In a recent report, Penn received the worst Research Misconduct score among Ivy League universities for its high number of repeat and severe violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Penn violations cited in the report, released by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, included one instance in which a newborn puppy was found trapped and dead under a floor grate.
The scores are based on the total number of violations, repeat violations and severe violations — instances where animals died or were severely injured. These violations were found by the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in inspections between 2008 and July 2011.
The PCRM, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., and known for its opposition to animal testing, gave Penn a score of 120. Penn was followed by Yale University and Princeton University, both of which received Research Misconduct scores of 49.
“We take reports of deficiencies very seriously and with each reported deficiency we modify our program to do whatever is necessary to eliminate these deficiencies and prevent them from recurring,” Phyllis Holtzman, associate vice president of University Communications, wrote in an email.
Many of the citations were in regards to violations of protocol, expired medications, facility maintenance and adequate veterinary care. Penn also received an official letter of warning from the USDA on Aug. 9 for violations that occurred between May 10, 2010, and July 20, 2011, according to John Pippin, the lead author of the PCRM study. The letter cited dogs that had untreated cysts on their front paws, dirty bath bowls containing algae which affected four horses and three gerbils that died of thirst because they could not reach their sipper tubes.
“Anyone can make a mistake, but when you have the same violations repeatedly, as Penn has had, and when you have severe violations, as Penn has had, then that speaks not just to the occasional mistakes but to a pattern of disregard and disrespect for the Animal Welfare Act,” Pippin said. “When one program has a score that is so much higher than any other program, it shows an institutionalized disrespect and disregard [for the act.]”
“We are absolutely, unequivically, in every instance you can imagine opposed to [animal testing] for a variety of reasons,” he added. He believes that while animal testing is going on, “universities need to be held accountable for these frequent and egregious violations.”
Holtzman, however, does not believe the report accurately represents Penn.
“The ‘ranking’ is clearly a device to call attention to the group’s animal rights agenda, and is not reflective of Penn’s substantial commitment to the humane use of animals in research that is addressing our most challenging health problems,” she wrote.
Additionally, Holtzman said by comparing Penn with the other Ivy League universities, the study ignores the fact that Penn has a much larger research program and receives the second largest amount of National Institutes of Health funding after Johns Hopkins University. “The ranking did not take the size of Penn’s program into account, thus making its comparisons to other schools not particularly germane,” Holtzman wrote.
“Biomedical research at Penn is conducted in accordance with all federal laws, regulations and guidelines for the humane care and treatment of laboratory animals,” she added. “The University has had a good and long standing record of compliance with the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act.”
Holtzman also explained that a committee of veterinarians, scientists and members of the public meet monthly to discuss animal welfare issues. “The University of Pennsylvania is committed to maintaining the highest standard of care for animals used in biomedical research, which is aimed at finding treatments and cures for some of the most vexing diseases of our time, for both humans and animals,” she wrote.