Friday, March 19, 2010

Dead Monkeys, Emotions, and Studying the News

"Ghastly Slaughter of Research Monkeys Prompts Calls for Oversight"
The Associated Press, via FOXNews (March 17, 2010)

" Workers at a Nevada research lab were checking on a primate room when they came across a ghastly sight: Thirty dead monkeys were essentially cooked alive after someone left the heater on. Two others were near death and had to be euthanized.

"At a lab run by the same company, a monkey died last year after it was sent through an automatic cage washer. The temperatures were so scalding the monkey never had a chance.

"The two cases have led to calls for greater oversight and enforcement of the animal research industry after an alarmingly high number of deaths in recent years...."

I Think Kittens are Cute and Other Emotional Statements

Since this is a very emotional topic for some folks, I'd better make a few things clear.
  • I like animals, as a rule
    • Internal parasites, not so much
    • I'm also not terribly fond of bloodsuckers like
      • Mosquitoes
      • Wood ticks
      • Leeches
  • I think kittens are cute
I'd have to oppose the mistreatment of animals, even if I didn't 'feel like' doing so. I'm a Catholic. (More: "Animals: Yeah, the Catholic Church has Rules About Them, Too," A Catholic Citizen in America (August 17, 2009))


Judging from what's in this rather long article, there may be a problem with procedures at a few laboratories. Or not.

Back to the article.

"...Critics say fines for violations at animal research labs are so puny that they do nothing to deter violations. The lab where the monkeys died in Nevada was fined a mere $14,000 for the two incidents, according to records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

"...'The penalties have given them virtually no motivation whatsoever to cease violating the law,' said Michael Budkie, the executive director of the Ohio-based Stop Animal Exploitation Now. 'If they are literally killing animals through negligence, something is wrong with the system.'

"The group asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last month for an independent investigation into animal deaths at research labs.

"Agriculture Department records show there were 97 negligent animal deaths at research facilities nationwide over the last two years, a figure that does not include lab mice and rats...."

The Dastardly Villain?

If there's a bad guy here, it seems to be Charles River Laboratories. 33 monkeys died at their Nevada facilities in 2008 and 2009 - including the 32 overheated primates in the headline.

Don't get me wrong: what happened there was sad, and probably expensive. I don't know what a monkey sells for, but my guess it's more than $19.95.

On the other hand, let's look at the numbers. Charles River Laboratories cooked 32 monkeys and killed one more in 2008 and 2009. During 2008, according to the article, that company housed about 10,000 primates. Those 32 dead monkeys were 0.32 percent of the population in 2008. In 2009, the company knocked off 0.01 percent of the monkeys, assuming that they housed about the same number then.

I'm no expert, but two accidents in two years at one company that kill around 0.33 percent (fewer than 1 out of every 100) of the lab animals does not look like a massive problem. As the article put it:

"...The dead monkeys represent a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of primates used for research around the country...."

Murphy's Law and Dead Monkeys

The article gives a few details about the cooked monkeys. It sounds like a series of moderately daft accidents.

"...A series of errors began when a repair technician left the heater in the 'ON' position at 8:20 a.m. An alarm three minutes later warned the temperature in the primate room had risen to an unsafe 84 degrees, but no one noticed it, a Department of Agriculture report shows. Another alarm went undetected nearly two hours later.

"It wasn't until 12:30 p.m. that lab personnel found 30 dead monkeys. Surviving monkeys were moved to a cooler location and given fruit; two later had to be put down...."

The other dead monkey? If the animal hadn't died a quite uncomfortable death, it'd be funny:

"Another monkey died after going through a cage washer last year. In 2007, Agriculture Department reports show two monkeys at the now-closed Sparks lab had fingers amputated after they were caught in the wiring of their cages while being moved, and a third monkey suffered a cut to the tip of its tail...."

Avenge the Nevada 32?

Maybe I shouldn't make up things like that. Some terribly serious folks might take that "avenge the Nevada 32" slogan seriously.

The major problem I see in this mess is the apparent disconnect between the amount of fines and the operating budgets of the companies involved. The whole idea of fines, as I see it, is to encourage people to pay attention to the rules.

Look at it this way. If driving above the speed limit was illegal (it is, BTW), but the penalty for getting caught - and convicted - was something like a dollar: wouldn't it be easy to regard speeding as a trivial offense?

Dead Monkeys and Getting a Grip

I'm sorry that the monkeys are dead. From the sounds of it, Murphy's Law was going strong the day the Nevada 32 were heated to death. The heater shouldn't have been left on, and someone should have noticed the alarm when it sounded.

But, again from the sounds of it, America has plenty of animal welfare laws. The fines may be a joke: but I suspect it'd do less harm to increase the fines, than to draft more laws.

But politicians, some of them, seem to love making up new laws. I've suspected that they think it makes them look compassionate.

Which is another topic.

No comments:

Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle online store

Pinterest: From the Man Behind the Lemming

Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts

Today's News! Some of it, anyway

Actually, some of yesterday's news may be here. Or maybe last week's.
The software and science stuff might still be interesting, though. Or not.
The Lemming thinks it's interesting: Your experience may vary.
("Following" list moved here, after Blogger changed formats)

Who Follows the Lemming?


Family Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory