January 22, 2020

Updated: New Research Halted at U.S. Meat Animal Research Center Until New Procedures Adopted, OIG Follow Up

Categories: Food Safety

Recall that back on February 13, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture held a budget hearing and heard testimony from USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong.

During the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.), Subcommittee ranking member Sam Farr (D., Calif.) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D., Maine) all referenced a recent New York Times article from January that focused on animal production research procedures and operations at a federal facility in Nebraska. The lawmakers expressed support for the IG to investigate some of the issues raised in the Times article in more detail.

The lawmakers noted that:

Chairman Aderholt: “In closing, I do want to thank you for agreeing to review the New York Times allegation about the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska. The article described research and attitudes that seem to be pretty much in…pretty inconsistent with the conscientious, the hardworking scientists and the staff that work there and that we have at the Agricultural Research Service. Your assistance in auditing the claims included in the article and reviewing the current conditions, practices and policies would be very helpful to us.”

Ranking Member Farr: “And I want to echo what the chairman said on the animal treatment center, and I’m sure it’s going to open up a lot of issues with a lot of university research areas, but it’s worth looking into. I know California has required all the research institutions in the state universities to change all their caging and animal husbandry practices to bring in humane practices, state-of-the-art humane practices. It’s very expensive to bring it all up, but they did it, and I think that’s probably something that we in Congress ought to look at.”

Rep. Pingree: “I want to just add my voice to the choruses of concern around a very troubling New York Times story that was mentioned about animal research, so I’m hopeful that we’re going to do some more investigating into that. And obviously many of the concerns that were raised in that story about the spending of taxpayer dollars and humane treatment basically bordering on the bizarre, in fact in some of the things that were being researched, in my opinion, and even more importantly, completely counter to what the consumer is looking for today. I mean, the market is growing in humanely raised and, you know, different levels of treatment for animals, so why the taxpayer dollars is being spent in something that’s clearly inappropriate practice I think raises a lot of questions. So just want to add my concerns along with the chair and the ranking member.”

Reuters writer P.J. Huffstutter reported this morning that, “No new research projects will be allowed to begin at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center until stronger procedures are put into place and improved animal welfare standards are implemented by the center’s oversight staff, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement Monday.

“Vilsack also ordered that USDA staff update electronic record-keeping practices at all facilities, to ensure all animals are being appropriately monitored and cared for.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Monday that, “A panel of outside researchers declared in a draft report Monday they found no evidence of current animal abuse or mistreatment at a USDA animal and meat research facility in Nebraska.

“Despite no evidence of current animal abuse, USDA still ordered any new research projects at the facility not be started until some new procedures are implemented.

“The report examined current practices at USDA’s Meat Animal Research Center outside of Clay Center, Neb., following allegations in the New York Times of animal abuse at the facility. The article in January sparked outrage from some animal-rights activists and led Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to call for a quick review of the facility.”

Mr. Clayton added that, “A four-member panel visited the research center over a two-day period Feb. 24-26 and gave the facility a clean bill of health. ‘Without exception, the panel observed healthy and well-cared-for animals,’ the panel’ report stated. ‘As a rule, animals were handled with care and professionalism by dedicated staff members. No instances of animal abuse, misuse or mistreatment were observed.'”

The report released Monday didn’t specifically address allegations made in a New York Times article in January about death losses and animal care at the facility,” the DTN article said.

Joe Duggan reported on Monday at the Omaha World-Herald Online that, “The panelists found ‘no evidence’ of animal welfare training for those who work at the center. In addition to ordering such training, Vilsack also required center officials to more clearly define their long-standing partnership with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln when it comes to animal welfare.

“‘It is imperative that all USDA research activities be carried out in a manner consistent with our high standards of humane and responsible treatment of animals in our care,’ Vilsack said.”

Also on Monday, with respect to the USDA’s Inspector General, P.J. Huffstutter reported that, “The U.S. Agriculture Department’s Office of the Inspector General has assembled an audit team and plans to begin field work this month in an inquiry of the government’s key livestock study center amid media reports of animal welfare abuse, the agency told Reuters on Monday.

“OIG officials currently are ‘determining the scope and objectives of their planned audit inquiry‘ into the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) facility in Nebraska, the agency said.”


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