UMass corrects hamster care violations 

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst campus GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/16/2022 2:32:44 PM
Modified: 8/16/2022 2:29:16 PM

AMHERST — Four violations of care for hamsters used in a University of Massachusetts laboratory, outlined in an inspections reports completed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in June, have been corrected, according to a campus spokesman.

The violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, some of which were self-reported by UMass staff, included housing 20 hamsters in a cage that was too small for them and keeping 10 hamsters in total darkness for prolonged periods of time, such as a stretch of more than 200 days in darkness that doubled the length of a protocol approved by the university’s animal experimentation oversight body.

Though the issues were uncovered or confirmed during the examinations by a federal veterinary medical officer, UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski wrote in an email that the issues were resolved without any fines.

“In June, the USDA conducted a routine inspection at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and called on the university to do four corrective measures regarding hamsters,” Blaguszewski wrote.

The first citation, reported by campus personnel to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare in the National Institutes of Health in March, related to more extensive darkness for 10 hamsters than was allowed under a protocol set by the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. A corrective measure was completed prior to the inspection, Blaguszewski said.

The second citation related to adding details to the research protocol by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Those details included specifying the age that litters are separated from their dam, and the age when genotyping of litters occurs. That was resolved in July.

The last two citations, involving the space and sanitation of a hamster enclosure, were corrected immediately after they were discovered, Blaguszewski said. 

Twenty hamsters were provided 288 square inches of floor space, even though the minimum amount of floor space required for their number and weight was 290 square inches. The height of the enclosure was also less than 6 inches.

The inspection report confirms the resolution. “This item was corrected at the time of the inspection by separating the hamsters and placing them in enclosures that provided required minimum amount of floor space and interior height.”

Finally, a violation came due to what the inspector terms “an excessive amount of solid and liquid excreta” in the cage. This was resolved “by separating the hamsters and placing them in new clean enclosures,” the report notes.

The 208 golden hamsters were among 288 animals in UMass laboratories that were inspected on June 21 and 22, with the others being 18 sheep, 17 goats, 10 horses, seven cows and 28 marmoset monkeys. The marmosets, which are used in menopause experiments, have been the subject of continued complaints from People for Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Despite no fines being issued, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, or SAEN, an Ohio-based advocacy group, is calling on the USDA to assess $10,000 per infraction and per animal penalties.

“The USDA has now issued four serious citations against the University of Massachusetts Amherst for its negligent treatment of animals,” Stacey Ellison, a research analyst with SAEN said in a statement. “The next step must be the maximum penalty for causing these animals unnecessary suffering.”

PETA, too, has expressed concern with neuroscientist Dr. Katherine Roe calling UMass experiments “shoddy operations and carelessness” that amount to animal abuse.

“UMass must shut down its animal laboratories, beginning with its marmoset laboratory, and redirect its resources toward modern, non-animal research methods that will actually help humans,” Roe said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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