USDA releases animal welfare report, says no current abuse at Nebraska Center | TSLN.com

USDA releases animal welfare report, says no current abuse at Nebraska Center

The Agriculture Department today released the report on animal treatment at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska that resulted from a New York Times investigation that found decades of abuse of animals at the center. (See link below.)

The USDA also started a public comment period that begins today and lasts through March 18. There will be a virtual public meeting of the review panel on March 18. (See link for instructions on how to participate.)

The 60-day independent review ordered by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was completed by the Agricultural Research Service Animal Handling and Welfare Review Panel, an independent review team comprised of people USDA described as "leading experts from U.S. land grant colleges and USDA veterinary officials."

"It is important to note that the independent review did not find mistreatment of animals presently taking place at the MARC Center," Vilsack said in a news release in which he also listed a series of immediate actions that USDA will take.

USDA also noted that Vilsack had directed the Agriculture Research Service (ARS) to name the first animal ombudsman, and that ARS is updating reporting procedures to ensure animal welfare concerns are brought forward for action.

USDA also noted that Vilsack "directed ARS to review its training curriculum to ensure all employees are properly versed on humane animal treatment, and continue to engage in an ongoing examination of other ways to improve animal welfare."

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Here are Vilsack's comments, followed by the list of immediate actions:

"USDA takes the welfare and well-being of all animals seriously. When the first news about animal treatment at the Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska was reported in January, I ordered a thorough and independent review, with a report on the facility's practices to be delivered to me within 60 days.

"I have received the first draft of this report and I am directing our staff to implement the report's recommendations in full immediately. A public comment period will begin on March 9, during which time the public can review the report online and comment on its findings.

"It is important to note that the independent review did not find mistreatment of animals presently taking place at the MARC Center.

"As we move forward to update policies and practices at this and other facilities within USDA's research purview, we also recognize the importance of the work performed at the MARC Center to the American agricultural economy, consumers, and food safety systems. However, it is imperative that all USDA research activities be carried out in a manner consistent with our high standards for humane and responsible treatment of animals in our care."

Immediate Actions:

1. Strengthening procedures and accountability for the MARC Center's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee charged with overseeing and approving MARC research projects and ensuring humane treatment of animals within the facility (and not allowing any new research projects to begin at the Center until these new procedures are fully implemented);

2. Updating electronic record-keeping practices at all facilities to ensure all animals are being appropriately monitored and cared for;

3. Updating training across all research facilities to ensure it is uniform, documented and meets USDA's standards for animal welfare;

4. Ensuring that there are clear lines of authority established for USDA and the University of Nebraska in the operation and management of the facility and its staff;

5. And ensuring that all animals in USDA research facilities are treated uniformly high standards.

–Hagstrom Report