The U.S. Department of Agriculture has fined Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center $35,464 for its violations of the Animal Welfare Act in connection with the medical center’s animal-research procedures.
Officials with Wake Forest Baptist said in a statement Tuesday that the medical center has paid the fine, which was part of an agreement between the Agriculture Department and Wake Forest Baptist. The USDA investigated eight events that occurred from 2009 to 2012.
One of those events was the escape of a female monkey from a university research center near Clemmons in late June 2012. The monkey was recovered unharmed in a saga that attracted national news coverage and inspired parodies on Twitter and Facebook.
The 8-pound macaque got out of her cage at the Wake Forest Primate Center on June 29. The 16-year-old monkey opened a latch on her cage, then managed to open a chain-link fence and get out of the center.
It roamed the woods and neighborhoods of southern Forsyth and northern Davidson counties for 11 days before it was captured July 10 by Lexington police in the back yard of a house on Frye Bridge Road.
The staff at the primate center installed a chain with a secure latch to the center's outside corridors to prevent further escapes, the medical center said at that time.
The USDA cited Wake Forest Baptist for that incident in August 2012, which was the result of a complaint that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had filed with the Agriculture Department. The federal agency oversees primate centers.
The other incidents mentioned by the Agriculture Department include the deaths of 21 research rabbits in June 2010 and additional lapses by the medical center in its animal-research procedures. The rabbits’ deaths occurred after a Wake researcher injected 46 rabbits with alloxan, which can cause diabetes in rodents and humans. According to the USDA inspection report, the procedure allowed only for the injection of 10 rabbits, not 46.
Wake Forest Baptist took steps to prevent similar incidents from occurring, the medical center said, including an enhanced training program for personnel, an improved reporting system that ensures communication of unexpected events, and an investigation of all animal-welfare issues.
Janice D. Wagner, a veterinarian and Wake Forest Baptist’s senior associate for research, said that the events that USDA cited were unfortunate, but that the medical center is committed to the humane treatment and responsible care of research animals.
“The loss of any animal is regrettable and genuinely affects our staff members, who work tirelessly to ensure our animals receive the best care,” Wagner said. “Animal studies are a vital part of research that advances both human and animal health.”
Wagner said that human errors will occur in animal research.
“But it is our duty to have protocols that can immediately identify and address issues and prevent them from happening in the future,” she said.
Justin Goodman, an associate director of laboratory investigations for PETA, said Tuesday that his organization is pleased that federal government fined the medical center.
“Unfortunately, a $35,000 fine for a facility that rakes in tens of millions of dollars a year for animal experiments is not really an effective deterrent,” Goodman said. “But I am sure it has got the university’s attention. A lot of animals had to suffer in the process.”
Michael Budkie, the executive director of the group Stop Animal Exploitation Now, said the USDA didn’t go far enough.
“Negligence at WFU killed dozens of animals, injured others and allowed a primate escape,” Budkie said in a statement. “This facility should have faced much more serious consequences for the deaths of these animals, but the USDA has literally allowed WFU to get away with murder.”
Paula Faria, a medical-center spokeswoman, echoed Wagner’s statements, saying that Wake Forest Baptist treats its research animals humanely and has corrected the problems that USDA inspectors found with procedures.
Dave Sacks, a USDA spokesman, said that his agency respects the opinions of animal-rights groups, but that the USDA imposed the appropriate penalty for the violations it cited against Wake Forest Baptist.
“Ensuring the welfare of the animals that we regulate under the Animal Welfare Act is the basis of everything we do,” Sacks said.