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Watchdog group: NDSU 'covered up' research animal deaths

The North Dakota State University campus. Forum file photo

FARGO—A watchdog group is urging federal officials to investigate what it claims is a pattern at North Dakota State University of failing to report non-compliance with regulations to protect research animals.

The letter seeking action from the National Institutes of Health, which funds more than $4 million of research at NDSU involving laboratory animals, is the latest from Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!

The group has earlier alleged NDSU has sought to cover up violations of regulations to protect research animals that are enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The group, citing internal reports filed at NDSU, has documented at least 46 animal deaths at NDSU over the past two years it said involved violations of regulations to safeguard research animals.

Under federal law, the violations should be reported to the National Institute of Health's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. However, according to SAEN, it appears that violations documented in internal NDSU documents were not reported as required to federal officials.

"If there had been only one incident of non-compliance, it might be possible to assume that it was simply overlooked," Michael Budkie, the group's executive director and co-founder, wrote to federal officials. "However, since NDSU has had enough non-compliances to result in nine internal non-compliance reports, the only conclusion that can be reached is that NDSU has engaged in a consistent and deliberate pattern of non-reporting.

"This is nothing short of an intentional cover-up by North Dakota State University."

A spokeswoman for NDSU said the university has not been put on notice that it has failed to abide by reporting requirements.

"NDSU has received no indication from any government agency overseeing research that there are issues with the institution's current reporting activities," Sadie Rudolph, NDSU's media relations coordinator, said in a statement. "NDSU remains committed to conducting important research that results in solutions to the complex problems of our day including food systems and security, healthy populations and sustainable societal infrastructure."

Because NDSU "failed utterly" to act properly, Budkie urged the National Institute of Health officials to terminate its funding for research at the university.

Among the alleged violations, NDSU is accused of failing to monitor animals after procedures to ensure well-being, failure to maintain appropriate records, failure to ensure death of animals after euthanasia procedures, and failure to carry out veterinary orders for treatment.

Examples in the internal reports Budkie said illustrate violations include deaths of laboratory mice and blackbirds.

In an interview, Budkie said failures to report the non-compliance incidents involving research animals is unusual in his organization's tracking of more than 1,000 institutions.

"That's not something that we've documented with a high level of frequency," he said. "It does appear to be unusual."

Budkie, who has been monitoring the treatment of laboratory animals for more than 30 years, said he is aware of only one other instance of multiple failures to report such incidents and that involves a private research laboratory in New Mexico.

"From everything we can see there's very little reason for an institution not to report," he said, adding that they routinely submit plans for corrective action along with the reports. "That's why it's so odd. There's no penalty involved."

The NIH has acknowledged receipt of Budkie's letter, he said, and told him they will review the matter.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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