The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to review several lab incidents at the University of Michigan, which may have violated the Animal Welfare Act.
During the 2012-2013 school year, a baboon strangled itself on a toy while it was left unattended, a researcher preformed surgery on a guinea pig without authorization, and a hamster escaped its cage and died in a floor drain.
The USDA is “looking into” the incidents and U-M could face fines up to $40,000 if it finds the lab animals were mistreated.
The animal right group Stop Animal Exploitation Now! (SAEN) filed a complain against the university in February.
"It's very clear that these incidents are violations of the Animal Welfare Act," said Michael Budkie, co-founder of SAEN. "You have laboratories that don't seem to even be able to keep the animals alive, follow their own protocols or adhere to their own basic husbandry standards."
A U-M spokeswoman, Kara Gavin, says the school self-reported the incidents to the National Institutes of Health, which gives U-M more than $500 million each year for research, because they violated school policy on the Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
U-M has been reviewed by the USDA before. It averages between four and six non-compliance incidents per year. Gavin says the school hasn’t been fined for mistreatment in 23 years.
"We are looking into this," USDA spokesperson Tanya Espinosa wrote in an email. "If we determine there were Animal Welfare Act noncompliances we may decide to open an investigation at that time. There is no timeframe as we want to ensure we are as thorough as possible."