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Complaints filed against ABQ lab after deaths

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Two animal advocacy groups have filed complaints with federal agencies against Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque following the deaths of two monkeys used for testing.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is asking the National Institutes of Health to withdraw its approval for the Public Health Service Animal Welfare Assurance granted to Lovelace, which would mean it couldn’t receive federal contracts or federal grants. Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an Ohio-based national watchdog nonprofit that investigates animal abuse, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture seeking an investigation and prosecution of the lab, which it contends “has a four-year history of federal law-breaking that has killed/sickened/injured dozens of animals.”

Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, which is not connected to Lovelace Health System, did not respond to Journal requests for comment on Friday.

The complaints cite a Nov. 19 USDA inspection that details the deaths of two 2½-year-old male cynomolgus macaque monkeys. One died unexpectedly during a face-mask inhalation procedure. A veterinary technician examined the monkey, but was unable to resuscitate him. A full necropsy was not conducted in violation of the study protocol, PETA Special Projects Manager Magnolia Martínez wrote in a letter to Patricia Brown, director of NIH’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare.

Another was found dead in the cage where he was held with five other male monkeys. Records for the monkey failed to note that the monkeys that were caged together were not compatible, Martínez said.

According to the necropsy report, the monkey “was found to have marked dehydration, little to no visceral fat, and an overall thin body condition.” The USDA report suggests the monkey may not have been allowed access to food or water, she said.

The macaque that died during the face-mask inhalation procedure had not been properly monitored, Martínez wrote. The arm restraints on the chairs where the animals were held were too large for some of the animals – allowing them to become entangled in the equipment, she wrote.

“LRRI appears to have suffocated one monkey and starved another. These are only the latest of the negligent serial deaths,” said Michael A. Budkie, a co-founder of Stop Animal Exploitation Now. “The staff of this facility are overworked and unqualified. It is a wonder that even more deaths haven’t occurred.”

Both organizations claim violations at Lovelace date back years. Among the instances cited include an Aug. 14, 2019, USDA inspection that found an experimenter administered a dose of a test compound to 12 monkeys without first securing the approval of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and a June 19, 2018, USDA inspection that revealed that an experimenter deviated from the protocol that had been approved by the IACUC for a study in which six primates were killed.

“Federal reports document a pattern of carelessness and disregard for basic safety conditions for the animals confined in LRRI’s laboratories. U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections and self-reports indicate that animals have been under the ‘supervision’ of untrained and oblivious staff whose actions and omissions have resulted in profound animal suffering and numerous animal deaths,” PETA’s letter said.

In 2011, Lovelace was cited by the USDA for six violations of the Animal Welfare Act – including the strangulation death of a monkey who became caught on an experimental jacket and the escape of an infant monkey – and fined $21,750.

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