SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon state lawmaker is using thousands of pages of redacted documents he sought for more than a year to push legislation requiring more accountability and oversight of a primate research facility with a long history of complaints.
The incidents at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, which is affiliated with Oregon’s largest hospital, include one in which two monkeys died after being placed in a scalding cage washing system. Other animals were lost through negligence. Employees have low morale, some have been drinking on the job and dozens have complained about dysfunctional leadership, the documents show.
The problems at the facility in suburban Portland, Oregon, have come amid heated debate between animal rights activists who believe animal testing is unethical and researchers who say the experiments save and improve human lives.
The US took a small step away from animal testing when Congress passed a bill, signed into law by President Joe Biden in December, that eliminated the requirement that drugs in development be tested on animals before being made available for testing to people. Supporters want computer modeling and biochip technology to be used instead, though the Food and Drug Administration may still require animal testing.
“Reasonable people can disagree about whether the use of animals for medical research is scientifically valid or ethical,” Oregon Rep. David Goberg said in an interview. “But we have to agree that it’s not done very well here in Oregon.”
After the scalding, Goberg filed a public records request to learn more about the research center. He had to wait 17 months and pay a $1,000 fee to obtain thousands of pages of redacted internal documents.
The documents revealed that dozens of center employees warned that a leadership culture that cuts corners, deflects responsibility and lacks accountability is setting the stage for other tragedies.
Goberg is now behind a bill in the Oregon Legislature that calls for greater transparency, accountability and oversight of the center, which is run by Oregon Health & Science University.
Asked for comment on the issues raised by Gomberg, OHSU released a statement from Peter Barr-Gillespie, the university’s principal investigator and executive vice president, in which he said faculty and staff at the primate center “understand and embrace the responsibility to provide compassion and state-of-the-art veterinary care that comes with the privilege of working with animals.”
“While human error and the unpredictability of wild animals are impossible to completely eliminate, we try to do everything we can to use best practices in engineering, training and supervision to protect against them,” Barr-Gillespie said.
The Oregon facility was cited for more violations between 2014 and 2022 — with 31 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act — than any of the other six primate research centers funded by the National Institutes of Health, according to a Jan. 19 report from the InvestigateWest. a Seattle-based investigative journalism nonprofit.
The other NIH-funded centers are run by the University of California-Davis, the University of Washington, Tulane University, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Emory University.
In their appeal, the Oregon officials — whose names were redacted in the release Gomberg received — said they were devastated by the deaths of the two monkeys, named Earthquake and Whimsy, in August 2020. One of the monkeys died of scalding water after the cage it was in was accidentally placed in an industrial washing machine. The other survived but had to be euthanized due to his injuries.
“Many of us now face doubts about our purposes here and our career investments. Our love for these animals leaves us torn between a deep sense of responsibility to manage the welfare of these animals and a deep uncertainty about (leadership’s) willingness to implement meaningful reform,” the workers wrote.
Goberg said Oregon Health & Science University, or OHSU, has resisted outside scrutiny.
“My focus with this legislation is just accountability and transparency and letting the public know exactly what’s going on at this facility,” Goberg said.
When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also sought public records, OHSU unreasonably withheld photos and videos, a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge ruled last July.
In addition, university police used a contractor—Pennsylvania-based Information Network Associates, founded by a former FBI special agent—to provide information about the group’s activities and political and social views on the well-being of students. animals. Judge Andrew Lavin ordered the university to delete the information, saying the practice violated a state law that prohibits police surveillance unrelated to criminal investigations.
In October, OHSU agreed to pay $37,900 to settle a federal fine for violations of the Animal Welfare Act between 2018 and 2021, including incidents in which a monkey was euthanized after its head was caught between two PVC pipes. voles that died of thirst. gerbils that starved to death. and the scalding incident.
Barr-Gillespie said appropriate measures are taken to prevent recurrence and that animal studies are only conducted when other methods are insufficient or too dangerous for the humans involved.
Central Oregon research has contributed to a compound that promotes rebuilding of the protective sheath around nerve cells damaged in conditions such as multiple sclerosis, identifying a gene that could lead to the development of drugs for prevention and treatment of alcoholism and improved understanding of brain injury and recovery, among many other advances, Barr-Gillespie said.
Goberg, however, said “there are systemic problems within the institution that need to be addressed.”
“I haven’t seen anything that tells me there aren’t more problems on the horizon,” the lawmaker said.