in buildings, but the Times noted that the ewes and the lambs are subject to "predators, harsh weather and starvation."
The Times also said that "Last Mother's Day [May 11, 2014] , at the height of the birthing season, two veterinarians struggled to sort through the weekend's toll: 25 rag-doll bodies. Five, abandoned by overtaxed mothers, had empty stomachs. Six had signs of pneumonia. Five had been savaged by coyotes."
But the review panel found that predator control at USMARC was appropriate, with a Great Pyrenees dog protecting each flock of sheep. The center also reported that when humans intervened with the newborn animals the survival rate was lower, an official said. The committee found the animals to be healthy when they visited the facility in February.
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When the five members of the review panel visited, they found no cases of animal abuse, but they did conclude that the USMARC, a USDA Agricultural Research Service facility in Clay Center, Neb., did not have clear lines of authority in its cooperative relationship with the University of Nebraska.
The committee also said the facility's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee had not followed formal ARS procedures in approving research projects.
The committee did not find, however, that there were any research projects that should not have been approved.
The panel also found that the USMARC did not have a "defined animal care training program" and recommended that medical records for all animals at the facility should be kept in an electronic system.
"This will assist in monitoring both individual and herd health of all animals, and provide assurance that animals are receiving the appropriate care," the report said.
Vilsack said today he was ordering the USMARC to formalize its project approval process and to update its electronic record systems.
The Animal Handling and Welfare Review Panel appointed by Vilsack consisted of five people:
▪ Aaron Olsen, chair, Utah State University;
▪ Lonny Dixon, University of Missouri;
▪ Stephen Ford, University of Wyoming;
▪ Mo Salman, Colorado State University;
▪ John Clifford, ex-officio member, chief veterinarian at USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Clifford visited the site on January 19 and the rest of the committee visited it from February 24 to February 26.
The Hagstrom Report